An Everlasting Covenant of Salt: Keeping Things Fresh with Kavana!

As members of the Jewish community, all of us are so very fortunate to be the beneficiaries of an "everlasting covenant of salt." It's incumbent on each of us to do our part in the chain of tradition, transmitting values and ideas, and also empowering and encouraging each new generation of leaders to keep this a living, breathing, relevant covenant. This week, you can celebrate the "brit melach" by sprinkling some salt on your challah, strengthening a relationship with someone a generation older or younger than yourself, and following the example of the young leaders who are taking initiative to keep our preserved tradition feeling fresh!

In reading this week’s Torah portion, an unusual phrase caught my eye. It comes up in Numbers 18:19, not too long after the Korach rebellion, and in the context of the establishment of the priesthood. There, God says to Aaron: "All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for Adonai I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before Adonai, for you and for your offspring as well."

This phrase "brit melach," "covenant of salt," is pretty unique, occurring only here in the Torah and one other place in Tanakh (in II Chronicles, in the context of talking about King David’s dynasty). In the ancient world, to add salt to food meant to preserve it for future use. This is a technique we still use today (think of beef jerky, smoked salmon, or my favorite, pickles!), and it was all the more important before other methods like refrigeration and vacuum sealing. The bottom line is that this unusual phrase, "covenant of salt," must have been clear to an ancient audience, a powerful way of describing a covenant intended to last throughout the ages.

A preserved covenant -- a tradition that lasts -- depends on its ability to be passed down from one generation to the next. This concept should feel familiar to us, as the notion is embedded all over our liturgy (we recite words like "l’dor vador," "from generation to generation"), and is also part of our modern Jewish community parlance (e.g. in conversations about "Jewish continuity").

Of course, salting food not only preserves it, but also changes its nature, somewhat… which is why, thousands of years later, we find ourselves reading of about the priesthood of Aaron and his sons and the kingship of the Davidic dynasty, and although we do trace our Jewish lineage back to their ancient Israelite roots, we do not follow the communal leadership of either priests or kings today. Each time our Jewish tradition has been handed down intact from generation to generation, in this "covenant of salt," every newer, younger generation has made an indelible imprint, renewing it and keeping it fresh.

This is precisely the dynamic I want to highlight this week: how amazing it is that we are beneficiaries of the "everlasting covenant of salt." Our Jewish community is enriched immeasurably each time a new generation takes up the mantle of leadership.

As a first illustration of this idea, you may recall that last week's newsletter noted that Elijah Angelov represented Kavana in a wider Seattle Jewish community endeavor of young adults seeking to get their rabbis and synagogues on board with the Black Lives Matter movement. The letter they drafted reads in part:

"As young Jews, we cannot help but notice that the calls for justice made by the greater Black Lives Matter movement are echoed in the Torah. We don’t wish to quote scripture to a group of people that have studied and lived that scripture much more than we may have, but the words “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof/Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue” צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף  (Deuteronomy 16:18) ring loud and clear in our ears. We are commanded to actively pursue justice and today that is what we ask your help in doing."

If you haven't done so already, please click here to read their full letter. Most importantly, this overture was intended as an invitation to all of us who are already in our 20s or older(!) to get involved in the issues of our day (whether that means being part of protests and marches in the street, or participating from the safety of our own homes). Elijah and the other young leaders have done an awful lot of legwork for the rest of us, compiling organizations that are doing great work, Go Fund Me pages, and petitions where you can lend your voice to their call for justice: click here to view this awesome list of resources, and pick an action that suits you.

Second, I'd like to highlight a young-adult-initiated program that's happening in our community this week. Hava Sprung – another college student who grew up here at Kavana – is organizing a Kids' Market for Racial Justice this coming Sunday afternoon at a park in Queen Anne (see the bottom of this email for details and a flyer). Critically, her goal is to let kids lead the way in the movement for racial justice, and also to engage the broader community (in a Covid-appropriate manner, with masks and social distancing required). At present, Hava is looking for:

  • kids who are interested in setting up a table, booth or wagon and selling stuff on Sunday... this could be crafts, bake-sale items, etc. Click here to register.
  • teens (high school/college students) who are interested in volunteering to help organize/staff the event. In addition to the kids' tables, there will be a resource table, a sign-making table, and a raffle. Email Hava directly to volunteer.
  • community members of all ages to attend on Sunday, ready to spend some money on kid crafts in support of the cause.
  • organizations that might want to match $$ donations, donate goods for the raffle, etc.

I love the idea of this event for so many reasons... it's youth leadership at its best, and hope that the rest of us can turn up in support.

In a third example of generational transmission, next week we will conclude Rabbi Josh Weisman's two-year fellowship at Kavana. This rabbinic fellowship -- a program of the Jewish Emergent Network -- was always conceived as having mutual benefit: Rabbi Josh would come here straight out of rabbinical school and have an opportunity to learn in situ, while the Kavana community would benefit from the infusion of energy and ideas of a talented early-career professional. Indeed, it's been a win-win, and I hope that many of you will join Rabbi Josh tonight for one last meditation session (see below for the full description), and will also participate in our Farewell Gathering to him this Thursday evening (again, see below) to express appreciation for all that he has brought to our community.

As members of the Jewish community, all of us are so very fortunate to be the beneficiaries of an "everlasting covenant of salt." It's incumbent on each of us to do our part in the chain of tradition, transmitting values and ideas, and also empowering and encouraging each new generation of leaders to keep this a living, breathing, relevant covenant. This week, you can celebrate the "brit melach" by sprinkling some salt on your challah, strengthening a relationship with someone a generation older or younger than yourself, and following the example of the young leaders who are taking initiative to keep our preserved tradition feeling fresh!

With hopes that the covenant that calls to us from the wilderness will continue to speak to us in our day, and that its flavor will be both preserved and enhanced as a new generation takes up the mantle of leadership,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum