Va-yikra

When a person presents an offering of meal to the Lord, [the] offering shall be of choice flour…. – Leviticus 2:1

Chapter 2 of the Book of Leviticus is all about paying tribute to God through gifts of food made from two processed agricultural products, wheat flour and olive oil. The minchah offering is separated from similar foods prepared for personal consumption by its ritualized presentation and use.

The choice flour used here is semolina, the coarse-textured product that we most commonly associate with pasta. Semolina was locally produced, but available in limited quantities. Durum wheat, which has been used by peoples of the Near East for breadmaking for thousands of years, breaks down easily into fine flour during the milling process yielding only small amounts of semolina. Any ingredient that is relatively hard to secure in large quantities becomes more valuable.

Five methods of preparation are described: an uncooked mixture topped with frankincense, an import obtained through long-distance trading and one of the four “sweet scents” used in the ceremonial incense; baked cakes from a mixed batter or wafers spread with oil; griddle-toasted cakes, broken into pieces with more oil poured on top; and pan-fried in oil. By permitting a range of methods incorporating greater and lesser amounts of ingredients, the minchah offering makes it possible for poor Israelites to participate in the sacrificial system along with those of greater means.

Further instructions are given concerning the use of other ingredients. Incorporating fermenting agents, specifically leavening and honey, is prohibited. Seasoning with salt, which inhibits fermentation, is required. Preventing fermentation of the grain is significant for two reasons. The frequency with which these offerings are made, given, and eaten mitigates against prolonging the preparation process by allowing dough to rise. Prohibiting chametz serves as a powerful motivator by reminding individuals and the Israelites collectively of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt(Ex. 13:8).

We do not prepare sacrifices, but when we bake we can think about the ingredients and methods that we use and consciously choose those that best suit our purposes and make the most of our means.

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