Parshat Tzav: The Mincha

“This is the offering of Ahron and his sons that they should offer on the day that any one of them is anointed. It is one tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a daily Mincha offering. One half is offered in the morning and one half is offered in the afternoon.” (VaYikra 6:13)

This passage describes a special Mincha offering brought by Ahron and his descendants. This sacrifice is brought every day by the Kohen Gadol. One half is offered at the beginning of the day. The other half is offered at the end of the day. An additional obligation is derived from this passage. Every Kohen begins his service in the Beit HaMikdash by offering a Mincha. This is the Kohen’s initiation into service. The midrash discusses the significance of these Mincha offerings. The midrash comments that this offering is described by Shimshon in a riddle, “It is a food from one that eats”. In order to begin to understand these comments, we need some background.

Shimshon challenged the Pelishtim to solve a riddle. He claimed that there was “a food derived from something that eats. It is sweet and comes from something mighty.” It was the Pelishtim’s job to unravel the riddle. The substance referred to in the riddle was honey that Shimshon discovered in an unusual place. This honey came from a beehive inside of the carcass of a lion. This honey was aptly described by the riddle. Honey is a food. It was found in the carcass of an animal that preys and consumes other animals. Honey is sweet. This honey was found in the carcass of a mighty animal. The midrash is suggesting that the first part of Shimshon’s riddle also describes the Mincha offerings specified by our passage. This Mincha is a food. It is consumed. It comes from the Kohen. Generally, the Kohen eats a portion of an offering. Therefore, the Mincha can be described as a food derived from one who eats. Apparently, the midrash intends to communicate some significant message about the Mincha. However, the specific meaning of these comments is enigmatic.

A hint to the message of the midrash can be derived by more carefully considering the nature of these Mincha offerings. Every Kohen must offer a Mincha before entering into further service in the Mikdash. The Kohen Gadol must offer a Mincha on a daily basis. Maimonides treats the Kohen Gadol’s sacrifice as a component of the daily service of the Mikdash. This suggests that some basic message is communicated by this offering. What is this message? In a very general sense, offerings brought in the Temple serve two purposes. First, they are a form of Divine service. Second, the Kohanim receive a portion from the altar of the Almighty. These offerings provide sustenance to Kohanim. These two functions are not of equal importance. The offerings primarily are a form of service to Hashem. The sustenance received by the Kohanim is of secondary significance. However, it is possible for a casual observer to misinterpret the relative significance of these two purposes. One could conclude that the offerings primarily provide support for the Kohanim and that the element of Divine service is secondary. The Mincha offerings of the Kohen Gadol and Kohanim address this potential misinterpretation. If the offerings are primarily designed to support the Kohanim, there is no reason for the Kohen to offer a portion of his material sustenance on the altar. Everyday the Kohen Gadol brings a Mincha. The one who eats from the offerings brings an offering. This demonstrates that the offerings are not designed to provide material support for the Kohanim. The offerings are Divine service. The Kohen Gadol, like other members of Bnai Yisrael, participates in this form of worship. Similarly, every Kohen begins his service by offering a Mincha.

It seems that the Kohen must begin his service with an acknowledgment. He brings his own offering before dealing with the offerings of the nation. In this manner the Kohen acknowledges that these offerings are not designed for his benefit. He, too, must offer a Mincha! This is because these offerings are Divine service and apply equally to the Kohen and the rest of Bnai Yisrael.

“Speak to Bnai Yisrael and say, “Do not eat any fat in an ox, sheep or goat”. (VaYikra 7:23)

The Torah prohibits eating certain fats from animals. These are the fats that are those offered on the altar. Our passage indicates that even a small portion of the fat may not be consumed. In order to understand the significance of this restriction, some background is required. The Torah prohibits consuming various substances. For example, the fats discussed in our pasuk are prohibited. Meat cooked with milk may not be consumed. Certain species of animals are prohibited. In general, the punishment for willful violation of these prohibitions is lashes. However, lashes are only administered if a minimum amount of the substance has been eaten. Generally, in order to liable to receive lashes an olive size portion must be consumed. This raises an interesting question. According to the Torah, is it permitted to consume less than an olive size amount of these forbidden substances?

The Talmud explains that according to Rav Yochanan, it is prohibited. Rav Yochanan derives this prohibition from our passage. The passage prohibits eating any portion of forbidden fats. This prohibition also applies to other forbidden substances. In short, lashes are administered for consuming an olives size amount of the prohibited substance. However, eating less ­ a chatzi shiur (half the size)­ of the substance is also prohibited by the Torah. Maimonides accepts the opinion of Rav Yochanan. He explains that the Torah prohibits eating any amount of a forbidden substances. There are other prohibitions in the Torah in which quantity is critical. One of these prohibitions is the mitzvah forbidding theft. Maimonides explains that one who steals the value of a perutah (a miniscule quantity) or more violates the mitzvah restricting theft. He is obligated to return the object. Maimonides explains that the Torah also forbids stealing less than a perutah. In other words, stealing a perutah or more creates an obligation to return the object. Stealing less than this amount does not engender this obligation. Nonetheless, this minimal theft is prohibited.

Why is it prohibited to steal less than a perutah? The most obvious answer is that this an expression of the prohibition explained by Rav Yochanan. Just as it is prohibited to eat a chatzi shiur of forbidden fat, it is prohibited to steal less than a perutah. This is the explanation offered by Magid Mishne. However, a careful analysis of Maimonides’ comments suggests that the prohibition of chatzi shiur is not applicable to stealing. Maimonides categorizes stealing less than a perutah with a number of other similar practices. He explains that the Torah forbids us to steal in jest. The Torah prohibits stealing with the intent to return the object. All of these activities are forbidden because a person should not become accustomed to these behaviors. Apparently, Maimonides intends to apply this reason to all cases in the category. This includes stealing less than a perutah. In other words, Maimonides seems to maintain that stealing less than a perutah is not included in the general prohibition of chatzi shiur. Instead, this practice is restricted to prevent the behavior from becoming ingrained. Apparently, the prohibition against stealing includes two components. The primary component is a prohibition against an act of outright theft. This primary prohibition is violated when a person steals a perutah or more. The second component is a secondary prohibition. This prohibition forbids behavior akin to stealing. These behaviors include stealing less than a perutah, stealing in jest, and stealing with the intention to return the object. In these cases the action is not a act of outright theft. However, the behavior is regarded as akin to thievery.

If this analysis of Maimonides’ statement is correct we must ask a question. Why does the general prohibition of chatzi shiur not extend to stealing less than a perutah? There are a number of possible reasons. Let us consider one possible explanation. As explained above, one does not receive lashes for eating a forbidden substance unless an olive size quantity is consumed. This suggests that the identity of the object as a forbidden substance only exists in an object of the specified size. In simple terms, less than an olive size of forbidden fat does not have the identity, in halacha, of forbidden fat. Why is eating a chatzi shiur also forbidden? The chatzi shiur is regarded as a part of the larger object. Therefore, when one eats a chatzi shiur of forbidden fat, halacha regards the activity as eating a part of the larger entity which constitutes a forbidden substance. The chatzi shiur is not, in itself, a forbidden substance. However, halacha regards the chatzi shiur as part of a larger object which constitutes the forbidden substance. According to this interpretation, the prohibition of chatzi shiur cannot be applied to stealing. Stealing does not involve a forbidden entity. Stealing is not prohibited because the stolen object is an innately forbidden substance. One cannot violate the ownership rights of another individual. Theft violates these rights. The value of a perutah does not endow an object with the identity of a forbidden substance. Therefore, less than a perutah cannot be regarded as part of a larger forbidden entity. In other words, the prohibition of chatzi shiur presupposes the existence of a forbidden substance. The chatzi shiur is regarded as a part of this larger whole. Theft does not involve a forbidden substance. Therefore, the general prohibition of chatzi shiur cannot apply.

 

Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Tamidim U’Musafim 3:18. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Klee Mikdash 5:16. Midrash Rabba, Sefer VaYikra8:2. See Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Shemitah VeYovel 13:12. Mesechet Yoma 74a. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 14:2. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Geneyvah 1:1-2.