Masechet Menachot 23a-29b

hero image
Meal Offering
31 Mar 2011

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Menachot 23a-b: Mixing meal-offerings…and matzah

According to the Mishnah on today’s daf, if two meal-offerings became mixed together before the kometz – the fistful of flour – was taken to be sacrificed, then the offerings will remain valid as long as it is possible to take the kometz from each one separately. If the two offerings were so mixed together that a separate kometz could not be taken from each, then the offerings are invalid.

In the course of discussing this law, the Gemara quotes a baraita that discusses the baking of matzah. According to the baraita, if the dough that was prepared for baking matzah was mixed with ketzah or sesame or other types of spice, the matzah remains valid for fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah on the night of the Pesach Seder, since it is simply “flavored matzah.” While the Gemara first suggests that this would even be true in a case where there were more of the spices than there was of the dough, ultimately the Gemara rejects that possibility and concludes that this law is true only if the dough was the majority.

Tosafot raise the question of how the Gemara considered the possibility that the matzah would be valid even is the majority was the spices, and suggests that the Gemara never meant that there actually were more spices than dough, rather it was referring to a situation where there was a clump of spices in one place and that the suggestion was that the person who ate those spices might still fulfill his mitzvah.

The ketzah spice referred to in the Gemara is Nigella Sativa of the Ranunculaceae family, which, in English is variously called fennel flower, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander, blackseed or black caraway. It is an annual plant that reaches a height up to 30 cm. Its blue blossoms flower at the beginning of the Spring, and its seeds are found in a type of capsule. The seeds are very small (with a length of 2-3 cm) and almost triangular in shape; in a single gram there are up to 500 seeds. To this day the plant is used as a spice; in ancient times it was also used for medicinal purposes. Already in Biblical times it was a domesticated plant (see Sefer Yeshayahu 28:25-27).

Menachot 24a-b: When something is ritually defiled, can it become further defiled?

On occasion, the vessel used to hold the flour for a meal offering was made in such a way that there were different compartments. The Gemara on today’s daf teaches that in such a case although the vessel holding the meal-offerings separates it, nevertheless it is considered a single, valid offering, since it is held together in a single vessel.

This ruling is true because both parts of the meal-offering were in a single vessel simultaneously. Rava asks whether we can extend this concept to other cases. What if the meal-offering was divided into two parts and one of them became tamei – ritually defiled – and was then placed in the vessel together with the other part that remained in a perfectly pure state. Simply being in close proximity in the vessel would not allow one part to defile the other. Rava’s question is what happens if a person who is ritually defiled touches the part that is already defiled. Do we say that since the two parts are together in a single vessel, then touching one part is equivalent to touching the entire meal-offering, or, perhaps, the part that is defiled is “full” of defilement and cannot be defiled further? If this latter possibility is correct, then the part that has not yet been defiled would not be affected.

Although the Gemara does not reach any clear conclusion regarding this question, the Sefat Emet asked why the Gemara chose to introduce such a basic question – whether something that is already tamei can receive further defilement – in the context of an obscure case such as this one. From the Ramban in Masechet Shevuot (11b) it appears that this question only applies in a case where both parts are in a single vessel, for if they were connected in other ways, e.g. if two pieces of meat were combined in a pastry wrapping, it is clear that the defilement would affect the entire thing.

Menachot 25a-b: The power of the High Priest’s head-plate to offer atonement

As we have learned, the part of the meal-offering that is sacrificed on the altar is the kometz – the fistful of flour taken by the kohen from the offering for that purpose. The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses a case where the kometz became tamei – ritually defiled – and rules that if it is sacrificed in its defiled state, the offering is, nonetheless, valid, because of the power of the tzitz – the head-plate worn by the kohen gadol – to offer atonement for ritual defilement in the Temple.

The Mishnah continues and teaches that this atonement is only available if the kometz becomes tamei. If, however, the problem was that it had been removed from the precincts of the Temple, then it is invalid, and the presence of the tzitz cannot atone for that difficulty.

The fact that the Mishnah presented the rule in the past tense – that a ritually defiled kometz that was sacrificed – rather than stating that the kometz could be brought even under these circumstances, would seem to indicate that in this case it really should not be brought; only after-the-fact, if it was sacrificed, would it be accepted as valid. Rashi in Masechet Gittin (54a) suggests that on a biblical level sacrificial blood that had become tamei could be sprinkled, and similarly, the kometz could be sacrificed, even lechatchila – ab initio – and it is only a rabbinic ordinance that limits this and permits it only after-the-fact. At the same time, from Rashi in Masechet Pesachim 34b it appears that the tzitz only offers atonement for ritual defilement in the Temple after-the-fact, but it cannot permit sacrifices to be brought lechatchila.

It should be noted, that although the Mishnah is clear that the tzitz only serves to offer atonement for ritual defilement and not for sacrifices that were taken out of the Temple, there are tanna’im who disagree. According to the Tosefta, Rabbi Akiva rules that the tzitz also has the power to offer atonement for offerings that were removed from the Temple precincts.

Menachot 26a-b: The missing Temple vessel

Much of the Temple service involves collecting parts of sacrifices in a kli sharet – a special Temple vessel – an act that sanctifies that part of the offering and prepares it for its intended use as part of the service.

What if the kohen performed the service, but neglected to sanctify the offering in a keli sharet?

The Mishnah on today’s daf rules that if the kometz – the fistful of flour removed by the kohen from the meal-offering for sacrifice on the altar – was not placed in a kli sharet, it is invalid. Rabbi Shimon disagrees, ruling that it remains valid nevertheless.

Rashi explains that according to all opinions, the original meal-offering must be brought in a kli sharet in order to sanctify it in the first place. The disagreement focuses only on the second stage, when the kometz is taken from the meal-offering, when it is placed in another kli sharet to be sanctified for placement on the altar. Nevertheless, from the Rambam‘s Commentary to the Mishnah it appears that he views the disagreement even in the first stage of preparation.

In explaining Rabbi Shimon’s position, Rabbi Yehuda the son of Rabbi Chiya points to a passage (Sefer Vayikra 6:10) that compares the mincha – the meal-offering – to both a chatat – a sin-offering – and an asham – a guilt-offering. Thus, if someone chooses to perform the service of the mincha following the model of a chatat, he does it with his right hand, like the chatat, whose blood is sprinkled on the altar by the kohen using his right hand. He can also choose to perform the service of the mincha following the model of an asham, whose blood is poured on the altar from a kli sharet even with the left hand.

One way of understanding this explanation is that since Rabbi Shimon allows the service to be performed by hand, he never actually requires a kli sharet for this service. A second approach is to say that Rabbi Shimon offers two possible methods of performing this service – either by hand or with a keli sharet. According to this last approach, when the Mishnah quotes Rabbi Shimon as allowing the meal-offering to be brought without a kli sharet, that would only be true if it was done with the right hand.

Menachot 27a-b: Must the four species brought on Sukkot be taken together?

As often happens in the Gemara, which records actual conversations, discussion of a given topic may segue in a different direction. The first Mishnah on today’s daf continues discussing the laws of meal-offerings, teaching that the different parts of the mincha require each other, such that the flour cannot be brought without the oil, nor the oil without the flour; the kometz (the fistful of flour taken by the kohen for sacrifice on the altar) cannot be brought without the frankincense, nor can the frankincense be brought without the kometz.

This leads to the laws that appear in the second Mishnah that are not at all related to the laws of meal-offerings, rather they are a list of other religious rituals whose different parts make up a greater whole and cannot be divided. It is in this context that we learn that the four different species taken on Sukkot – the lulav, etrog, hadassim and aravot (see Sefer Vayikra 23:40) – require one-another and that from a halakhic standpoint, bringing one without the other serves no purpose.

In the Gemara, Rav Chanan bar Rava comments that the Mishnah’s ruling is limited to a situation where the person does not have all four species. If, however, the person has all four in his possession, then they do not need to be together. The Ba’al Halakhot Gedolot understands this to mean that he would be able to pick them up one-by-one and fulfill his obligation. Rabbeinu Tam objects to this ruling, arguing that since they are a single mitzvah it is not possible that they can be taken separately. He argues that Rav Chanan bar Rava’s intention must be to allow them to be taken together, even if they are not tied together.

The Gemara concludes that there is a difference of opinion among the tanna’im regarding this issue. The Chachamim do not require that the four species be tied together, while Rabbi Yehuda requires them to actually be tied together.

Menachot 28a-b: The Menorah – the Temple candelabra

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Gemara has shifted its focus from meal-offerings to mitzvot whose different parts are all essential for performing the mitzvah. The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses several such commandments, including the four tzitzit on a garment, the four Torah portions in Tefillin and the seven branches of the menorah – the candelabra – in the Temple.

Regarding the menorah, the Mishnah mentions two separate parts – both the seven branches and the seven lamps. The branches refer to the six arms that branch out from the center branch of the menorah, three on each side (see Sefer Shemot 25:32); the lamps are the bowls at the top of each one of the branches that hold the oil and the wicks.

Aside from the branches, the Torah teaches that the menorah was decorated with 22 gevi’im (goblets), 11 kaftorim (balls) and nine perachim (flowers), all of which are discussed on today’s daf. Shmu’el teaches that –

Regarding the perachim, Rashi explains that these were decorations placed on the side of the branches of the menorah; the Rambam suggests that they were a type of crown that went around each of the branches as decoration. This decorated column illustrates both opinions.

The Rambam drew a diagram of his understanding of the menorah although he writes that this is not meant to be an accurate representation, rather a general description. Two points are of particular interest:

  1. The branches are straight, and at an angle, rather than curved.
  2. The gevi’im appear upside-down, with their opening at the bottom and stem at the top.

Although the Gemara concludes that the 22 gevi’im, 11 kaftorim and nine perachim are all essential and if any one of them was missing the menorah was invalid, this was only true for the golden menorah used in the Tabernacle and in the first Temple. When it was made out of other metals – as the Gemara on today’s daf permits – these decorations were not essential.

Menachot 29a-b: Moshe sits in Rabbi Akiva’s classroom

One of the most well-known anachronistic scenes of the Talmud appears on today’s daf:

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: When Moshe ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing crowns to the letters of the Torah. Said Moshe, ‘Lord of the Universe, Who stays Thy hand?’ He answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiva ben Yosef by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws’. ‘Lord of the Universe’, said Moshe, ‘permit me to see him’. He replied, ‘Turn around’. Moshe went and sat down behind eight rows and listened to the teachings presented by Rabbi Akiva to his students. Not being able to follow their arguments he became weak and ill at ease, but when they came to a certain subject and the disciples said to Rabbi Akiva ‘What is the source for this teaching?’ and he replied ‘It is a law given unto Moshe at Mount Sinai’ he was comforted.

After this experience, Moshe returned to the Holy One, blessed be He, and said, ‘Lord of the Universe, You have such a man and yet You are giving the Torah by my hand?!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree’.

Then Moshe said, ‘Lord of the Universe, You have shown me his Torah, show me his reward’. ‘Turn around’, said He; and Moshe turned around and saw them weighing out his flesh at the market-stalls, for Rabbi Akiva was one of the ten Sages martyred during the Hadrianic persecutions. ‘Lord of the Universe!’ cried Moshe, ‘such Torah, and such a reward!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree’.

The simple explanation for God’s reply “such is My decree” is, as the prophet Yeshayahu (55:8) teaches, that God’s thoughts are unlike those of man, and, indeed, are incomprehensible to man. In his Tzon Kodashim, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Schorr suggests that this can be understood based on the idea of the Sages that God’s original decree was to create a world of total justice, but that was changed when He recognized that such a world could not exist. Thus, the righteous Sages like Rabbi Akiva and his companions are not judged with mercy like ordinary people, but are treated according to the letter of the law, according to God’s original decree of creation.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.