Masechet Menachot 51a-57b

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29 Apr 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 51a-b – What if the kohen dies?

One of the daily sacrifices brought by the High Priest was the meal-offering called the minchat chavitin. It consisted of loaves that were baked from a measure of flour, half of which were sacrificed on the altar in the morning and the other half which were sacrificed in the afternoon (see Vayikra 6:12-18).

According to the Mishnah on today’s daf if the kohen gadol passed away after the morning minchat chavitin had been brought, and no one had been appointed to replace him, Rabbi Shimon rules that the afternoon offering would be brought from the public coffers; Rabbi Yehuda requires those who inherit the kohen gadol to pay for it.

Although the source for these two opinions are based on Biblical passages, the Gemara points out that we find a baraita that lists this law among several that Rabbi Shimon identified as being Rabbinic ordinances. By way of explanation, Rabbi Abahu suggests that there were two separate enactments. As the Gemara originally suggested, Rabbi Shimon believes that the afternoon offering should be brought from the public coffers. When public funding ran short the Rabbis ruled that those who inherit the kohen gadol are obligated to bring the offering. When it became clear that those people were unreliable, the law reverted to the original Biblical requirement.

The Chazon Ish points out that the original Rabbinic ordinance was problematic since a minchat chavitin could not be brought as a voluntary donation. Since in this case the offerings really should have been brought from communal funds, how could private funds be used?  He suggests that the way the ordinance was developed must have required the heirs of the kohen gadol to donate the money to the public coffers for the purpose of the public minchat chavitin offering.

Menachot 52a-b: Using the ashes of a Red Heifer

The baraita quoted on yesterday’s daf offered a number of cases where Rabbi Shimon identified certain laws as being Rabbinic ordinances. One of the cases was the ruling that the ashes of a parah adumah – a Red Heifer – used in the Temple in purification ceremonies (see Bamidbar Chapter 19) are not subject to the laws of me’ilah, that is, there is no penalty for inappropriate, mundane use of these ashes.

The Gemara objects that according to Biblical law, me’ilah applies only to the parah adumah itself and not to its ashes. On today’s daf Rav Ashi explains that there were two separate enactments. On a Biblical level, the ashes of a parah adumah are not subject to the laws of me’ilah. When the Sages saw that people were not showing proper respect for the holiness of the ashes and were using it for medicinal purposes, they enacted a prohibition against its use. At a later time when the Sages realized that this prohibition led people to avoid using the ashes of a parah adumah in cases of a purification ceremony when the ritual defilement was unclear, they ruled that the law should revert to the original Biblical status.

Tosafot suggest that although in all cases the ashes of sanctified korbanot (sacrifices) that have been burned are permitted for use, in this case there is need for a specific ruling allowing the ashes of a parah adumah, since the ashes themselves are meant to be used in a Temple ceremony.

In ancient times, use of ashes as a medicine in situations of skin wounds, abrasions or infections was commonplace. Topical placement of the ashes on an open wound served to stem bleeding and also limited the spread of the infection, although its application would often cause noticeable scarring. It is also likely that people were interested in using the ashes of a parah adumah for this purpose because of its holiness and their belief that it would therefore serve as a talisman for healing.

Menachot 53a-b: Avraham, God’s beloved, at the site of the Temple

The Gemara records that Avraham was called yedid – “God’s beloved” – and then continues by offering a midrashic interpretation of the passages in Sefer Yirmiyahu (11:15-16) where we find a conversation between God and the yedid.

Rabbi Yitzhak said, At the time of the destruction of the Temple the Holy One, blessed be He, found Avraham standing in the Temple. Said He, ‘What is My beloved doing in My house?’ Avraham replied, ‘I have come concerning the fate of my children.’

Said He, ‘Thy children sinned and have gone into exile.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Avraham, ‘they only sinned in error?’

He answered, ‘She hath wrought lewdness.’

‘Perhaps only a few sinned?’

‘With many,’ came the reply. ‘Still,’ he pleaded, ‘You should have remembered unto them the covenant of circumcision.’

And He replied, ‘The hallowed flesh is passed from thee.’

‘Perhaps had You waited for them they would have repented,’ he pleaded.

And He replied, ‘When thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest!’

Thereupon he put his hands on his head and wept bitterly, and cried, ‘Perhaps, Heaven forfend, there is no hope for them!’

Then came forth a Heavenly Voice and said, The Lord called thy name a leafy olive-tree, fair with goodly fruit: as the olive-tree produces its best only at the very end, so Israel will flourish at the end of time.

In his Ben Yehoyadah, the Ben Ish Hai interprets Avraham’s placing his head in his hands as follows. Avraham understood that both the activities of the Jewish People -represented by the hands – as well as their thoughts and ideas – represented by the head – were equally involved in evil. He therefore placed his head in his hands and cried out in prayer so that he could appeal for forgiveness on behalf of those two elements together.

Menachot 54a-b: The most difficult kemitzah

As we have learned, one of the central practices that must be done to meal-offerings brought to the Temple is kemitzah – when the kohen takes a fistful of the flour-oil-frankincense mixture – and places it in a kli sharet – one of the Temple vessels – as preparation for sacrifice on the altar. Kemitzah has been described as one of the most difficult of the sacrificial services (see above, daf or page 11).

On today’s daf we find the opinion of Rabbi Ila who teaches that among the different meal-offerings, it is the minchat chotei – the sinner’s offering (when a person is obligated to bring a sacrifice for one of a number of specific sins, in the event that he cannot afford a more expensive sacrifice, he can bring a meal offering – see Vayikra 5:1-13), that is truly the most difficult. This is because the minchat chotei is chareivah – it is dry with no oil added to it, as was the case with other meal-offerings (see Vayikra 5:11). If the flour is entirely dry it is exceedingly difficult for the kohen to wipe away excess flour with his thumb and pinky, yet ensure that no additional flour will spill out, as well.

Rav Yitzhak bar Avdimei apparently disagrees; he recommends adding water to the mixture and performing the kemitzah in that manner. The Gemara concludes that their disagreement stems from the definition of chareivah. Rabbi Ila understands that it is entirely dry, with neither oil nor water; Rav Yitzhak bar Avdimei understands that it cannot have oil added, but water would be permitted.

Although there are other meal-offerings where oil is not added, e.g., the shtei ha-lechem – the two loaves brought on Shavuot, celebrating the new wheat harvest (see Vayikra 23:17) – nevertheless they are not considered to be chareivah, since they are kneaded with water. Furthermore there is no specific prohibition against adding oil to them as is the case in the minchat chotei.

Menachot 55a-b: Baking meal-offerings as matzah

Most of the meal-offerings brought in the Temple were baked as matzah and were not permitted to rise and become chametz (see Vayikra 2:11). According to the Mishnah on today’s daf, the flour was mixed with lukewarm water, and care was taken to ensure that it did not become chametz. In the event that it became chametz, the kohen would be liable separately for each of the stages of preparation – for kneading the dough, for setting it out and for baking it.

In his Melechet Shlomo, Rav Shlomo haEdni suggests that there is no actual requirement to prepare the mincha flour with lukewarm water, rather it was the recommended practice, since there is no concern lest the mixture become chametz given the accepted adage that kohanim zerizim hem – that the kohanim were zealous in their work in the Temple. Several reasons are offered to explain why preparing the meal-offering with lukewarm water was preferable –

The Chazon Ish points out that this approach, which views the use of lukewarm water as preferable but not required, only works according to the opinion of the Rambam who permits the use of fruit juice – which never becomes chametz – in the meal-offering. According to the Ramban, however, who rules that unless the mixture can become chametz it will not be considered appropriate for use as a korban mincha, mixing with water is a basic requirement.

Another issue raised in this context is whether any water can be used or if the water must be consecrated or else it is as if a mundane offering was being brought in the Temple.

Menachot 56a-b: Blood-letting and sacrifices

Generally speaking, it is forbidden to injure an animal that has been sanctified for use in the Temple, causing it to become a ba’al mum, that is, a blemished animal that cannot be sacrificed. This includes the case of a bechor – a first-born animal – that is automatically sanctified at the time of its birth.

The Gemara on today’s daf discusses a situation where a bechor was suffering from a condition described as achazo dam – it was suffering from an overabundance of blood – and the recommended treatment was hakazat dam – blood-letting. Four opinions are offered –

For many generations physicians believed that blood-letting was a powerfully helpful remedy, both as a cure and as a general preventative therapy that would keep a person healthy. During Talmudic times such treatments were commonplace, both for human beings and for animals. At various times, blood-letting was the accepted treatment for almost all ailments.

Today it is well-established that blood-letting is not effective for most diseases. The only remaining condition for which it is used is Polycythemia vera, a disease where the body produces too many red blood cells. Among the symptoms of this illness are bleeding gums, excessive bleeding from ordinary cuts and bruises and a reddish color of the skin. It is possible that these symptoms are what is referred to by the Gemara as achazo dam.

Menachot 57a-b: Teachings from the Holy Land

As we have learned (see above daf 55), most of the meal-offerings brought in the Temple were baked as matzah and were not permitted to rise and become chametz (see Vayikra 2:11). The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that offers two possibilities for what the Torah includes when it teaches that “all menachot that are sacrificed” cannot be baked as chametz

The Gemara questions whether this last teaching can be attributed to Rabbi Akiva who believes that a dry measure of flour does not become sanctified in a kli sharet – a Temple vessel. According to this position, the lechem ha-panim will only become sanctified after baking was completed, when the Showbread loaves are placed on the table in the Temple. At that point, there is no possibility that the loaves can become chametz.

In response, the Gemara brings a letter sent by Rabbi Reuven who quotes Rabbi Yochanan, the great Palestinian amora as teaching that the correct reading of the baraita switches the opinions around, so we find Rabbi Akiva teaching that meal-offerings burned on the altar cannot be chametz, and Rabbi Yossi HaGalili teaching that the lechem ha-panim cannot be chametz.

The idea of sharing halakhic traditions from the Land of Israel to the Diaspora is commonplace in the Talmud. While such traditions were often transmitted directly by Sages who travelled between Israel and Babylonia, we also find that letters were exchanged between the two communities. These letters were perceived as reliable teachings and we find questions raised by the Sages based on them. Given their acceptance, the author of the letter often took great care to record the information accurately, so we may find a veritable transcript that includes such supportive statements as “this is the opinion of Rabbi So-and-so, and all of the Sages quote it in his name.”

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.