Masechet Menachot 9a-15b

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Meal Offering
17 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 9a-b: Mixing the meal-offering outside the Temple

As we have learned, meal-offerings are usually mixtures that include flour, oil and frankincense. What if these ingredients were mixed outside of the Temple courtyard? Would they become invalid or is the mixing stage not yet part of the formal process of preparing the mincha?

Rabbi Yochanan rules that such a meal-offering is invalid; Reish Lakish says that there is no problem with it.

Reish Lakish explains his position by pointing to the passage in Sefer Vayikra (2:2) that teaches that the oil and frankincense are added to the flour and that only afterwards does the kohen take the fistful of the mixture that is to be sacrificed on the altar. He concludes that since there is no need for the kohen to be involved in the original mixing of the ingredients, it is clear that it does not need to be done within the precincts of the Temple.  Rabbi Yochanan argues that since the meal-offering mixture is prepared in a kli sharet – a unique Temple vessel – it is clear that it needs to be made in the Temple, even if it does not need to be prepared by a kohen.

Tosafot point out that according to the continuation of the Gemara (on daf 18a) in the event that the ingredients of the meal-offering are placed in the kli sharet but are not mixed at all, nevertheless the mincha is valid. If so, we have to explain that Rabbi Yochanan believes that if the mixing is done in an improper manner it is worse than not being done at all.

On the other hand, Reish Lakish’s argument that the fact that a kohen does not need to be involved in preparing the mincha indicates that it need not be done in the Temple, seems to be contradicted by the fact that in an ordinary animal sacrifice, shechita – slaughtering the animal – can be done by anyone, yet it must be done in the Temple courtyard. The Chazon Ish explains that there is a basic difference between shechita and mixing the mincha. While shechita is one of the basic Temple services essential to every animal sacrifice, mixing the ingredients for the mincha does not have that level of importance, so it would only be considered significant if it was part of the priestly service.

Menachot 10a-b: Commandments meant for the right hand (or foot, or ear)

According to the Mishnah, if the kemitzah – taking a fistful from the meal-offering for placement on the altar – was done by the kohen with his left hand, the sacrifice is invalid. In the Gemara on today’s daf Rava presents the source for this law. Regarding the laws of a metzorah – someone suffering from biblical leprosy – who recovers from his condition and brings various sacrifices, we find that the blood of the sacrifice as well as the oil brought together with the sacrifice is to be placed by the kohen on the body of the recovered metzorah on three specific places – on his right ear, the thumb of his right hand and the big toe on his right foot (see Sefer Vayikra Chapter 14, and, in particular, pesukim or verses 14, 17, 25, 28). The repetition of these requirements leads Rava to conclude that the Torah is emphasizing that there are other laws in the Torah that are to be modeled after these actions and they must be done in a similar fashion. They are:

Aside from the law of kemitzah, which is the meal-offering service in the Temple that we have been discussing, the other two cases relate to two different mitzvot. The chalitza ceremony is performed when a man who is married but did not have children passes away. According to Torah law, ideally the wife of the deceased should remain in his family by means of yibum – levirate marriage – to his brother. In the event that either of them does not want to carry through with yibum, chalitza can sever the relationship and allow her to marry anyone who she chooses. The Torah described the chalitza ceremony as one that demeans the brother who is not willing to take on the responsibility of building up his dead brother’s family, and it involves having the widow remove a shoe from his foot and spit before him (see Devarim 25:9).

According to the Torah if a Hebrew slave who has completed his obligation to his master chooses to remain with him, his ear is pierced to symbolize his servitude (see Shemot 21:6). Again, we learn that this is done to the right ear from the laws of the metzorah.

Menachot 11a-b: Of fists and fingers in Temple service

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 is described on today’s daf where we learn that it was considered one of the most difficult of the sacrificial services.

Rava suggests that kemitzah was done by taking a full handful of the meal-offering mixture in a normal manner.  The Gemara raises an objection from a baraita that names each of the five fingers on a person’s hand; they are zeret (pinky), kemitzah (ring finger), amah (middle finger), etzba (index finger) and gudal (thumb).  The placement of the kemitzah in this list seems to indicate that a kemitzah is not performed with all five fingers. Rav Zutra bar Tuvia quotes Rav as teaching that a handful is taken and then the thumb and pinky are used to brush off any excess flour, leaving the amount that remains under the middle three fingers for sacrifice. Rav Papa concludes that it is clear to him that the passage describing kemitzah (see Sefer Vayikra 2:2) should be understood to mean that it is a full handful done in a normal manner.

It appears that Rav Papa’s teaching that all five fingers are used contradicts the ruling of the baraita that ultimately kemitzah is the amount that is held under three fingers. This, in fact, is the position of the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishnah, where he concludes that by quoting Rav Papa the Gemara indicates that the baraita is rejected and the kemitzah is not to be considered one of the most difficult of the Temple services. Rashi disagrees and suggests that Rav Papa is simply describing how the process of kemitzah is done. It begins with the kohen placing his hand in the flour and taking out a handful. According to this approach, Rav Papa never discusses the next step, where the excess is removed by means of the thumb and pinky.

Menachot 12a-b: Improper thoughts while preparing a meal-offering

As we learned regarding animal sacrifices in Masechet Zevachim (see, for example, daf 13b) inappropriate thoughts that take place at key moments during the preparation of a sacrifice will cause that sacrifice to become invalid. Improper thoughts about where the sacrifice might be eaten or sacrificed will cause it to be considered notar – “left over” – which invalidates the sacrifice; improper thoughts about the time that the sacrifice was to be eaten or sacrificed will cause it to be considered pigul – “abhorrent.” Such a sacrifice is invalid; eating such a sacrifice also entails the punishment of karet – excision – a Heavenly death penalty.

The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that these laws apply to meal-offerings, as well. The source for this law is the parallel that exists between the rules of animal sacrifices and meal-offerings. According to Rashi this is based on the Torah‘s placement of all sacrifices in a single passage in Sefer Vayikra (7:37).

Which are the “key moments” that are the times when the thoughts of notar or pigul will affect the validity of the meal offerings?

The sacrificial service that we find for the mincha is similar to that of an animal sacrifice. After preparing the meal-offering the kohen takes a kometz – a fistful – from the mixture, places it in one of the Temple vessels to sanctify it, carries it to the altar and burns it on the altar. From that time the remnants are permitted to the kohanim to eat. Thus, the four main activities of the mincha parallel those of an animal sacrifice:

  1. Kemitzah (taking the fistful of flour) parallels shechita (slaughtering the animal),
  2. Placing the kometz in the Temple vessel parallels collecting the blood in a Temple vessel,
  3. Carrying the kometz to the altar parallels carrying the blood to the altar,
  4. Burning the kometz on the altar parallels sprinkling the blood on the altar.

It is at these times that an inappropriate thought will invalidate the offering.

Menachot 13a-b: Inappropriate thoughts during animal sacrifice vs. meal offerings

The second perek of Masechet Menachot begins on today’s daf. Perek HaKometz et HaMincha continues the discussion of the problems associated with improper thoughts when bringing a meal-offering. As we saw on yesterday’s daf, menachot are similar to animal sacrifices in that the offering will become invalid if someone has improper thoughts during key parts of the sacrificial service, regarding when or where the offering would be sacrificed or eaten.

There are, however, differences between meal-offerings and animal sacrifices. While in an animal sacrifice, the single activity that permits the sacrifice to be eaten is the service of sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice, there are two essential elements that must be done in order for a meal-offering to be permitted. Those two elements are the placing on the altar of the kometz – the flour-oil mixture removed by the kohen – and the levonah – the frankincense.

In the first Mishnah of the perek we find a disagreement between Rabbi Yossi and the Sages about a case where during the kemitzah – when the kohen takes the fistful of flour from the mincha to be placed on the altar – the kohen thinks that he will sacrifice the levonah at the wrong time. The Sages rule that this meal-offering becomes pigul – abhorrent – and the penalty for eating it would be karet – excision – since that is the law for someone who had this inappropriate thought while involved in the preparation of the mincha. Rabbi Yossi argues that it cannot become pigul (although he allows that the offering becomes invalid), since inappropriate thoughts can only affect the service that is being done and not the other service.

The Mishnah relates that the Sages asked Rabbi Yossi why he distinguishes between meal-offerings and animal sacrifices, and he responded that all parts of the animal sacrifice are essentially one – the blood, the meat and the innards that are to be sacrificed. The levonah, however, is a separate entity that is added to the mincha, but is not truly part of the mincha. As such, an inappropriate thought about the levonah cannot make the mincha become pigul.

Menachot 14a-b: What does the High Priest’s head plate accomplish?

The tzitz – the priestly crown or head plate – was worn by the kohen gadol – the High Priest – as part of his Temple uniform. According to the Torah (Sefer Shemot 28:38) the tzitz served a specific purpose. By wearing it, “Aaron shall bear the iniquity committed in the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow, even in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” This was understood by the Sages to mean that it atones for ritual defilement that might occur in the Temple.

This idea is brought in the Gemara on today’s daf by Rav Papa as an explanation of the disagreement in the Mishnah. In a situation where part of the Temple service became ritually defiled, e.g. when one of the two loaves brought on Shavuot becomes ritually defiled, or one set of the lechem ha-panim – the shew-bread (see above daf 7) becomes impure, can the remaining bread be eaten? Rabbi Yehuda rules that they must all be destroyed, since a communal offering cannot be divided into parts. The Sages of the Mishnah disagree and rule that what has become ritually defiled must be destroyed, but that the rest remains unaffected and can be eaten.

Rav Papa suggests that this difference of opinion is based on how broad the power of the tzitz should be viewed. According to the Sages, the power of the tzitz to atone for ritual defilement in the Temple is such that it works not only on sacrifices that have already been brought so that they are considered valid, but also on things that are to be eaten by the kohanim. Although it cannot purify a ritually defiled offering, it can give it the status of a valid offering to the extent that the sprinkling of the blood of such a sacrifice would be acceptable and the remaining parts of the offering will be considered valid and can be eaten by the kohanim according to their regulations. Rabbi Yehuda limits the power of the tzitz, and since part of the sacrifice has become disqualified the blood cannot be sprinkled and the loaves cannot be eaten.

Ultimately, the Gemara rejects Rav Papa’s explanation, and Rabbi Yochanan concludes that Rabbi Yehuda simply had an longstanding oral tradition that a partial communal offering cannot be brought.

Menachot 15a-b: The problem with growing cannabis in your vineyard

The Gemara on today’s daf segues to a discussion about kilayim – forbidden mixtures of plants. A Mishnah from Masechet Kilayim (2:5) is brought that teaches that a field where kanabus or luf is growing cannot be planted with other types of fruit or vegetables, since these plants remain for three years. Many different explanations are offered for this teaching.

It appears that the Gemara’s kanabus is the plant that is still called by that name – cannabis sativa. Already in ancient times this delicate, cultivated plant was used to create fibers used in weaving. It was also used to produce oil – usually for industrial purposes rather than for eating. A specific type of this plant was used to produce hashish, which may have been in use in Talmudic times for medicinal purposes. It is difficult to identify kanabus definitively because of the Gemara’s description that it is a plant that lasts for three years. Some interpret this to mean that its seeds often germinate where the original plant grew so that it appears that the plant remains for many years.

Luf is usually identified as arum palestinium of the aracaae family. This plant has a tuber from which large leaves grow. The manner of its flowering is unique, with a leaf surrounding the flower’s spadix. The entire flower contains Calcium Oxolate – Ca(COO)2  – which is poisonous and causes a painful rash when touched. For this reason it is not eaten raw by humans, and even most animals cannot eat it. It can, however, be prepared for human consumption by means of cooking or roasting.

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.