Introduction to Masechet Menachot and 2a-8b

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Meal Offering
10 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.

Masechet Menachot: Introduction

Masechet Menachot and Masechet Zevachim should be viewed as “sister tractates.” Both of them focus on the rules and regulations associated with the sacrificial service, although Masechet Zevachim deals with sacrifices brought from living creatures that are slaughtered (animals and fowl), while Masechet Menachot is about sacrifices that originate in the plant world – menachot – meal offerings brought from grains (wheat and barley) and libations of wine and oil.

Just as is the case regarding animal sacrifices, we find a variety of different sacrifices in the general category of menachot. There are those that are voluntary, those that are obligatory and those that come to effect atonement for sin; there are those brought by individuals and those brought on behalf of the community. Another parallel to animal sacrifice is the fact that while some parts are burned on the altar, other parts are given to the kohanim to eat. Nevertheless, there are differences, as well. For example, all menachot are considered kodshei kodashim – the highest level of holiness and they can only be eaten by male kohanim in the Temple courtyard.

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 during these four acts that inappropriate thoughts will disqualify the sacrifice. Thus, the kometz of the meal offering and the blood of the animal sacrifice symbolize the atonement offered by this sacrifice, and completing that service allows the rest of the sacrifice to be eaten or brought on the altar, as appropriate.

Among the differences between these sacrifices is the fact that an animal sacrifice is ready to be slaughtered and brought to the altar with minimal preparation, while the meal-offering must be prepared from different ingredients – flour, oil, frankincense – in order to be ready for sacrifice.

In reality, the first two tractates in Seder KodashimZevachim and Menachot – constitute a single whole dealing with the sacrificial service, inasmuch as each contains elements of ritual law that apply to the other. The latter part of Masechet Menachot, for example, appears to be a summation of the general rules of sacrifice. The concluding Mishnah quotes passages that appear regarding animal sacrifice (see Vayikra 1:9, 17) and meal-offerings (Vayikra 2:2), which agree that both are offerings desired by God, allowing the Mishnah to close by teaching that it makes no difference whether one offers much or little, so long as he directs his heart to heaven.

Meal-offerings can be categorized in a number of different ways:

In all, there are 15 different types of menachot:

Meal-offerings brought by individuals include: [The first five voluntary menachot, which are enumerated by the Torah according to their method of preparation (see Vayikra 2:1-10)]

  1. A simple flour mixture
  2. Challot – unleavened cakes
  3. Rekikim – unleavened wafers
  4. Machavat – fried
  5. Marcheshet – cooked
  6. 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).
  7. The meal-offering brought by a sotah – a woman suspected of an affair (see Bamidbar 5:25).
  8. The meal-offering brought by a kohen who begins his service in the Temple (see Vayikra 6:13)
  9. The daily meal-offering brought by the kohen gadol in the morning and afternoon (see Vayikra 6:15).
  10. Challot brought together with a korban todah – a thanksgiving offering (see Vayikra 7:12-14).
  11. The loaves brought by the Nazerite who has completed his period of nezirut (see Bamidbar 6:14).

Meal-offerings brought by the community include:

  1. Minchat ha-Omer – the meal offering brought on Passover, celebrating the new harvest (see Vayikra 23:10-11)
  2. Shtei ha-lechem – the two loaves brought on Shavuot, celebrating the new wheat harvest (see Vayikra 23:17)
  3. Lechem ha-panim – the 12 loaves placed on the table in the Temple on a weekly basis (see Vayikra 24:5-8)

Masechet Menachot devotes significant space to discussion of a number of laws that have no direct connection with sacrifices, but since they were mentioned in the Mishnayot, they are discussed at length. Thus, the major discussion in the Talmud of such topics as tzitzit, Tefillin and mezuzah are found here, and although these topics are mentioned in other tractates as well, Masechet Menachot is the main source of information when rulings on these matters appear in halakhic works.

Menachot 2a-b: Thinking inappropriate thoughts about a meal-offering – I

As we have seen in the introduction to Masechet Menachot a kometz – a fistful of flour – was taken from most of the meal-offerings that were brought in the Temple and was placed on the altar. The first Mishnah teaches that in most cases, if this was done she-lo lishmah – with improper intentions – the meal-offering remains a valid sacrifice, although it is not credited to the owner of the offering and he will have to bring a replacement for it.

Rashi explains that when the Mishnah says that the kometz was taken with improper intentions it means that at the time that he took the fistful of flour the kohen stated clearly his incorrect intention regarding the kometz. The Rambam, however, indicates that even an inappropriate thought would be enough to affect the status of the offering. At the same time, in Masechet Zevachim (daf 2b) it is clear that when bringing an animal sacrifice it is only if the kohen has the wrong intention that there will be a problem; if he does not have any specific thoughts, the korban will not be affected.

Our Gemara does not offer any source for the requirement that the meal-offering be brought with appropriate intent. Tosafot suggest that the Mishnah here relies on the rules that were taught regarding animal sacrifices in Masechet Zevachim (see daf 4a) based on the passages about a korban shelamim – a peace-offering – given the connection that the Torah makes among all sacrifices in Sefer Vayikra (7:37).

Some commentaries point out that although there is reason to suggest that there is a major difference between animal sacrifices – where changing a sacrifice from an olah (a burnt offering) to a shelamim (a peace offering) involves a transformation from one level of holiness to another and from one type of atonement to another – while all menachot are largely the same, nevertheless the Torah does distinguish between different menachot in the way they are prepared and gives them different names (see the introduction to this tractate).

Menachot 3a-b – Thinking inappropriate thoughts about a meal-offering – II

As we learned in the Mishnah on yesterday’s daf when the kometz – the fistful of flour was taken from the meal-offering she-lo lishmah – with improper intentions – the meal-offering remains a valid sacrifice, although it is not credited to the owner of the offering and he will have to bring a replacement for it.

According to the Gemara, it appears that Rabbi Shimon disagrees with this ruling and rules that such a meal-offering would be credited to the owner. He explains that a meal-offering is qualitatively different than an ordinary animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifices all have the same act of slaughter, the same collection of blood, etc. In a meal-offering, however, the preparation of the sacrifice makes it evident whether the sacrifice has oil or does not and whether it is to be fried in a pan or cooked in a pot so the kohen‘s intentions are less important, and the mincha will remain perfectly valid. Yet from another baraita it seems that Rabbi Shimon accepts the ruling of the Mishnah!

Several explanations are offered in the Gemara to the apparent contradiction in Rabbi Shimon’s rulings.

Rava‘s explanation is brought on today’s daf, and he argues that we must distinguish between a kohen who takes the kometz from the mincha with the stated intention that it be brought as a different type of mincha. In such a case, Rabbi Shimon rules that it remains completely valid and is credited to the owner. If, however, the stated purpose of the mincha was for an animal sacrifice, then it would not be credited to the owner.

The commentary attributed to the Rashba explains this last case as a situation where the kohen says that he is taking the kometz from the meal-offering with the intention of effecting the atonement of someone who is obligated to bring a korban chatat – a sin-offering – or for the purpose of receiving the expiation of a korban olah – a burnt-offering – or a korban shelamim – a peace-offering – that the person is obligated to bring. Since no meal-offering serves these purposes, Rabbi Shimon agrees that it will not be credited to the owner.

Menachot 4a-b: Mistakes in the Omer meal-offering – I

As we learned on daf 2, a kometz – a fistful of flour – was taken from most of the meal-offerings that were brought in the Temple and was placed on the altar. The first Mishnah taught that in most cases, if this was done she-lo lishmah – with improper intentions – the meal-offering remains a valid sacrifice, although it is not credited to the owner of the offering and he will have to bring a replacement for it.

On today’s daf, Rav teaches that if kemitzah was done she-lo lishmah on the Minchat ha-Omer it is totally invalid, since the purpose of this mincha was to permit the new harvest and it did not fulfill that purpose.

The Omer is a measure of grain. In this case it is used to refer to the measure of barley offered in the Temple on the sixteenth day of Nisan, that is, the day following the first day of Pesach. The Omer was harvested on the night following the first day of Pesach – even if it was Shabbat – from the newly ripe grain and was prepared as roasted flour. A handful was burned on the altar and the rest was eaten by the kohanim. Until the Omer had been brought, it was forbidden to eat the grain from the new harvest.

Rav’s ruling – which, as we will see, was disputed by other amoraim – is based on his own logic and not on any Biblical sources. It appears that Rav believes that the Minchat ha-Omer is basically similar to other meal-offerings in that improper intentions should not affect its validity. Nevertheless, this meal-offering differs from others, since most menachot could be viewed as voluntary sacrifices in the event that they cannot be credited to their owner for the purpose that he meant to bring them. The Minchat ha-Omer, however, served a specific purpose – to permit the new grain to be eaten – and there was no possibility of bringing such an offering voluntarily. Therefore, if it did not accomplish its purpose there was no reason for it and it becomes invalid.

Menachot 5a-b: Mistakes in the Omer meal-offering – II

On yesterday’s daf we learned about a unique meal-offering – the minchat ha-Omer – that was brought on the day after the first day of Pesach and whose purpose was to permit use of the grain from the new harvest. Rav taught that in this case, if the kohen took the required fistful of flour she-lo lishmah – with inappropriate intentions – the minchat ha-Omer is totally invalid, since the purpose of this mincha was to permit the new harvest and it did not fulfill that purpose.

On today’s daf we find that not all of the Sages agree with Rav’s ruling.

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish rules that in such a case the meal offering remains valid and the kometz – the fistful of flour taken from the mincha – can be offered on the altar. Nevertheless, the rest of the flour cannot be eaten by the kohanim until a second minchat ha-Omer is brought, since the first one did not fulfill the necessary requirement and the new grain has not yet been permitted. Rav Papa explains that this is based on the fact that Reish Lakish believes that the new grain becomes permitted automatically with dawn of the morning of the 16th day of Nisan (see the first part of the passage in Vayikra 23:14), although bringing the special minchat ha-Omer is required if the sacrifice can be brought (see the continuation of the abovementioned passage).

Rava disagrees with both Rav and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, and rules that the minchat ha- Omer is valid and succeeds in permitting the new grain even if the kohen had improper intentions at the time that he took the kometz. He argues that the minchat ha- Omer really is unique inasmuch as it is the only meal offering brought from barley (all others are brought from wheat), so the ordinary sacrificial rules do not apply. Rashi explains that according to this approach, the minchat ha- Omer should not be viewed as a sacrifice, but simply as the required method of permitting the new grain. Therefore the ordinary rules of sacrifices do not apply to it.

Menachot 6a-b: Levonah – Frankincense

The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that when taking the kometz – the fistful of flour – from a meal-offering, it must be done properly. The Mishnah offers a list of situations that are considered to be improper and would render the offering invalid. These include a non-priest, a priest who was in mourning or was not wearing the official priestly robes, who had not washed his hands and feet, or who was uncircumcised or ritually defiled, or who was sitting at the time or who removed the handful with his left hand. The Mishnah continues that if when taking the kometz he picked up a small stone or a grain of salt or a drop of frankincense it also invalidates the offering, since he has taken “too little”.

The reason for this last rule is that the kometz has a specific size that must be taken – the fist of the kohen – and if he picks up a foreign substance it is clear that he has taken less than the full amount of the required kometz.

The frankincense mentioned is the levonah that is required for the incense in the Temple. It is identified as the resin that oozes from a certain type of tree – the boswellia – that grows in eastern Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula. Some suggest that it is boswellia sacra from southern Arabia or boswellia frereana that grows in eastern Africa. When the bark of these trees is cut, the resin that leaks out hardens and becomes solid frankincense. This frankincense was used as incense from ancient times, and it was also used for medicinal purposes. It was burned as incense by itself or combined with other ingredients.

It is identified in the Bible as coming from the land of Sheba (see Sefer Yeshayahu 60:6). Depending on the type and quality of the tree from which the levonah was extracted, different grades of frankincense were produced. The finest frankincense is referred to in the Bible as levonah zakah – “pure frankincense.”

Menachot 7a-b: The Showbread and its table

In the course of discussing whether it was essential that the Temple vessels used during the sacrificial service associated with the meal-offerings be held by kohanim, or if they could be left on the Temple floor, the Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishnah from later on in Masechet Menachot (daf 99b). According to the Mishnah, the order of the lechem ha-panim – the Showbread – was as follows.

Four kohanim entered the sanctuary on every Shabbat, two of them bearing the two rows of the Showbread in their hands and two bearing the two bowls of frankincense in their hands; and four other kohanim went in before them, two to take away the two rows of the Showbread from the previous week and two to take away the two accompanying bowls of the previous week’s frankincense.

According to the conclusion of the Gemara this description proves that there was no need to hold the Temple vessels off the floor in the course of the meal-offering service, since there is no mention of kohanim whose job it was to lift the shulchan – the table on which the Showbread was placed – while the service was taking place. By bringing a proof from this case, it is clear that the Gemara works with the assumption that the lechem ha-panim – the Showbread – was considered a type of meal-offering and that the table was seen as the Temple vessel, while the bowls of frankincense were the equivalent of the kometz – the fistful of flour taken by the kohen for sacrifice on the altar.

According to the Gemara, the shulchan lechem ha-panim (the Showbread table) has two sets of six shelves upon which the fresh loaves are placed every Shabbat while the loaves that they replaced are eaten by the kohanim. Aside from the shelves, two bowls of frankincense were placed on the table, next to the loaves of the lechem ha-panim.

Menachot 8a-b: Missing ingredients in a meal-offering

Most meal-offerings were made up of fine wheat flour that was mixed with oil and frankincense. On today’s daf we learn that according to Rav a mincha – a meal-offering – can become sanctified even without its oil, since we find that there is a mincha that is brought without oil, that is, the lechem ha-panim – the Showbread. Similarly, a mincha can become sanctified even without its levonah – its frankincense, since the mincha that is a wine libation is brought without frankincense (see Bamidbar 15:1-16). Even if both the oil and the levonah were missing the mincha could become sanctified, since we find that a minchat choteh – the meal-offering brought by a person who commits one of a number of specific sins and cannot afford a more expensive sacrifice, is brought without oil and without levonah (see Vayikra 5:1-13, and in particular, verse 11).

Rabbi Chanina disagrees with Rav, arguing that without all of the ingredients, the flour will not become sanctified.

It should be noted that this discussion is not about actually bringing the meal-offerings when they are missing one or more of their required elements, since the Mishnah later on in Masechet Menachot (daf 27a) makes it clear that each of these elements is essential if the offering is to be brought. The issue at hand is whether the flour will become sanctified if it is placed in one of the Temple vessels even if one (or more) of the ingredients is missing.

While Rav explained his position based on parallels to other types of menachot, Rabbi Chanina offers no explanation for his position. In his Netivot ha-Kodesh, Rabbi Avraham Moshe Salman of Harkov suggests that Rabbi Chanina believes that all of the ingredients are essential for the flour to be considered having the potential to become a meal-offering, and without one of those ingredients even placement in one of the Temple vessels will have no effect.

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.