A Partial Handful – Vayikra


This week we begin Sefer Vayikra, which the Ramban calls Torat Kohanim. The previous five parshiyot in Sefer Shmot dealt with the building of the Mishkan which was inaugurated on Rosh Chodesh Nisan - חנוכת המשכן. The word חנוכה and its derivatives וִיחֻנֶּךָּ and חינוך, etc. all mean basically the same thing – a clean slate, a reset. When the Mishkan was inaugurated, it gave Am Yisrael a reset and a clean slate after חטא העגל. When Hashem “lightens His face unto us” (Birkat Kohanim), He “resets” us and it is as if we start afresh. Education, חינוך also has a similar effect.

Now that Mishkan was in place, it was time to begin the Avodah and this is main focus of Sefer Vayikra, the work of the Kohanim in the Mikdash. And no, the reference to חנוכה above was just an aside, today I will be tying the shiur into a different chag – Purim.

According to the Tur, whenever some event occurs during the week, it is hinted at in the parsha preceding it. Parshat Vayikra has a few hints to Purim, in this shiur I would like to explore one of them.

וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַה' סֹלֶת יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה. וֶהֱבִיאָהּ אֶל בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֲנִים וְקָמַץ מִשָּׁם מְלֹא קֻמְצוֹ מִסָּלְתָּהּ וּמִשַּׁמְנָהּ עַל כָּל לְבֹנָתָהּ וְהִקְטִיר הַכֹּהֵן אֶת אַזְכָּרָתָהּ הַמִּזְבֵּחָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַה'. (ויקרא ב, א-ב).

OK, so it was obvious that I was going to talk about the Menachot, the meal/bread offerings in the Mikdash (how could I not?) and today I want to focus on one specific aspect of the Menachot that may seem very eclectic and “irrelevant” at first, but by bringing some chiddushim from my sefer Meir Panim, hopefully I will show that this is not the case and in fact quite the opposite.

The topic I would like to discuss is Kmitza קמיצה. A Kmitza is - a method of measuring a dry ingredient.  

For all you bakers out there, I am sure you are familiar with cup measures and teaspoon measures etc. used when baking. In the Mikdash they also had different measuring utensils (a kind of metal cup measure) for different ingredients, for measuring flour (isaron etc.), for measuring liquid (hin, log etc.). Unlike these, the Kmitza is a measurement using the right hand.

There is a machloket in the Gemara (Menachot 11a) exactly how this measurement is made.

According to one opinion (Rava, Rav Pappa), it is by reaching into the container,  palm facing downwards and grasping a handful of the dry ingredient (flour, levonah or a mixture of flour/oil/levonah) using the four fingers of the hand to hold the ingredient against the palm, closed off on one end by the thumb.

According to the other opinion (Abayei), it is by reaching into the container, palm facing downwards and grasping a handful of the dry ingredient using the middle three fingers of the hand to hold the ingredient against the palm, closed off on one end by the thumb and on the other end by the pinky.

The Gemara discusses different nuances of this, if instead of palm down, you insert your hand into the ingredient palm up, or palm sideways, but we are going to keep it simple and stick with the palm down.

The Rambam (Hilchot Ma’aseh Hakorbanot 13,13) is posek lehalacha according to the first opinion, that use is made of 4 fingers. However, according to the Ridvaz, for the Minchat Machbat and Minchat Marcheshet specifically, the Rambam holds that the three finger method is used. Other Rishonim disagree with the Rambam and say that only the three finger method is used.

The Kmitza measure was used repeatedly in the different Menachot. The Kohen would take a Kmitza measure from the different Menachot and throw it on the fire of the Mizbeach. The two bowls of levonah (bazichim) on the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim, each had one Kmitza of levonah.

According to one opinion in the Gemara above, the Kmitza was a very difficult action to perform, because the passuk says וְקָמַץ מִשָּׁם מְלֹא קֻמְצוֹ – it has to be a “full” Kmitza, not too little and not too much. Using the three finger method, the Kohen would use the thumb on the one side and the pinky finger on the other side to “wipe off” any excess ingredient and he had to be careful not to wipe off too much or it would not be a full Kmitza (you are welcome to play around with the fingers – it is interesting in my workshops to see everyone twisting their hands and fingers in the air, this way and that).

There are numerous halachot associated with taking Kmitza from the various Menachot that are beyond the scope of this shiur. Instead, I would to explore the origins of the Kmitza and its deeper meaning.

The first time the word Kmitza appears in the Torah is in connection with Yosef. During the seven years of plenty in Egypt and before the seven years of famine, the passuk says that Yosef divided the land up into קמצים, which Rashi explains as - stockpiling grains Kometz on Kometz, hand on hand.

However, the concept of a Kmitza began long before Yosef. In my sefer מאיר פנים, פרק ח I explore a principle that when HKB”H created Adam Harishon on the sixth day, He gathered dust from the four corners of the earth, mixed it with water into a kind of a dough and breathed נשמת חיים into it. I bring numerous proofs to show that HKB”H, as it were, gathered the dust of the earth using a Kmitza measure.

Later, the נחש caused Chava to sin by grinding up the fruit of the עץ הדעת (wheat, according to R’ Yehuda, Brachot 40a) into dust/flour, mixing it with water and baking it into a chametz bread, which she then fed to Adam. By thus doing, the נחש spoiled the perfection that was Adam Harishon.

When Adam Harishon was created, he had no individual fingers, his hand was one integral unit! Only from when Noach was born, did humans develop distinct, separate fingers on their hands (Yalkut Reuveni, the חיד"א and R’ Chaim Palacci), which they could now use to repair the damage done by the נחש.

This perhaps accounts for the different opinions of how to perform the Kmitza measurement. The original Kmitza, used by HKB”H, as it were, to create Adam was the “integral” four-fingers-connected method. Incidentally, this is also the reason we hold our hands in front of the Havdala candle with the four fingers connected, bent over in a kind of Kmitza configuration.

To repair the damage done by the נחש, however, the fingers were separated (the three middle fingers method) to symbolize our battle to control the נחש and have dominion over him. HaRav Moshe Odess shlit"a in his sefer בלבבי משכן אבנה (ע' 159) compares an עולת בהמה to an עולת מנחה and says that the Kmitza in the עולת מנחה parallels the Shechita in the עולת בהמה - as can be seen symbolically below.

This is the reason that the Kmitza measure is only used in the Menachot offerings, to repair the damage done by the sin of the עץ הדעת which was wheat.

From this it is clear that every minute component of the Mikdash and the Avodah harbors deep symbolism and Divine design (there are many more layers to the spiritual meaning of the fingers that are explored in the ספרי הקבלה which are beyond the scope of this shiur).

The Gemara (Megilla 17a) recounts the episode of when Achashveirosh ordered Haman to dress Mordechai in the king’s robes and ceremoniously lead him through the streets of Shushan. Haman went in search of Mordechai to fulfil the king’s command and he found him the Beit Hamidrash giving a shiur. What was the subject they were discussing? Hilchot Kmitza!

Why would the Jews of Shushan be studying the laws of Kmitza? They had been in exile for almost 70 years and the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. Kmitza was no longer “relevant” in a practical sense (you could ask the same question today – What possible purpose could there be in studying Hilchot Kmitza in this modern day and age? Where could we possible apply it practically?).

The Midrash (Esther Rabba) says that this turn of events took place around Pesach time (when Esther told Am Yisrael to fast for three days, it included the night of Pesach – there was no Pesach seder that year, just fervent prayer pleading to HKB”H for salvation). Mordechai was doing what any good Jew should be doing before a festival – brushing up on the laws of the festival to arrive prepared. Mordechai could easily have been teaching Hilchot Chametz, which were practically relevant in Shushan at the time, but no – he decided to teach Hilchot Kmitza davka.

The first reason is that Mordechai realized something (which we would all be well advised to follow), that by the very fact of studying the Avodah of the Beit Hamikdash relevant to the festival (Kmitza of the Omer offering on Pesach), even though it was not practically relevant at that exact point in time – it kept the concept alive in the minds and hearts of Am Yisrael, a throbbing, living yearning that refused to accept any other alternative reality. It was this attitude that led to the rebuilding of the second Beit Hamikdash mere years later by Ezra. How many people, Yeshivot  today do you know who study Hilchot Kmitza in preparation for Pesach? You can count them on the fingers of your hand! It is an abject failing of our generation that urgently warrants remedy. If we truly want the Mikdash to be rebuilt – we have to actively keep it alive in our hearts. We have to visualize what would happen if the geulah happened tomorrow, would we be ready for it or not? As long as we are not ready for it, it won’t come!

So Mordechai was preparing for Pesach, but it is deeper than that. Kmitza is symbolic of our dominion over the נחש, symbolized by Haman! When Haman saw what they were studying and asked them to explain it to him, he realized that he was undone! Haman had doled out untold fortunes to bring about the destruction of Am Yisrael, but his undoing was a partial handful of barley worth pennies.

Achashveirosh and Haman tried their best to douse the flame of hope in Am Yisrael of ever rebuilding the Mikdash. The banquet at the beginning of the Megillah was a 180 day ceremony of humiliation for the Jews of Shushan. Achashveirosh dressed himself in and defiled the clothes of the Kohen Gadol. Every day he would flaunt 30 different keilim of the Mikdash as trophies of his victory - testimony to a “bygone era”. The Jews who attended this shame-fest had no alternative but to drown their sorrows in the copious barrels of wine, which caused them to sin.

Mordechai told them not to attend, but the “politicians” in the Jewish community, they knew better than him! It was their sinning at this banquet that brought Haman down upon them in the first place. They, in their own day and age, by eating the forbidden food at the banquet, were repeating the sin of Adam Harishon and arousing the נחש.

It took a contemporary Adam and Chava – Mordechai and Esther, to repair the damage caused by a food/wine related event, just as it occurred millennia before in Gan Eden with the עץ הדעת – to regain control over the contemporary נחש – Haman.

And it was all connected to Hilchot Kmitza!

Purim Sameach!

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