One of the primary categories of Korbanot in the Mishkan (and later in the Mikdash) was the Menachot, the flour/bread offerings. Being a baker by profession, this type of Korban naturally interests me very much. There is an entire tractate in the Gemara that deals with these offerings which include, amongst others, iconic offerings such as the Lechem HaPanim (Showbread), the Shtei HaLechem (Two Loaves offering brought on Shavuot) and the Omer (the barley offering brought on Pesach).
All you bakers out there are undoubtedly familiar with the fact that in order to make bread, a prerequisite is measuring all the ingredients, using cup measures, spoon measures, weights, etc. Back then they used similar utensils to measure ingredients, measuring “cups” for dry ingredients and others for liquid ingredients. One measure however did not involve a measuring utensil, it was measured by hand. This measure is called a Kemitza, a handful (Vayikra 2, 2).
Just a few short weeks ago we celebrated Purim (the historical story of which occurred around the time of Pesach – when Esther instructed everyone to fast for three days, the commentators say that it was the first three days of Pesach). According to the Midrash, after issuing his evil decree, Haman went to visit Mordechai to see what he was doing. Haman found Mordechai teaching his students in the Beit HaMidrash. Even though they were in exile in Babylon and could not physically bring the Omer offering, Mordechai was keeping the reality of the Mikdash alive by teaching the laws of the Omer offering for the upcoming festival of Pesach and the topic under discussion was Kemitza.
There is a debate in the Gemara (Menachot 11a) exactly what a Kemitza is. According to one opinion (Rava, Rav Pappa), it is reaching into the container with the right hand, palm facing downwards and grasping a handful of the dry ingredient (flour, etc.) using the four rightmost fingers of the hand to hold the ingredient against the palm, closed off on the left end by the thumb. According to the other opinion (Abayei), it is 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 the left end by the thumb and on the right end by the pinky. The halacha (according to the Rambam, Hilchot Ma’aseh HaKorbanot 13, 13) is the first opinion of Rava, using four fingers to grasp the ingredient.
According to one opinion in the Gemara above, the Kemitza is a very difficult action to perform, because the pasuk (Vayikra 2, 2) says it has to be a “full” Kemitza, not too little and not too much. Using the thumb (and the pinky in the second opinion) to “wipe off” any excess ingredient you had to be careful not to wipe off too much or it would not be a full Kemitza. You are welcome to play around with the fingers – it is an interesting sight in my workshops to see everyone twisting their hands and fingers in the air, this way and that.
The first time the word Kemitza 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 pasuk says that Yosef divided the land up into Kematzim, which Rashi explains as – stockpiling grains Kometz on Kometz, handful on handful.
Although it does not mention it in the pesukim, the first time Kemitza was done is when HKB”H created Adam HaRishon, HKB”H gathered dust from the four corners of the earth, mixed it together with water into a kind of a “dough” (like a baker bakes bread) and breathed into it a living soul (Nishmat Chayim). For this reason Adam was called the “Challah of the World,” because HKB”H was doing Hafrashat Challah from the earth. Sefer Meir Panim (chap. 8) brings the principle that HKB”H gathered the dust to create Adam using a Kemitza measure. This is why when we do Hafrashat Challah today we used the Kemitza measure to separate challah from the dough and this is why the Kohen uses a Kemitza measure in the Mikdash – it is all to atone for the sin of Adam HaRishon eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which according to one opinion was wheat. This also explains why Kemitza is only used in the Menachot, the flour/bread offerings.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Vayikra 2, 4 describes Rekikim, a very thin type of matzah that had oil spread on top (after it was baked). In what pattern was the oil spread over the matzah?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Was Moshe overweight? It sounds like a strange question. The Midrash (Rabba, parshat Pekudei 51, 6 and Tanchuma, Pekudei) says that there was a group of “clowns” in Am Yisrael who mocked Moshe Rabbeinu. They would look at Moshe’s neck and thighs from behind and comment that they were “fat,” implying that Moshe was siphoning off funds donated for the Mishkan for his own personal use. It was slanderous Lashon Hara. We have a similar group of mockers in parshat Korach and everyone knows their fate.