SALT - Wednesday, 15 Adar 5780 - March 11, 2020


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Mishna in Masekhet Menachot (87b) lists the various measuring utensils which were present in the Beit Ha-mikdash, and presents an argument among the Sages as to whether these included a utensil measuring one hin (a measurement of volume, equal to around 4 liters according to Rav Chaim Naeh, and around 7 liters according to the Chazon Ish).  The majority opinion in the Mishna maintains that there was such a measuring utensil, but Rabbi Shimon disagrees.  Rabbi Shimon notes that although various rituals in the Beit Ha-mikdash require a half-hin or other percentages of a hin, and so such measuring utensils were present in the Mikdash, the only time a full hin was required was at the time of the Mishkan’s consecration at Mount Sinai.  As we read in Parashat Ki-Tisa (30:22-30), God commanded Benei Yisrael to prepare the shemen ha-mishcha – special anointing oil with which to formally consecrate the Mishkan, its furnishings, and the kohanim.  The amount of olive oil that God commanded to prepare for this purpose was a hin (30:24).  However, as the Gemara establishes in Masekhet Keritut (5b), the oil prepared by Moshe would miraculously last for all time, as indicated by God’s instruction to Moshe that this anointing oil would serve “le-doroteikhem” – “for your generations” (30:31).  As this was the only requirement involving a hin, Rabbi Shimon notes, and the shemen ha-mishcha would never again need to be produced, there was no reason for such a measuring cup to be present in the Beit Ha-mikdash.
            The Gemara (Menachot 87b) explains that the majority of the Tanna’im disagreed with Rabbi Shimon, maintaining that after the hin utensil used by Moshe to produce the shemen ha-mishcha was preserved for all time, even though it was not needed.  The Rambam follows the majority opinion in Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash (1:18), that the hin used by Moshe was preserved in the Beit ha-mikdash.  The Radbaz, commenting on the Rambam’s ruling, writes that the hin was preserved “le-zeikher be-alma” – simply as a relic, commemorating Moshe’s production of shemen ha-mishcha at Sinai.
            Rav Moshe Feinstein, however, in his Dibrot Moshe (Bava Kama, vol. 2, p. 322), suggests a different reason for why the hin was kept in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  He explains that in principle, the requirement to produce the shemen ha-mishcha applies for all time, for the purpose of consecrating the Mikdash, its furnishings, and the kohanim.  As a practical matter, we have been guaranteed that the initial supply prepared by Moshe will suffice for all time (and will resurface when the Mikdash is rebuilt), such that we will never need to prepare more.  Nevertheless, since in essence there is a requirement to produce a hin of shemen ha-mishcha, this utensil was kept in the Beit Ha-mikdash.
            This novel explanation will affect the question of whether we may apply the discussion of this hin to other similar situations of a utensil designated for a sacred purpose which is no longer needed.  Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, in Chashukei Chemed (Menachot 87b), addresses the case of a synagogue which purchased an especially large goblet for the “chanukat ha-bayit” celebration held when the synagogue first opened, and had been since preserved.  However, as it occupied valuable space, and was no longer needed, the congregants thought it should be discarded.  Rav Zilberstein, without reaching a definitive conclusion, considers the possibility that according to the majority view, there might be value in preserving sacred articles used by a synagogue even when they are no longer needed.  However, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s understanding, the hin in the Beit Ha-mikdash was preserved only because there was a theoretical halakhic purpose, in which case it does not serve as a precedent for other sacred articles.