Masechet Menahot and Masechet Zevahim should be viewed as “sister tractates.” Both of them focus on the rules and regulations associated with the sacrificial service, although Masechet Zevahim deals with sacrifices brought from living creatures that are slaughtered (animals and fowl), while Masechet Menahot is about sacrifices that originate in the plant world – menahot – 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 menahot. 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 menahot are considered kodashei 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 minhah 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 minhah parallel those of an animal sacrifice:
- Kemitzah (taking the fistful of flour) parallels shehitah (slaughtering the animal),
- Placing the kometz in the Temple vessel parallels collecting the blood in a Temple vessel,
- Carrying the kometz to the altar parallels carrying the blood to the altar,
- 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 Kodashim – Zevahim and Menahot – 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 Menahot, 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:
According to obligation – The minhah can be voluntary, obligatory and can be brought to effect atonement for sin;
According to who is bringing it – The minhah can be brought by individuals or on behalf of the community;
According to the ingredients – The minhah can be brought from wheat or barley, it may contain oil or frankincense, both of them or neither of them.
According to method of preparation – Some meal-offerings are simply mixtures of flour, while others involve a process of cooking, baking or frying.
Most meal-offerings are brought on their own, but there are some that are brought together with animal sacrifices.
Most meal offerings have a kometz – a fistful – taken to be burned on the altar, but there are exceptions to this rule, as well.
In all, there are 15 different types of menahot –
11 brought by individuals,
3 brought by the community
Meal-offerings brought by individuals include:[The first five voluntary menahot, which are enumerated by the Torah according to their method of preparation (see 2:1-10)]
1. A simple flour mixture
2. hallot – unleavened cakes
3. rekikim – unleavened wafers
4. mahavat – fried
5. marheshet – 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 5:1-13).
8. The meal-offering brought by a kohen who begins his service in the Temple (see 6:13)
Meal-offerings brought by the community include:
1. Minhat ha-omer – the meal offering brought on Passover, celebrating the new harvest (see 23:10-11)
2. Shetei ha-lehem – the two loaves brought on Shavuot, celebrating the new wheat harvest (see 23:17)
3. Lehem ha-panim – the 12 loaves placed on the table in the Temple on a weekly basis (see 24:5-8)
Masechet Menahot 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 Menahot is the main source of information when rulings on these matters appear in halakhic works.