כ״ט במרחשון ה׳תשע״ט (November 7, 2018)

Menahot 89a-b: Measuring Out the Oil

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, there were different measuring utensils in the Temple, which served different purposes. The Mishna (88a) teaches that three-and-a-half logim of oil were measured out every day in order to light the menora – the Temple candelabra – as there were seven candlesticks and each one received half of a log of oil.

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that explains the source for this requirement. The Torah commands that the kohanim take oil to light the menora “from evening until morning” (Shemot 27:20-21). This is understood to mean that the amount of oil that should be prepared is enough so that it will burn through the entire night. then established the appropriate amount of oil to burn for that long is half a log.

How did the Sages arrive at this amount? The Gemara suggests two possibilities:

  1. One opinion is that the Sages placed a small amount of oil in the menora on the first night, and added to it every night until they reached the amount that sufficed. This suggestion is based on the understanding that the Torah is frugal with money belonging to the Jewish people.
  2. Another opinion is that the Sages placed a large amount of oil in the menora on the first day, and subtracted from it every day until they reached the appropriate amount. This suggestion is based on the idea that we do not act like paupers in a place of riches (i.e. in the Temple one should behave in a generous way).

Rabbeinu Gershom points out that beyond the theoretical difference between these two positions, there is also a practical, halakhic application. According to the opinion that we behave in a generous manner in the Temple, on any given day the kohanim have the right to place more than a half log of oil in each candle. On the other hand, if we apply the value of frugality in this setting, then the kohanim must be careful to use only the mandated amount of oil and no more than that.