ל׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״ט (November 8, 2018)

Menahot 90a-b: When to Pour Libations

Many of the sacrifices that were brought in the Temple were accompanied by wine libations. According to the Mishna on today’s daf all sacrifices, both communal sacrifices and individual sacrifices, are accompanied by wine libations, with the exception of:

  • bekhor, a first-born animal that is brought;
  • ma’aser, the animal that is tithed and brought as a sacrifice;
  • Pesaḥ, the Pascal sacrifice;
  • ḥatat, sin offerings;
  • asham, guilt offerings.

The exceptions to this list are the ḥatat and asham brought by a metzora – someone who suffers from biblical leprosy who recovers and brings sacrifices as part of his process of returning to society.

In explaining the obligation to bring libations to accompany animal sacrifices, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno suggests in his commentary to the Torah (Bamidbar 15:3), that it is really the sacrifice itself that serves to offer a connection between God and the person – or community – offering the sacrifice, and that essentially there is no need for the additional libation. In fact, the early sacrifices that we find described in the Torah – those brought by Hevel, No’ah and Avraham, for example – did not include libations. From the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, the korban tamid – the daily communal sacrifice – came accompanied by a meal offering and libation, and after the sin of the Spies even personal sacrifices had to include those elements.

The explanation given by the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishna for why the metzora is an exception and does have wine libations included with his sin offering and guilt offering is that ordinarily we do not want sacrifices that come as an atonement to be adorned with additional finery. The sacrifices brought by the metzora do not fall into this category. This stands in contrast to the nazir who brings a ḥatat and an asham at the end of his period of nezirut, who is seen by as atoning for the fact that he denied himself the pleasure of wine (see Massekhet Ta’anit 11a). Although the metzora may have developed his disease because of sins that he committed, by the time he is bringing these sacrifices he has already atoned for his sins.