As we learned on yesterday’s daf, there are several different situations where a person is considered to have become tameh met – ritually defiled by his contact with the dead. Among the cases of tum’at met that are considered significant enough to force the nazir to shave and begin his nezirut from the beginning is the case of melo tarvaad rakav – “a full ladle of dust.”
Unlike the other cases of the Mishna where the units of measurement have fairly clear definitions (such as ke-zayit, “the size of an olive”, or ke-se’orah, “the size of a grain of barley”), the term tarvaad, which means “a ladle” lacks a clear definition. This leads the Gemara to try and clarify the size of this unit of measurement. Two possibilities are raised in the Gemara:
- Hizkiyya says that it means melo pisat ha-yad – the size of the palm of one’s hand
- Rabbi Yohanan says melo hofnav – the palm and fingers of one’s hand (a handful).
The expression melo hofnav is a term that appears in the Torah in the context of the amount of ketoret (incense) taken by the Kohen gadol as he prepares to enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur (see Vayikra 16:12). In that case, however, it is clear that melo hofnav does not refer to an objective amount, rather every Kohen gadol would take a handful, each according to the size of his hand. Nevertheless, we know that many of the objective units of measurement have their source in the size of parts of the human body, and, over time, those measurements came to have objective standards based on the average size of a finger or a foot. In our case, the Gemara works with the assumption that for a halakha that is described in the Mishna, there must be some standard measurement.