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Pasha and MS – Tetzave – ‘Pure olive oil crushed’

Thursday, 5 March, 2020 - 3:53 pm

MS. Canon. Or. 81, Fol. 82 (1396) Tetzaveh.pngIn the portion of Tetzave it discusses the kindling of the Menorah:[1] And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.’The principle description of the type of oil that should be used for the kindling of the Menorah is that it should be of the most superior quality: ‘pure olive oil, crushed for lighting.’ Similarly, in Leviticus, it states:[2] ‘Command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you olive oil, pure, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.’

 

The first oil

 

The Talmud[3] elaborates regarding the requirement about the quality of the oil with the following: There are three set olive harvests in large quantities and the Menorah oil must be only from the first oil of each harvest. The first oil is described as the oil that is produced from the olives at the top of the olive tree that are first to ripen. These olives are pounded in a mortar and then placed in a basket to seep through naturally, without pressure, into a container placed below. The subsequent oils that are produced by pressing with a beam or stone, and then a millstone with a further pressing are not suitable for the Menorah, though it may be used for the meal offering.[4] The same is the case with the later two harvests that grow at lower levels and therefore ripen later due to less sunlight or, in the case of the third harvest, that doesn’t fully ripen at all. Only the first oil from these harvests are suitable for the Menorah. The benefit of the first oil is that they do not contain sediments.[5]

 

This requirement of the first oil is implied by the description of the oil in the Torah for the Menorah:[6] ‘pure olive oil, crushed (pounded) for lighting.’The Talmud clarifies that the word “pure” means clean or refined (naki), which flows by itself from the olives without pressure,[7] and “pounded” means with a mortar, but not with a millstone.

 

MS. Canonici Or. 35, fol. 103 (1401-25).pngRashi

 

Rashi in his commentary on the Torah[8] summarises the process as outlined above: ‘And you shall command, pure: without sediment, as we learned in Men. (86a): “He allows it to ripen at the top of the olive tree, etc.”’

 

The purpose for the Menorah

 

A further teaching in the Talmud in this context is regarding the purpose of the Menorah:[9] “Command the children of Israel, and they shall take for yourself refined pounded olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamps continually.”[10] Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says: G-d tells the Jewish people that the oil should be taken “for yourself,” to indicate that it is for their benefit and not for My benefit, as I do not need its light.’

 

Manuscripts

 

There are a number of variations in the commentary of Rashi in the manuscripts found at the Bodleian Library:

 

MS. Michael 384, fol. 61 (1399) Tetzaveh.pngTwo additional commentaries

 

In MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 52 (1201-25) and MS. Canon. Or. 81, Fol. 82 (1396), the first commentary of Rashi states: ‘and they shall take for yourself: it is not for My benefit and but rather for your benefit, so you shall be able to see to where you go in and go out. Tanchuma.’ In MS. Michael 384, fol. 61 (1399) in the main text and MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188, Fol. 87 (1301-1400) in the margin it adds: ‘And you shall command: a warning to Moses regarding the oil of the lighting.’

 

Quotation of the Biblical text – including beginning of the verse

 

In the printed edition, the quotation of the Biblical text is three Hebrew words that incorporating the opening words in the verse ‘and you shall command’ and the description of the oil: ‘And you shall command, pure’ (v’atah te’tzaveh, zach). In Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig B.H.1 it only has two words combining these two parts of the verse: ‘And you, pure’ (v’atah, zach).

 

In MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 52 (1201-25), MS. Michael 384, fol. 61 (1399), MS. Canonici Or. 35, fol. 103 (1401-25), MS. Oppenheim 35, fol. 50 (1408) and the Bomberg 1547, it only has one word and ignores the beginning of the verse: ‘pure’ (zach). In MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188, Fol. 87 (1301-1400) it quotes three words regarding the oil: ‘olive oil, pure’ while also ignoring the beginning of the verse. In MS. Canon. Or. 81, Fol. 82 (1396) it also ignores the beginning of the verse but quotes two words about the description of the oil: ‘olive, pure.’ What is the significance of these variations? We would like to propose that the variations reflect different interpretations how to understand the biblical text.

 

MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 52 (1201-25) Tetzaveh.pngClean oil

 

There are three possible interpretations to the word ‘pure’ (zach) in the context of the oil for the Menorah: clean from foreign objects (dirt), clean also from sediments, clear as water. The Talmud is ambiguous as it only states: clean (naki). Rashi in his commentary on the Torah however explains: clean from sediments. Rabbi Jaffe in his commentary L’vush h’orah justifies the need for this comment to negate the idea that ‘pure’ oil for the Menorah must be clear like water. Rabbi Yisachar Ber Ailanberg (1510-1623) in his commentary Tzedah l’darech explains that Rashi is aiming to negate the idea that ‘pure’ means only from foreign objects (dirt) but sediments are permitted, as a derivative of the olives themselves. Rabbi Shabtai Bass in his commentary Siftei Chachamim, similarly, explains that Rashi is negating the implication in the Talmud in tractate Bava Metzia[11] that states that one should expect when purchasing refined oil to contain one and a half logim of sediment per one hundred logim of oil. They all accept however the interpretation of Rashi that ‘clear’ (zach) refers to the absence of any sediments in the oil.

 

MS. Oppenheim 35, fol. 50 (1408) Tetzaveh.pngClean olives

 

Ibn Ezra argues that ‘clear’ (zach) refers, not to the oil, but the olives themselves: the olives need to be clean from any defects, mould or having been partially eaten from when used for the production of oil for the Menorah. The reason of Ibn Ezra is that the Torah states the description in the Hebrew in the following form: ‘oil, olive, pure, crushed’ (shemen zayit, zach, kasis) with ‘pure’ (zach) juxtaposed, not to ‘oil’ (shemen) but to ‘olive’ (zayit).

 

What is the reason that Rashi reads the text that the oil should be pure? The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, explains[12] that it would be illogical for the Torah to instruct in the desert that the olives should be of a certain kind of olives, as olives don’t grow in the desert. The instruction of G-d to Moses to command the children of Israel, while in the desert,[13] that they shall take pure olive oil, crushed for lighting the Menorah, would refer to the type of oil they should produce, as opposed to the type of olives, which they would have had with them, prior to Moses’ command, having brought them from Egypt or purchased from surrounding people.[14]

 

MS. Opp. Add. 4° 188, Fol. 87 (1301-1400).pngManuscripts

 

This dispute between Rashi and Ibn Ezra, whether the requirement is for the olives to be clean or only the oil, explains the variations in the manuscripts and the printed edition. The basis for the argument that ‘pure’ refers to the oil and not the olives is from the fact that G-d instructed Moses to commanded the Jewish people in the desert to produce oil for the Menorah. For this reason Rashi juxtaposes in the printed edition ‘And you shall command’ with the word ‘pure,’ and MS Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig B.H.1 just the words: ‘And you’ with ‘pure.’ Both these versions highlight the view of Rashi that it is the oil that must be pure. The former, due to the fact that command denotes immediate relevance,[15] while in the desert, and the latter just the word ‘and you’ (v’atah), highlighting that it is being commanded to Moses (in the desert) to instruct the bringing of oil for the Menorah.[16]

 

For this reason the printed edition and most manuscripts also omit the additional commentary about the purpose for the Menorah, as this commentary interrupts these two parts of the verse – ‘and you shall command’ and ‘pure,’ which is necessary to explain the requirement for the oil to be pure, as explained above.

 

Similarly, we may explain the addition in manuscripts: MS. Michael 384, fol. 61 (1399) in the main text and MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188, Fol. 87 (1301-1400) in the margin, that states: ‘And you shall command: a warning to Moses about the oil of the lighting.’ This addition further emphasises the intention of the commentary of Rashi suggesting that Moses is being instructed in the desert that the oil needs to be pure, as opposed to the olives - that he would have been unable to affect the quality of while in the desert.

 

The majority of the manuscripts suffice with the word ‘pure’ (zach) from the Biblical text, without the preceding words: ‘And you shall command.’ This omission of the opening of the verse does not undermine the above understanding of the view of Rashi that the focus is on the type of oil, as opposed to the olives.

 

The version found in MS. Canon. Or. 81, Fol. 82 (1396) that quotes just the word: ‘olive’ - without the word ‘oil’ - juxtaposed to ‘pure,’ is however perplexing, as the view of Rashi in the very commentary being presented appears, based on the above discussion, to be saying the very opposite from the Biblical text quoted: that the Torah, in the view of Rashi, is that it is the oil that needs to be pure, without sediments, and not relating to the superiority of the olives themselves.  

 


 

[1] Exodus 27:20-21.

[2] Leviticus 24:2.

[3] Menachot 86a-b.

[4] Menachot 86b: The reason why the superior quality is only needed for the Menorah and not the meal offering is because the meal offerings require more quantity that the Menorah and the Torah did not want to impose such an expense on the Jewish people.

[5] Rashi on Menachot 86a.

[6] Exodus 27:20.

[7] Rashi on Menachot 86b.

[8] Rashi on Exodus 27:20.

[9] Menachot 86b.

[10] Leviticus 24:2. Exodus 27:20.

[11] Bava Metzia 40a.

[12] Likkutei Sichot 11:128-9.

[13] The idea that the commandment by Moses to make oil for the Menorah lighting is based on the teaching of the School of Rabbi Ishmael that taught that whenever the Torah uses the word "command" (tzav, tetzaveh) (Leviticus 6:2, Exodus 27:20), it denotes exhortation to obedience immediately and for all time.

[14] The emphasis on the oil is also implied by the Mishna in Menachot that states that the first oil is from olives that are on top of the olive tree as they produce oil without sediments. If the focus were pertaining to the olives themselves, as opposed to the production of oil from those olives - that the olives should have no defects - this would not have been olives at the top of the tree where they can easily be eaten by birds, but rather lower down in the tree. Likkutei Sichot 11:130 footnote 21 argues that the main proof that ‘pure’ refers to the oil and not the olives, from the perspective of the simple understanding of the Torah, is from the opening of the verse: An you shall command,’ that refers to the immediate time in the desert when olives were not available.

[15] See footnote above 13.

[16] Likkutei Sichot 11:129.

 

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