How are Flour Offerings (Menachos) Impacted by an Intention of Shelo Leshma?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

First of all, Mazel Tov to all on the completion of Masechtas Zevachim and welcome to the new masechta: Menachos!

Just as Zevachim began with a discussion of bringing an animal sacrifice for the sake of the wrong offering, so too Menachos opens by discussing what happens if a flour offering is brought shelo leshma, for the sake of the wrong offering. The Mishna teaches us that such an intention does impact the flour offering: by all menachos the owner will have to bring a new one, and by the mincha of a sinner and sotah, the offering itself becomes completely disqualified.

The Gemara introduces us to the opinion of R’ Shimon who appears to argue with our Mishnah. R’ Shimon rules that if for example someone brings a shallow-pan mincha for the sake of a deep-pan mincha, the mincha remains perfectly valid. Why? Because the offerer’s action here speaks louder than his words: Yes he said that he’s bringing this as a deep-pan mincha, but the mincha that he’s actually offering before our eyes is clearly a shallow-pan mincha (which has a dense crunchy consistency as opposed to the spongy consistency of a deep-pan mincha)! Being that the stated shelo leshma intention is clearly false, R’ Shimon says that the Halacha ignores it, and the mincha remains perfectly valid. Thus R’ Shimon apparently argues with our Mishnah.

The above presentation of R’ Shimon’s opinion follows the straightforward reading of his words in the Braissa as well as how Rabbah interprets him in our Gemara. However the Gemara also presents two other interpretations: of Rava and Rav Ashi. Their interpretations of R’ Shimon prove quite difficult to read into the plain words of R’ Shimon himself-which begs the question: why didn’t they accept the straightforward interpretation of Rabbah? We can also ask on Rabbah’s own interpretation: why doesn’t our Mishnah accept R’ Shimon’s argument that where the spoken intention of shelo leshma is clearly false we shouldn’t have to reckon with it?

The Gemara itself on 3b endeavours to understand why Rava and Rav Ashi rejected the interpretation of Rabbah. The Gemara explains that they simply found R’ Shimon’s argument (in Rabbah’s reading) to be unreasonable: if anything, they argue, the fact that a given shelo leshma intention is clearly false is a reason that the sacrifice should not be valid. For in their understanding, if we are going to provide a rationale for shelo leshma, that rationale will be that a shelo leshma intention might lead people to actually attempt to re-assign korbanos--a possibility that becomes more likely when it’s readily apparent to people that the offerer declares an intention for the wrong sacrifice.

But the question remains: being that R’ Shimon’s words strongly support a different argument-the argument that a clearly false shelo leshma  intention is harmless-what is it that actually compelled Rava and Rav Ashi to depart from this reading? And we still have the question of why our Mishnah rejects R’ Shimon’s argument (in the interpretation of Rabbah).

I believe that these questions require us to step back and contemplate the whole concept of shelo leshma: What is the Torah really saying when it says that bringing an offering for the sake of a different offering causes that offering to be invalid? My reflections led me to conclude that according to R’ Shimon as understood by Rabbah, the concept of shelo leshma is that through the shelo leshma intention, the offerer actually changes the legal designation of the sacrifice. Not entirely, of course. R’ Shimon isn’t suggesting that if a person brings, say, an Olah for the sake of a Shelamim that the animal fully transforms into a Shelamim. Rather, R’ Shimon understands that, in the above example, the Olah becomes a Shelamim to the degree that the offerer did not bring the Olah that he needed to bring. He brought a “Shelamim-ized” Olah if you will, and consequently must bring a new one. Given this perspective R’ Shimon’s argument here in Menachos is readily understandable: where the shelo leshma intention is patently false, the offering cannot become the intended offering to any degree whatsoever, and so it will simply remain valid.

But there’s another way to understand the concept of shelo leshma. According to the opposing view a shelo leshma intention never moves the needle at all in terms of the true designation of the sacrifice before us. Whatever type of sacrifice the animal/flour was consecrated as, that’s how it will remain forever no matter what he tries to declare later. Instead this view thinks of shelo leshma as quite similar to the problem of a blemish: it’s just another development that can happen with this sacrifice that will cause it to becomes disqualified--nothing more. Understood in this light there is no reason at all to discount a patently false intention of shelo leshma. On the contrary: the more false the intention, the greater the “blemish!” This is the viewpoint of the Tanna of our Mishnah, as well as Rava and Rav Ashi.

As always, feel free to write in with your thoughts on the topic.