Why Did the Half-Log and Quarter-Log Measures Need to Be Service Vessels?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

This question came up on Tuesday’s daf (88b) this week. The chapter we are learning discusses the various measuring utensils of the Beis Hamikdash. Early on in our chapter it becomes evident that the Halachik significance of these utensils goes beyond the practical need to measure the needed amount of ingredients for the korbanos. The Gemara tells us that these vessels were anointed by the special anointing oil crafted by Moshe Rabbeinu which imbued them with the power to confer sacrificial sanctity upon their contents. Why did these utensils need this power to sanctify? The reason is readily apparent in the case of the measuring utensil for the issaron of flour for indeed it is the placement of the flour into the vessel that gives the flour its sacrificial sanctity.

On 88a the Gemara investigates why the half and quarter-log utensils needed to be anointed. As R’ Yehuda HaNassi (also known as, “Rebbi”) sat, he pondered first why the quarter-log vessel had to be anointed. Although, as stated in the Mishnah, this vessel was needed to measure the water  of a metzora and the oil for the nazir’s loaves, neither of these would require the quarter-log  vessel to be anointed (for the metzora water is not consecrated whatsoever and the nazir’s loaves aren’t consecrated until later in the process). R’ Chiya offers a theory: The quarter-log vessel had to be anointed so that it could consecrate the quarter-log of oil needed for each of the twelve loaves of the Kohen Gadol’s daily mincha “chavitin” offering. Rebbi fully approves of R’ Chiya’s answer, calling him, “Man of my counsel from a distant land” (Yeshaya 46:11).

Rebbi then questions why the half-log vessel had to anointed. Now although Rebbi himself wrote in the Mishna that the half-log vessel is used to measure the sota waters, this wouldn’t explain why this vessel needs sanctifying powers for the sota waters are drawn from the kiyor, and are thus already consecrated. Nor must the half-log be anointed to enable it sanctify the oil of the Toda loaves (the other use of the half-log utensil mentioned in the Mishna) since these were only consecrated upon the slaughtering of the Toda lambs. Rebbi’s son, R’ Shimon, replies: The half-log vessel had to be anointed so that it could sanctify the half-log  amount of oil needed for each of the lights of the Menora. Rebbi approved of this answer as well, bestowing upon his son the title, “Light of Yisroel.”

It seems baffling that the preeminent sage, R’ Yehuda HaNassi, who had total command of the entire Torah, was not initially aware of the points raised by R’ Chiya and R’ Shimon! An understanding of the Gemara’s back-and-forth here emerges upon a closer examination of the answers of R’ Chiya and R’ Shimon. Regarding R’ Shimon’s contention that the quarter-log vessel had to be anointed for the purpose of sanctifying the oil of each individual loaf of the Kohen Gadol’s chavitin loaves, the commentators point out that this is questionable since all of the oil had already been placed in a larger service utensil, which presumably consecrated it at that earlier stage. Thus R’ Chiya is actually making the novel suggestion that for some reason the chavitin’s oil isn’t consecrated until later in the process (or that we only allow the previously consecrated oil to be placed in a proper service utensil when being divided; see commentators).

R’ Shimon’s proposal, that the half-log measure had to be consecrated for the purpose of measuring out the oil for the Menora is not so simple either. For, as Tosfos to 89a points out, the Menora itself would appear to be the obvious service utensil that sanctifies the oil. R’ Shimon is proposing the novelty that for some reason the oil needed to be consecrated before being placed in the Menora. It is thus very understandable why Rebbi, though quite aware of these Beis Hamikdash services, didn’t initially embrace the suggestion that these services required an anointed measuring utensil.

This Gemara also gives us a glimpse into Rebbi’s humility: Even though he omits any mention of these other functions of the half and quarter-log measures in the Mishna, he earnestly seeks out the counsel of a student and son to deepen his understanding, and was happy to praise them when he saw the truth of their answers.