By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
When a person brings to Hashem a korban that is a grain offering, his korban shall be of fine flour. He shall pour on it oil, and place on it frankincense.
In the beginning of Sefer Vayikra, we find the Torah discussing the voluntary minchah, the voluntary grain offering. If a poor person voluntarily decides that he wants to bring a korban and can’t afford to bring an animal sacrifice, he then has the option of choosing a minchah. There are actually five different kinds of voluntary minchah offerings. Each has its own recipe, so to speak; each looks and tastes different. What is done with this type of grain offering? The kohanim burn a kometz, a fistful of it, on the mizbei’ach, and then eat the rest.
There is the standard type of grain offering, which is the one mentioned in our pasuk. It is one isoron of unprocessed fine flour with a log of oil. And then there is the one baked in an oven, which comes in the two varieties of loaves and wafers along with oil. And then there is the one prepared in a deep pan, and one prepared in a frying pan. We won’t go into all the details, but each had a unique way in which the ingredients were combined and processed, and the result was different in each case. Some were crispy, some were spongy, some were oily, etc.
It’s wonderful that the Torah gives so much room for personal choice, but my question is: How do I decide what kind of grain offering I want to bring? On what basis do I choose one minchah over another? Each contains the exact same amount of ingredients, just prepared differently.
Suppose someone wants to bring a korban to Hashem and can’t afford a whole animal. So he opts for a grain offering and he comes to the kohen in charge of these matters in the Beis HaMikdash and says, “I would like to bring a voluntary minchah offering. Which kind should I bring?” What does the kohen answer him? Even if someone makes a neder to bring a minchah without specifying the specific kind that he means, he can choose whichever one he wants.
It is common sense that there must be an underlying rationale to the different choices; Hashem does not make meaningless arbitrary requirements. We also have a Gemara that expresses this fact in Menachos 63A. We see that the Gemara discusses the basis for a minchas machavas and the basis for a minchas marcheshes. While there are various conflicting sources and no clear conclusion on this issue, nevertheless, the matter is discussed.
A Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 3:7 explains the symbolism of the machavas and the marcheshes. The minchas machavas, which was dry, burnt, and hard, represents someone who did not learn Torah and who did ugly deeds. He brings this type of grain offering to seek atonement for his sins. The minchas marcheshes, which was soft and oily, represents the talmid chacham who is full of the blessed oil of Torah and who does gentle, pleasant deeds.
This Midrash points us in a direction, but we still don’t know much about why one would bring a machavas or marcheshes and the significance of the other three types of minchah offerings.
Perhaps this can be answered based on the following Gemara which was shown to me by my son Mordechai:
“Said R. Yitzchok: Why is the minchah offering different [from other offerings], that it has five different types of frying that were stated regarding it? It may be compared to a human king whose friend prepared for him a meal, and the king knew that his friend is poor. The king said to his friend, ‘Make the meal for me from (one of the) five different types of frying, so that I will take pleasure in what you prepare me.’” (Menachos 104b)
“‘Five different types of frying that were stated . . . It may be compared to a human king whose friend prepared for him a meal’—[This allegory] does not parallel the subject exactly. In the allegory, the meal consisted of only one type of frying. Whereas with the minchah offering, each of the five types of frying is a minchah offering on its own.” (Maharsha, ad loc.)
This Gemara explains to us that the minchah is prepared in a special way so the poor person will be able to bring an attractive offering at minimum cost. However, as the Maharsha points out, we still don’t understand why there are five different types of preparation to choose from, and therefore, the Gemara’s allegory seems inexact.
However, the Ben Yehoyada addresses this problem:
“‘Why is the minchah offering different, that it has five different types of frying?’ With Hashem’s help, I would say that R. Yitzchok is continuing along the lines of the interpretation that he offered earlier. Namely, that when a poor person brings his minchah offering, it is considered as if he offered his own nefesh. As is known, the nefesh has five parts mixed into it: nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah, and yechidah. This is because each of the five parts of the soul includes something of all the five parts.
“This explains why the poor person’s minchah has five types of frying that were stated regarding it. It is so the poor person will have intention to include the five parts of his nefesh along with the minchah that he offers from five types of frying. If he does so, then Scripture will consider it for him as if he offered the five parts of his nefesh.” (Ben Yehoyada, ibid)
The Ben Yehoyada is telling us that each type of minchah is a tikun, a rectification, for a certain aspect or level of the neshamah.
Based on this, I would suggest an original answer to our question. A wealthy person has various options to choose from when he wants to bring a korban. There are bulls, rams, lambs, goats, and various other options. He can afford to choose the one he wants, and when he brings an expensive korban he feels satisfied. He could have brought a little lamb and instead he brought a big ram or even a bull. Even if we say the rich man has a moral obligation to bring the more expensive item in order to achieve true atonement, he still has the tremendous satisfaction of knowing that he brought a fine offering to Hashem, the “Cadillac” of korbanos—without knocking a dent in his standard of living.
The poor man doesn’t have a lot of options. In fact, that is how his life is in general. Situations and circumstances tend to define what he must do, not the other way around. But here, with the minchah offering, Hakadosh Boruch Hu shows His love for the poor person.
Hashem says to him, so to speak: You may not have many choices in life, but when it comes to serving Me, when it comes to My taking pleasure in what you prepare for Me, I will give you wonderful options. When you bring the same measure of flour and the same amount of oil, it will effect a variety of important rectifications for you. Over the course of your life, you will be able to bring five different types of minchah offerings. This will rectify all five levels of your soul.
You can bring a flour offering today, one fried in a pan tomorrow, one baked in an oven next week, and a different kind next year. Over the course of your life, every time you come to the Beis HaMikdash, you have the freedom and the ability to select which type of minchah you wish to offer Me.
This accomplishes two things. First, the poor person feels self-worth and importance. He has a sense of control over his life. Second, he performs important tikkunim for his neshamah on its various levels.
Hashem’s message to the poor person is that He wishes to take pleasure in his offering, and therefore gives him many different options.
Getting back to the question we started with: how does someone decide what kind of minchah offering he wants to bring? The answer is: whichever one he wants to bring right now. Over the course of his life he will have the opportunity to bring all five types, each one of which impacts his neshamah on a different level, and he surely will want to do them all as time goes on.
Furthermore, it could very well be that in the days of the Beis HaMikdash, people knew which type of minchah corresponded to which level of the soul. The poor person would therefore start with the type of minchah that was for the level of nefesh, and then work his way up.
We don’t yet have a solid proof for this approach. But it points us toward a greater understanding of the wonderful world of menachos. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now in print: Machat shel Yad Vayikra.