Shiur #19: Vayikra Rabba 3:7 Torah in a Pan

  • Dr. Moshe Simon-Shoshan

As in parasha1, the last section of parasha 3 is not an integral part of Vayikra Rabba but a later addition; it is absent from most of the manuscripts.  In the first two printings of Vavikra Rabba, this passage is marked as a nussach acher, an alternate version.  In fact, this section was added to Vayikra Rabba from a work known as Seder Eliyahu RabbaSeder Eliyahu Rabba is the first section of Tanna De-Bei Eliyahu, a late midrash that scholars believe was composed in the tenth century C.E.  Nevertheless, since it has been included in the standard editions of Vayikra Rabba, we will study it together.


This section continues the midrash's interpretation of Vayikra chapter 2, which deals with the meal offering.  The Torah delineates two types of meal offerings depending on the type of utensil it is baked in, the machavat and the marcheshet.  JPS translates these terms as "griddle" and "pan" respectively.  The midrash begins by explaining these two terms:


There are two kinds of meal-offering,

A meal-offering [baked] on a griddle (Vayikra 2:5)

and a meal-offering of the stewing-pan (ibid. 5:7);

and of both of them it says,

"And you shall bring the meal-offering" (ibid. 8). 

What difference is there between the [meal-offering baked on a] griddle,

and [that of] the stewing-pan?

The one is mingled with oil

while the other is made with oil - which means, as much as it needs. 


The first difference between the two types of sacrifices that the midrash notes is that whereas the machavat is doused in a large quantity of oil, the marcheshet is made with just enough oil to be absorbed into the dough.[1] The midrash now cites a mishna from massekhet Menachot, which further distinguishes between the machavat and the marcheshet:


            And our Sages have said in the mishna:

A marcheshet [stewing-pan] is a deep vessel,

and [is so called because] whatever is made therein trembles;

a machavat [griddle] is flat, and whatever is made therein is hard.


The mishna delineates two distinctions between the two sacrifices.  The first relates to the structure of the utensil in which they are made; a marcheshet is a deep pan, whereas a machavat is a shallow pan.  The second difference is that whereas the cake made in the machavat is hard, the cake made in the marcheshet "trembles."  Kehati in his commentary on this mishna says that this means that the cake was soft and would shake if touched.  It is of interest to note that the mishna lists one more difference between the two sacrifices that the midrash does not cite: a marcheshet has a cover while a machavat does not.


Until this point, the midrash has presented a dry discussion of the technical details of the meal offering.  In the next line, the midrash takes a sharp turn as it begins to explicate the inner meaning of the meal offering using the tools of midrash aggada rather than those of halakha:


In order that a man should not say:

"I shall go and do unseemly things, improper things,

and I shall bring a meal-offering on a griddle (machavat),

and I shall be beloved of the All-present."

The Holy One, blessed be He, says to him:

"My son, why have you not mingled your doings with words of the Torah?"

For oil symbolizes the Torah, and oil [likewise] symbolizes good deeds,

as it says,

"Your oils have a goodly fragrance; Your name is as oil poured forth" (Shir Ha-shirim 1:3).


This passage confronts one of the most fundamental theological problems related to sacrifices: How is it that God cares about a piece of meat or a handful of grain that he will forgive sins on their basis? Doesn't God care more about our deeds and conduct than he does about material objects that are of no value to Him in any event? 


The midrash here deals with this problem using a time-honored strategy in both the Jewish and the broader Western tradition: allegory.  When giving an allegorical reading of a text, the interpreter asserts that the text refers to something other than what it appears to.  Frequently, this strategy is used to transform a text that ostensibly speaks of physical objects and material events into one that speaks of spiritual and moral matters.  In this case, the darshan takes the interesting step of only allegorizing part of the text that he is reading.


The text in question describes the meal offering, which has two key ingredients, flour and oil.  In the midrash's reading, the flour does, in fact, refer to literal flour.  The "oil," on the other hand, does not refer to the viscous liquid used in baking and frying.  Rather, "oil" allegorically refers to Torah and good deeds.  Thus, a sacrifice made out of physical materials is insufficient to impact God's opinion of a person.  It must be accompanied by the study of Torah and the doing of good deeds in order to be effective. 


The midrash "proves" the idea that "oil" can refer to both to Torah and to good deeds from the verse at the beginning of Shir Ha-shirim, "Your oils have a goodly fragrance; Your name is as oil poured forth" (1:3). The rabbis generally interpret Shir Ha-shirim metaphorically.  As is often the case, here the rabbis take their cue for such a metaphorical reading from the verse itself.  This verse refers not to actual oil, but to metaphorical oil, which is used to describe the Lover's "name."  The midrash reinterprets this metaphor so that the oil refers to good deeds and Torah.  Presumably, the midrash establishes that there are two referents for "oil" on the basis of the fact that the word "oil" appears twice in verse.  The midrash does not explain why the first reference refers specifically to good deeds, but it does offer an interpretation of the relationship between the second reference and Torah:


Our reward for having come to learn Torah

is that You pour Torah into us,

even as oil is poured from one vessel into another

without the sound thereof being heard;

therefore it is said,

"Your name is as oil poured forth."


The midrash focuses not on the oil itself but on the act of pouring the oil described in the verse.  This is taken as a metaphor for the transmission of Torah from one generation to the next.  For the midrash, the salient feature of the pouring of oil is its silence.  Although the midrash does not explain the significance of this silence, I would propose that this silence suggests a certain effortlessness and perfection in the transfer of the oil from one vessel to another.  Similarly, those who come to study Torah will be blessed with an effortless and perfect transmission of the material.


The midrash now turns to the final phrase of the verse from Shir Ha-shirim, offering a series of different interpretations of it:


"Therefore maidens love You" (ibid.)"

Even the nations of the world

recognize the wisdom, the understanding,

the knowledge and discernment

and attain the essence of Your Torah,

and would love Thee with a complete love,

whether it be good or it be evil for them. 

Therefore it is said, "Maidens love You."


This is a particularly difficult passage.  It speaks of gentiles recognizing the wisdom of Torah and gaining an essential understanding of it; as a result, they express love for God.  What is unclear is when, if ever, this is meant to happen.  The midrash uses the present tense, "recognize," suggesting that this has already happened.  However, nations of the world do not display much knowledge and appreciation of Torah, either in our times or in that of the midrash.  Furthermore, later on the midrash uses the subjunctive "would," which suggests that these events have not actually happened. 


There seem to be to be two possible readings of this passage.  One possibility is that it is entirely hypothetical.  If the gentiles would only gain an understanding and appreciation of Torah, then they would love God unconditionally.  The other possibility is that this is a vision of the messianic age.  When the Messiah comes, then the nations will study Torah and come to love God. 


The next question is how the rabbis transform the young women of the verse, "Therefore maidens (alamot) love You," into the nations of the world.  Merkin suggests two possibilities.  One is a sort of a metaphor: Just as the maidens are unmarried, so, too, the nations of the world have not yet received the Torah.  Alternatively, it may be a play on the Hebrew alamot, reading it as ta'alumot, which Merkin interprets as "those who know," i.e.  the Torah.


The midrash now offers another interpretation of the phrase, "Therefore maidens love You:"


Another interpretation:

"Therefore maidens love You" (ibid.).

The sages say: Fifty years is called an olam (world, eternity),

as it is written,

"Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband,

'When the child is weaned I will bring him,

for when he has appeared before the Lord,

he must remain there for good (le-olam)'" (I Shmuel  1:22).

This is fifty years.

Elsewhere it states,

"And his master shall pierce his ear with awl

and he shall remain his slave forever (le-olam)."

Fifty years.

Have we not learned that with regard to Shmuel the prophet

fifty years is called olam.

With regard to the Hebrew slave,

fifty years is called olam.

It thus works out that from the day the world was created until today

it has been ninety-seven olamot and five years.

Thus it is written,

"Therefore maidens love You"


We should note that this passage does not appear in the standard printed editions; it has been restored both to the Margoliot and Merkin editions on the basis of manuscript evidence.  This section understands alamot as olamot, "worlds" or "eternities."  The midrash sets out to prove that this term in fact refers to a fifty year period and offers two proofs for this theory.  The first is the verse in Shmuel, which discusses how Hanna left her son Shmuel "before God" le-olam.  It is not immediately obvious how this verse proves that olam means fifty years; the midrash assumes that the reader knows the tradition, recorded in the Babylonian Talmud in Taanit 5b as well as in other sources, that Shmuel lived to be fifty-two years old.[2]  Presuming that Shmuel was weaned at age two, he served God for fifty years.[3]


The midrash's second proof-text is from the laws of the Hebrew slave found in Shemot.  The verses state that if after the initial seven year period of slavery the slave wants to remain in servitude to his master, the master is to pierce the slave's ear and the slave is thereafter to serve his master le-olam.  The simple meaning of the verse is that the slave should serve "forever," that is, for the rest of his life.  However, this contradicts the verses in Vayikra 25, which state that slaves go free at the Jubilee year.  The rabbis therefore understand le-olam as meaning le-olamo shel yovel - the slave serves only until the Jubilee year.  Hence, the longest a slave can serve is fifty years.


The midrash now applies its finding that olam = fifty years.  It states that the world has existed for ninety-seven olamot plus five years, coming out to 4855 years; this is equivalent to the year 1095 CE.  However, another version of this midrash gives a figure that comes out to 984 CE.  Margoliot argues that neither of these dates reflects the date when this midrash was composed; it was actually composed several centuries earlier.  Originally, the midrash contained the actual date of its composition, but later copyists "updated" the text, inserting the date on which they copied the manuscript.


At this juncture, it is worth noting that there is precedent in Jewish history for measuring history in units of 50 years.  The Book of Jubilees is a non-Rabbinic work dating from around the time of the Maccabees that was of particular importance to the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It narrates the history of the world from Creation until the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, dividing time up into fifty year units it calls "jubilees."


This section of the midrash ends with another citation of the phrase from Shir Ha-shirim, "Therefore maidens (alamot) love You," reading the word alamot as olamot, referring to all the cycles of fifty years that have elapsed since creation.  In all this time, there have always been those that loved God.


The midrash now presents one final interpretation of the phrase, "Therefore maidens love You:"


If a man has read the Scriptures, but not studied the Oral Law,

he still stands outside;

if he has studied the Oral Law, and has not yet read the Scriptures,

he still stands outside;

if he has read the Scriptures and studied the Oral Law,

but has not yet ministered unto the Sages,

he is like one from whom the inner secrets of the Torah are hidden,

as it is said,

"Surely after I was turned, I repented,

[and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh;

I was ashamed, yea, even confounded,

because I did bear the reproach of my youth]" (Yirmiyahu 31:19). 

But if a man has read the Torah, Prophets and Writings,

and studied the Oral Law and the Midrash, juristic and homiletic,

and has ministered unto Sages,

then even if he dies or is killed as a result,

he abides in bliss for ever. 

To indicate this, it is said, "Unto death do they love thee."


This passage outlines the different levels of Torah study.  First, one must study both the Written and the Oral Law.  If one has not studied both, his learning is inherently deficient and he is not considered part of the community of the beit midrash.  However, study of the Law, Written and Oral, is also insufficient; one must also serve the sages personally so that one can learn from their personal example.  One who fails to serve the sages will never reach the highest level of Torah study, "The secrets of the Torah." The midrash then cites a verse from Yirmiyahu. I am not sure of the significance of this verse in this context.


Now, the midrash describes the full, accomplished talmid chakham.  Such a person has studied the Torah in its entirety, both Written and the Oral, including both aggada and halakha, and has served the sages.  Such a person is always happy, even (and perhaps especially, if,) he is martyred for his commitment to Torah.  In this interpretation, alamot ahavucha is read as al mavet aheivucha: "I love you even in death."


Finally the midrash returns to its interpretation of the mishna in Menachot:


A marcheshet [stewing-pan] is deep, and things made therein tremble (rochashin).

In what manner [does this apply to the complete scholar]?

If there is Torah in a man, he should be careful not to come to sin and iniquity. 

The Holy One, blessed be He, says to him,

"Blessed be you, and may you have contentment of spirit,

and may the words of the Torah be forever stored in your mouth."

Happy is the man in whom there are words of Torah

and in whose hand they are safely preserved

and who knows how to return a complete answer in its right place. 

Of him Scripture says,

"Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep water, and a man of understanding will draw it out" (Mishlei 20:5). 

It is also said,

"Out of the depths have I called You" (Tehillim 80:1).

It is also said,

"A prayer of the poor when he is faint" (ibid. 58:1). 

Blessed be He whose word the world came into being.  Amen, amen, amen. 


Here, the midrash understands the marcheshet sacrifice as a metaphor for the talmid chakham.  Just as the cake "trembles" in its pan, the talmid chakham must tremble in fear of sin. 


The passage ends with the texts of a blessing with which God praises those who study Torah.  This blessing is an appropriate ending for a passage which has concerned itself with the ideals of studying Torah.  However, I think there is a deeper connection as well.  At the end of the blessing, God cites two verses that use the term "deep" or "depth."  This recalls the marcheshet, which, we have been told, is "deep."  The depth of the pan is taken as a metaphor for the depths of Torah which the mature scholar plumbs.


This concludes Vayikra Rabba parasha 3.  As we have seen, it focuses on the verses that describe the meal-offering.  On the conceptual level, its main theme is the importance of the intent and sincerity behind a sacrifice rather than the sacrifice's absolute value. 



[1] This is Merkin’s understanding.  I am not sure that it is correct.

[2] The basis of this tradition is explained by Tosafot on the above cited gemara, s.v. umi; see also Rashi ad loc.

[3] I am indebted to my wife, Dr. Bracha Epstein Shoshan, for her help in finding these sources.