Anointing Oil

Question #1: Who?

Who may be anointed with the shemen hamish’cha?

Question #2: What?

What are the ingredients of the shemen hamish’cha?

Question #3: Where?

Where is the shemen hamish’cha poured?

Introduction:

Parshas Terumah contains the first reference to the anointing oil used to dedicate the Mishkan and to consecrate the kohein gadol and the Jewish kings. Next week’s parsha, Ki Sissa, contains the beautiful mitzvah of processing this oil, called the shemen hamish’cha, a mitzvah with which most people are not that familiar. I should actually say “three mitzvos,” since the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch note that there are three mitzvos, one positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseih) and two negative mitzvos (lo saaseh):

(1) A mitzvas aseih (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Mitzvas Aseih #35; Chinuch, Mitzvah #107) to manufacture, use correctly, and treat this unique anointing oil in a special way. We see from the Torah that blending the shemen hamish’cha and “anointing” with it the various keilim used in the Mishkan fulfilled the mitzvah. We also see that the mitzvah includes “treating the shemen hamish’cha as holy,” although it is unclear, at this point, what that entails.

(2) A lo saaseh not to pour the shemen hamish’cha onto a person when unauthorized (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #84; Chinuch, Mitzvah #108). We will see that there are four categories of people who may be anointed with shemen hamish’cha. Anointing anyone else with the shemen hamish’cha violates this lo saaseh; furthermore, it is also prohibited to smear or pour the shemen hamish’cha onto the skin of any person, even someone whom it is permitted to anoint with it. Thus, the Gemara states that a kohein gadol who smears shemen hamish’cha on his leg as a balm violates the prohibition of the Torah (Kerisus 7a).

(3) A lo saaseh not to blend a recipe equivalent to the shemen hamish’cha that Moshe mixed (Sefer Hamitzvos of Rambam, Lo Saaseh #83; Chinuch, Mitzvah #109).

Let us begin by quoting the first posuk that describes this mitzvah (Shemos 30:22-23): “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘And you – take for yourself the best of the fragrances.’” Because of the difficulty in ascertaining the precise meaning of many of the terms for fragrances used by the Torah, I will often transliterate the word and then explain what it means.

The Torah tells us that five ingredients were used in the anointing oil: (A) Five hundred holy shekel-weights of mor deror;(B) Fragrant kinneman, half of which is 250 holy shekel-weights; (C) Fragrant cane or reed – 250 holy shekel-weights; (D) Five hundred holy shekel-weights of kiddah; (E) A hin of olive oil.

As we will soon see, the identity of these ingredients is disputed. Furthermore, the tanna’im disagree whether the various fragrances were extracted by boiling them in the olive oil, or whether they were extracted in water and then blended into the olive oil (Kerisus 5a-b).

The posuk begins with Hashem saying to Moshe: “And you – take for yourself.” This implies that Moshe had a specific relationship with the shemen hamish’cha. The Gemara explains that the shemen hamish’cha was made only one time – by Moshe Rabbeinu (Kerisus 5a). Forever after, the laws governing when the shemen hamish’cha may be used apply only to the oil manufactured by Moshe Rabbeinuin the Desert.

How much kinneman?

How many units of kinneman are used? In other words, what do the words, “kinneman, half of which is 250 shekel,” mean? And, if it means simply that we are to take 500 shekel-weight of kinneman,why not say so, clearly?

The Gemara explains that, to make sure that enough fragrance was used, it was required to add a small amount of spice more than the weight used to balance against it. Thus, the shemen hamish’cha contained a bit more than 500 shekel-weights of mor deror and of kiddah, and a bit more than 250 shekel-weight of fragrant reeds. However, the fragrant kinneman was brought in two measures of 250 holy shekel-weights, and each of these was weighed separately (Kerisus 5a). So, there actually was a little more kinneman than mor deror or fragrant cane.

What are its ingredients?

What are the ingredients of the shemen hamish’cha? The Torah describes that Moshe is to take four fragrant items: mor, kinneman, knei bosem and kiddah. The rishonim dispute regarding the correct identity of every one of these fragrances.

Mor

According to Rav Saadya Gaon and the Rambam, mor is what we call, in English, musk, a glandular extract from various animals. Although most of them, such as the muskrat, civet and otter are non-kosher, there is a variety of deer and a variety of wild ox, both of them kosher species, that might be the source.

The ibn Ezra and the Raavad disagree with the Rambam. The ibn Ezra contends that the Rambam’s interpretation does not fit the description of the word mor in other pesukim in Tanach (Shir Hashirim 5:1, 5); whereas the Raavad argues that the Torah would not want an extract of a non-kosher species in the Mishkan. Both of these questions are resolved by later rishonim (see Rabbeinu Bachya).

Those who disagree with Rav Saadya Gaon and the Rambam usually suggest that mor is myrrh, a tree exudate (also called a gum) of the species Commiphora myrrha and related varieties.

Kinneman

In Modern Hebrew, the word kinneman means what we call, in English, “cinnamon,” whose scientific name is either Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum lourerii. Obviously, all of these names are cognate to the Hebrew and derived from it. However, this does not necessarily prove that cinnamon is the correct species. Among the rishonim, there are many opinions as to the correct identity of kinneman; the Ramban, for example, quotes four different opinions. Rashi does, indeed, identify kinneman as what is probably cinnamon, but it is quite clear that the Rif, the Rambam and others do not. The Ramban, in disputing Rashi’s opinion, notes that several midrashim describe kinneman as a field grass that goats forage – certainly not a description of cinnamon or any other tree bark. The Rif describes kinneman as being similar in appearance to straw. Among the candidates suggested for kinneman, according to this approach, is muskroot, also called sumbul or sumbal, which bears the scientific name of Adoxa moschatellina. Another possibility is palmarosa, also called Indian geranium or ginger grass, whose scientific name is Cymbopogon martinii. Thus, although the English word cinnamon is derived from the Hebrew, this could be a case of false identification, as is true in many such uses of Hebrew cognates.

Fragrant smelling reed

The Ramban (Commentary to Shemos 30:34) identifies knei bosem, fragrant-smelling cane or reed, with a species called, in Arabic, darasini, which I am told is the Arabic word for cinnamon. Thus, the Ramban agrees with Rashi that cinnamon is one of the spices used in the shemen hamish’cha, but disagrees as to which Hebrew word refers to it. There will be a difference between them as to how much cinnamon is included, since there are 500 shekel-weights of kinneman and only 250 of “fragrant smelling reeds.”

Kiddah

According to Rashi and Targum Onkelos, the Aramaic word for kiddah is ketziyah, which is cognate to, and usually translated as, cassia, a tree whose scientific name is Cinnamomum cassia, which is similar to cinnamon and also has a fragrant bark. Again, this identification is not certain. The Rambam calls it “kost” (often pronounced and printed with the Hebrew letter shin as kosht), which is usually assumed to be costos, the root of an annual herb called Sausurea lappa.

From the explanation that the Ramban provides to the ketores (Commentary to Shemos 30:34), it can be demonstrated that he disagrees with both Rashi and the Rambam, and identifies kiddah as a different herb. Among the species I have seen suggested are Castus speciosus, but this is merely conjecture.

How is it used?

Let us now continue the posuk: “You shall make with it oil for sacred anointment, blended together, processed as an apothecary does – and it will be oil for sacred anointment. With it you shall anoint the Tent of Assembly (the Mishkan), the Ark of Testimony (the Aron), the Table and all its implements, the Menorah and all its implements, the incense altar, the olah altar and all its implements, the laver and its stand… And you shall anoint Aharon and his sons… Furthermore, you shall tell the children of Israel – ‘This holy anointing oil shall be for Me, for all your generations. It shall not be poured on a person’s flesh, and any likeness of its formulation shall not be made; it is sacred, and you must always treat it as such. Any person who will blend anything similar to it, or put it on a zar (a person who may not be anointed with it) will be cut off from his people’” (Shemos 30: 25-33).

Before we continue, let us explain: What is the posuk emphasizing when it says: “This holy anointing oil shall be for Me, for all your generations?”

The Gemara explains that, notwithstanding that the shemen hamish’cha was used to anoint the kohanim, the vessels, and the kings, when the original hin of anointing oil is found, it will be found in its entirety. In other words, although the shemen hamish’cha is used, miraculously, the original amount never dissipates (Kerisus 5b; Horiyos 11b).

Qualitative or quantitative?

What do the words, “any likeness of its formulation shall not be made” mean? The answer is that the prohibition of blending the shemen hamish’cha is violated only when someone uses the exact quantities of the different fragrances. However, if someone blends the correct proportions of the shemen hamish’cha, but not the same amounts that were mixed by Moshe, there is no violation. In other words, someone who produces a mock shemen hamish’cha by mixing the five ingredients in the correct proportions, but in larger or smaller quantities than those described, is not guilty of violating the prohibition. This is in contrast to the prohibition of manufacturing the ketores, the incense burned in the Beis Hamikdash, which is violated by making the correct proportions of its different fragrances, even when the quantities are different (Kerisus 5a).

Why is there this halachic difference between the two mitzvos? The answer is that the ketores was used in smaller proportions, and therefore, blending it proportionally in smaller quantities is similar to the way it was used. The shemen hamish’cha, on the other hand, was never used or made in smaller proportions, and therefore, it is not prohibited to mix it in smaller amounts.

Kareis

Both of these prohibitions, blending the shemen hamish’cha and using the shemen hamish’cha, carry with them the severe punishment of kareis (“will be excised”). This is unusual, because kareis is usually reserved for severe and basic violations of the Torah, such as idolatry, blasphemy, desecrating Shabbos or Yom Kippur, eating or drinking on Yom Kippur, consuming chometz on Pesach, failure to have a bris milah, and arayos (Mishnah Kerisus 2a). Almost all the mitzvos of kashrus are not punishable by kareis, meaning that they are considered a lesser level of violation than using the shemen hamish’cha inappropriately or blending your own shemen hamish’cha. This certainly provides much food for thought.

I will continue this article in two weeks.