Some of the mishnayot in the fourth perek deal with how much trumah must be given to the Kohanim. The third Mishnah in perek 4 says that a generous person will give one fortieth of his produce to the Kohen, whilst a miser will donate one sixtieth and someone in between these two extremes will give one fiftieth. What is interesting is that although the Mishnah gives exact values for how much trumah should be given, when it comes to actually separating the trumah from the rest of the produce, the law is to estimate rather than to actually measure the exact amount of trumah given. The reason for this is that even though the Chachamim provided a measure for the size of trumah gedolah, the Torah itself does not provide a shiur. Instead it writes “your trumah shall be reckoned (va’nechshav)” (Bamidbar ).
As is stated in perek 1, Mishnah 7, “One does not give trumah by measure, or by weight, or by number.” However, the Mishnah goes on to explain that one can take trumah from produce that has already been measured, weighed or counted, making it possible for someone to donate close to the exact amounts mentioned earlier. In the case of trumah, there appears to be a clear distinction between estimating and calculating. While the produce as a whole may be calculated, the trumah itself may only be estimated.
We find a similar concept our mishnayot. The Mishnah (4:6) explains that there are three times during the agricultural cycle when we measure the capacity of fruit baskets to determine how much produce to donate based on their volume. For example if the basket’s capacity is one hundred figs, we would donate two figs. These three agricultural periods relate to the ripening seasons of various fruits. Fruits that ripen earlier tend to be larger, so therefore a basket will hold fewer fruits. Whereas fruits which ripen later and tend to be smaller and more dried out.
Our Mishnah is usually interpreted in the context of the mishnayot preceding it. Many commentators, such as Melechet Shlomo and Tiferet Yisrael, explain that this Mishnah, like the ones before it, deals with trumah gedolah and teaches us that even though we are only supposed to estimate (not calculate) the amount of trumah we need to give, we must nevertheless determine the amount of available produce in order to be able to donate the amount that Chazal instructed us to donate. In this sense, while the exact volume of the produce is known, and the ideal amount of trumah can be calculated, we do not measure out this amount but estimate it when actually separating the trumah.
However, Rambam explains the Mishnah differently. Rambam defines the “basket” mentioned in the Mishnah as being the basket in which one measures ma’asrot (a tenth of the produce which is given to the Levi) and thus our Mishnah is not dealing with trumah gedolah which is an estimated donation, but rather with trumat ma’aser. Trumat ma’aser is given to the Kohen and comprises one tenth of the ma’aser that the Levi receives. Trumat ma’aser has a fixed amount that is mentioned in the torah – “Ma’aser min hama’aser” – “a tenth of a tenth” – and therefore the Levi does not estimate the amount of trumat ma’aser given, rather he gives an exact amount. It is with this in mind that Rambam explains our Mishnah. Rambam believes that because Trumah gedolah is a donation that is only ever estimated, it is not possible that our Mishnah, which discusses calculating the volume of a basket, is talking about trumah gedolah. Therefore the basket in our Mishnah must be the basket in which we measure trumat ma’aser so that in every season we can give the exact amount required.
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