As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Mishna (43b) discusses a number of differences between the way the ketoret was prepared by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur and the way it was done on a regular day. One of the distinguishing features of the mahtah – the shovel for the ketoret – was its color. On a regular day, the golden mahtah was yellowish, but on Yom Kippur it was specially made to be a reddish-gold color.
In our Gemara, Rav Ashi and Rav Hisda discuss the different types of gold that were made, most of which have sources in the description of King Solomon’s wealth in Sefer Melakhim (see I Melakhim 10). Their descriptions range from metals that are identified by their place of origin – zehav ophir – to the quality and purity of the gold – zehav shahut, which is very malleable and spun like a hut (thread).
Pure gold has a dark yellow color. It is a very soft metal that can be shaped and stretched very easily. When it is used to make useable utensils or jewelry, however, it is necessary to add other materials (e.g. silver, copper, etc.) in order to make pieces that are hard enough to be used. Even when very small amounts of other materials are added, both the physical quality and the color of the metal change drastically. The color can range from white as silver to a blood red to green as grass.
The Me’iri identifies this gold with the type of gold called zehav parvayim that is mentioned by Rav Hisda, which is described as being reminiscent of the blood of the bulls that were sacrificed on Yom Kippur, and was, apparently, the highest quality gold. The Gevurat Ari explains that the reddish-gold metal used for the mahtah on Yom Kippur served to remind the kohen gadol of the sprinkling of the blood in the Holy of Holies.