Class Notes - Class #9

In this class we will cover several miscellaneous topics.

Mitzvah #184 prohibits cohanim from entering the heichal except at times when the Temple service requires them to be there.  In addition, the cohen gadol must not enter the kodesh k’doshim except on the designated times on Yom Kippur.  (More on that shortly.)  This is another aspect of the cohanim maintaining reverent awe for the Temple.

            This mitzvah has a complex scaffolding of punishments. According to Rambam, a cohen entering the kodesh k’doshim unnecessarily is punishable by death at the hands of Heaven.  Entering the heichal is punishable by malkos.  These punishments apply even if the cohen enters with good intentions, for example he wants to pray there.  As long as the cohen is going during a time that the Temple ritual does not require him to be there, he is punishable.

            Ramban folds this prohibition with other restrictions on cohanim going into the Temple with long hair or torn clothing.  As our author explained earlier, Ramban considered these restrictions d’rabanan.  If the cohen enters for no purpose at all, the cohen has broken the rabbinic prohibition and is punishable, presumably with makat mardut.  But if the cohen enters for some good purpose, even if his entry is not to accomplish the Temple service, according to Ramban the cohen would not be punishable at all.

            The author does not mention whether this mitzvah applies to ordinary people; he only says it applies to cohanim.  But the author points out an ongoing prohibition on entering the site where the Temple stood.


Mitzvah #185 instructs the cohen gadol to follow the required sequence of sacrifices on Yom Kippur.  The author says the cohen gadol is required to bring fifteen sacrifices on Yom Kippur.

1.      The daily morning olah.

2 – 10.  The mussaf sacrifices, one bull, one ram and seven sheep.  These are also olot.

11.  A hattat sacrifice, a bull, a personal sacrifice of the cohen gadol. 

12.  A hattat, a goat, a personal sacrifice of the cohen gadol.  The cohanim eat their portion of that sacrifice that night, after the end of Yom Kippur.

13.  One communal olah, a ram.

14.  One goat, a hattat.  A pair of goats is chosen on Yom Kippur, one becomes this sacrifice and the other one is chased into the wilderness.

15.  The daily afternoon olah.

The author says the cohen gadol was responsible for bringing all of those sacrifices, and for lighting the menorah and lighting the incense.  If Yom Kippur fell on Shabbat, the cohen gadol brought the additional mussafim for Shabbat.  Along with all that, there was a complex choreography of five immersions in the mikvah, changes of clothing from the outfit of the cohen gadol to the outfit of an ordinary cohen which was necessary for certain parts of the service, ten washings of hands and feet, etc.  The author does not mention that there were special aspects to some of those sacrifices, and that part of the ritual took place in the kodesh k’doshim.

            The cohen gadol went through a week-long period of preparation for his special service on Yom Kippur.  The cohen gadol who served on Yom Kippur had to be married.

            The shoresh the author formulates in this essay reflects his understanding

Yom Kippur.  He thinks God gives us a great gift: an annual opportunity to repent and set our relationship with God on a new, better path.  If not for Yom Kippur, we might let our improper directions continue and leave us much farther from the path we ought to be on.  Once God sanctified this special day for repentance, the day itself took on the ability to assist in accomplishing the sought-after atonement.  The implication seems to be that, to some extent, just the passage of Yom Kippur is enough to accomplish some atonement even without the person changing his or her ways.  The author does not expand on that notion.  But he does end the essay by saying that now that we no longer can bring the required sacrifices, our mechanism for atonement must be prayer.


Mitzvah #186 prohibits slaughtering sacrificial animals outside the azarah, and all the more so outside of the Temple.  We will see a parallel mitzvah not to burn sacrifices outside the designated place in the Temple in mitzvah #439.

            We have seen before that in order for the rabbis to find someone punishable for breaking a mitzvah, there must be a verse that prohibits the behavior and also a verse that delineates the punishment.  Here, the source verse, Lev. 17: 3- 4, delineates the punishment.  The author explains that prior rabbis had difficulty finding a prohibition verse.  Here, the author is introducing another of the techniques the rabbis use in interpreting verses, “hekesh.”  The rabbis identify verses that make an analogy between one topic and another, and then carry over something about the law of one topic to the law of the other topic.  Here, the rabbis look at the verses that prohibit burning sacrifices outside the Temple, Deut. 12: 13 - 14.  That passage ends with the apparently superfluous words  “there you should do everything I commanded you.”  What is that “everything?”  It has to be something not already mentioned in this passage.  The rabbis explain that  “everything” is slaughtering sacrifices outside the Temple.  Just as these verses in Deuteronomy explicitly prohibit burning sacrifices outside the Temple, so these verses implicitly prohibit slaughtering the sacrifices outside the Temple. 

 The shoresh section of this essay sounds much like what the author said about the Temple in his earlier discussions.  (Recall mitzvah #95.) It adds to our awe of the Temple and its ritual to have specific tasks happen in specific places in the Temple.  Here, though, the author adds that God intended us to kill animals only if we have an appropriate purpose, for example food or sacrifices.  But killing animals for no particular purpose is destructive, almost vicious, albeit not as bad as killing another person.  That is why the punishment for breaking this mitzvah is so severe.

            Someone only breaks this mitzvah if the animal he or she sacrificed would have been fit to be a sacrifice in the Temple.  The punishment for breaking this mitzvah b’mazid is karet, and for breaking it b’shogeg is to bring a hattat.  The author points out that this mitzvah remains in force even though we no longer have a functioning Temple.


Mitzvah #187 requires us to cover the blood of certain animals we ritually slaughter before eating the meat.  This is closely related to the prohibition on eating blood that we saw earlier.  We show respect for the process of killing another being lest we become unnecessarily cruel.

            According to the source verse, Lev. 17:13, we are required to cover the blood of hayot and birds, but not behemot.  The author tries to explain why the Torah makes that distinction. We are not required to cover the blood of sacrificial animals.  Behemot can be sacrifices, and we cannot process the sacrificial animal properly if we are required to cover the blood.  The Torah chose not to make an exception for sacrificial animals; rather, it made a broader exception for all behemot.  Of course, birds can be sacrificial animals also, but only two kinds of birds can be sacrificial animals, and that is a small enough sample so that the Torah did not exempt all birds from this mitzvah.  The author’s argument here is fairly easy to follow, and it is based on Rambam and Ramban. 

            After a qualifying animal is slaughtered, the blood should be covered by placing the blood between layers of very fine dust, fine enough that it could be used as potters’ clay.  The dust can be earth, or any other material that is called dust when ground up, such as gold.  (I do not think that using gold to do this mitzvah is a practical suggestion.  The author is just explaining the rule by giving a clear example.)  If the main spurt of blood is available, that should be covered and blood remaining on the knife or splattered around the environment need not be covered.  If the main spurt of blood is not available, the blood remaining on the knife or spurts of blood that have landed in the environment should be covered. 

This mitzvah applies to all Jews, men and women.  If someone sees someone else doing ritual slaughter without covering the blood, the passer-by is obligated to take care of covering the blood even if the passer-by had nothing to do with the animal or its slaughter.


Mitzvah #208 prohibits a specific practice used in worshipping an idol called “molech.”  The author explains two different ways of understanding what this practice was.

            The practice of worshipping molech involved a parent handing his or her descendent to the officiating priest. The priest would pass the child before the idol and then return the child to the parent.  The priest would then light a large fire and the parent would pass the child through the flames of the fire.  The priest would assure the parent that subjecting one child to this procedure would assure wellbeing for the child’s siblings.  According to Rashi and Rambam, going through this ritual process and passing the child through the fire violates this mitzvah.  That practice would be dangerous to the child but not necessarily harmful.  Ramban thinks that the practice involved the child being burned to death in the fire. 

            The shoresh of this mitzvah depends on whether one understands the mitzvah Rashi and Rambam’s way or Ramban’s way.  In Rashi and Rambam’s understanding, the shoresh is to single out this particular practice of idol worship because the practice was evil and people were very devoted to it.  According to Ramban’s understanding, the practice was specifically prohibited because it was so horrendous.  Usually, as we saw earlier, a practice of idol worship is prohibited if it is one of the four standard ways of worshipping idols (bowing down, sacrificing, pouring a libation and burning something on an altar) or if it is the appropriate way of worshipping that particular idol.  Here, though, the practice is prohibited whether in service of molech or in any other context. 

            A parent is punishable for violating this mitzvah only if the parent subjected some but not all of his or her offspring to this practice.  The parent is punishable only is the parent both offers the child to the priest and passes the child through the fire.  The child can be any from among the parent’s offspring: children, grandchildren, male or female, legitimate or illegitimate.  But the mitzvah is not violated if someone passes a different relative through this procedure: parents, brothers, sisters, or even himself.


Mitzvah #212 requires us to show formal respect for our parents:  we must not sit in a parent’s designated place, contradict what a parent says, or speak in place of a parent.  But these are not fixed requirements.  The parent can forego the formal respect, so the mitzvah adjusts based on the actual relationship between parent and child. 

The author also discusses a parent whose behavior does not merit respect.  A parent who requires a child to violate the Torah ought not to be obeyed.  A parent who hits as adult child is tempting the child to violate this mitzvah; the parent is thereby violating the prohibition on “putting a stumbling block before the blind.”  I recall seeing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel quoted as having said that a corollary of the mitzvah that a child show formal respect to a parent is that the parent is required to act in ways that are worthy of respect.

            The author discusses how difficult this mitzvah can be, and the situations the author raises sound entirely current.  Especially hard are situations where the parent is not mentally stable.  Even if a parent hits or spits on a child, the child is required to show formal respect.  If the child can deal with the parent respectfully, the child should do so.  If not, the child should recruit others to take care of the parent.

            Mitzvah #33 requires us to provide our parents with personal care.  This mitzvah requires that we show formal respect for our parents.  As to personal decisions an adult child is making about the child’s own life, neither of these mitzvot require the child to do what the parent wants. 


The source verse for mitzvah #213, Lev. 19:4, instructs us not to “turn toward idols.”  We have seen many mitzvot that prohibit things related to idol worship.  This verse seems to extend those prohibitions to things one step further removed from idol worship.  Thus, the rabbis understand the verse to prohibit our doing anything that might ultimately draw us toward idol worship.  For example, we ought not think carefully about the beliefs of idol worshippers, study the objects used in idol worship, watch idolatrous ceremonies, or do anything else that might lead one to find idol worship attractive.

            The author quotes the midrash halachah as extending the concept of this mitzvah.  There is the negative aspect: avoid paying close attention to idol worship lest you be led astray.  Then there is a positive aspect.  Our purpose as people is to worship God.  We ought not waste our attention on nonsense when we could be involved in sacred intellectual pursuits.

            Thus, this mitzvah raises the crucially important question of which intellectual and artistic pursuits are appropriate for Jews.  A wide range of opinions is possible.  Perhaps a Jew should direct his or her intellectual pursuits only toward Torah study.  But broader approaches are possible.  Intellectual pursuits that might lead one person astray might help someone else appreciate the complexity of God’s creation.  The author points out that contemplating nature is one way to appreciate God, and we ought not forego that even if idol worshippers interpret natural phenomena differently.  We might better understand the various prohibitions related to idol worship if we understand more about how idolaters understood their world.  There is also a question about whether the prohibition in this mitzvah should be understood to apply to things that are not technically idol worship but are not Torah study.  For some, studying history enhances their understanding of Jewish practices, but for others history is a distraction.  For some, studying rabbinic literature is enhanced by an understanding of the religious and intellectual atmosphere in which that literature was written, but for others that context is irrelevant.  Many medieval rabbis had the best general educations they could manage to obtain.  This range of possibilities remains an area of disagreement among Jews even now.    


Mitzvah #214 prohibits us from making an idol for anyone who would worship that idol.  This mitzvah is closely related to mitzvah #27, and it isn’t easy to tell the difference.  According to our author’s discussion in mitzvah #27, Rambam thinks mitzvah #27 prohibits a Jew from making an idol or commissioning someone else to make an idol.  The person violates mitzvah #27 even if he or she never worships the idol.  Here, though, mitzvah #214 prohibits a Jew from making an idol for someone to worship, even if the potential worshipper is someone else.  It would seem that mitzvah #27 really prohibits a Jew from making or commissioning an idol for the Jew’s own use, but the author doesn’t quite explain that clearly.  He does say that if a Jew makes an idol for his or her own use, the Jew has violated both mitzvot and is punishable with two sets of malkos.  Both mitzvot are violated if the idol maker made the idol with the intention that the idol be worshipped even if no one ends up worshipping the idol. (Recall that in mitzvah #27, our author said Ramban thinks there is only one prohibition, and that prohibition comes from the source verse for mitzvah #214.)

            We have seen earlier that we are prohibited from getting benefit from idols.  Here, the author fills in some of the details as they apply to this mitzvah, and they follow the distinction we just made between an idol belonging to a Jew and an idol belonging to an idol worshipper.  We are forbidden to get benefit from an idol made for an idol worshipper from the moment the idol is completed, since the idol worshipper will immediately think of it as an idol.  But we may get benefit from an idol made for a Jew until the time that the idol is worshipped.  We are permitted to get benefit from other accoutrements of idol worship until they are actually used for idol worship, and that is so even if they were made for an idol worshipper.  Further, the Jewish idol maker may get the benefit from his or her wages for making the idol.  The craftsman making the idol has not violated the prohibition on making idols until the work of making the idol is finished.  The last act that completes the idol is of de minimis value.  All the work the craftsman did until that last act did not violate the mitzvah since the idol was not yet completed, so the craftsman may get benefit from payment for his or her work.  The last completing act does not have significant value in and of itself, so the craftsman may get benefit from the entire fee for making the idol.


Mitzvah #215 instructs us not to eat sacrificial food after the time for eating it has elapsed.  Sacrificial food whose eating time has elapsed, sacrificial food past its “pull date,” is called “notar.” 

            The prohibition on eating notar is closely related to the prohibition on eating piggul, a sacrifice brought by a cohen when the cohen had improper intention while be processed the sacrifice. For example, the cohen might have intended to eat the sacrifice or burn the sacrifice after the appropriate time. We saw the prohibition on eating piggul in mitzvah/essay #144. 

The two mitzvot have a common source verse. Discussing the inauguration of the Tabernacle, Ex. 29:34 says, “If any of the meat of the consecration [sacrifice] or of the bread is left over until morning, burn the remainder [notar] in fire, do not eat it, because it is holy.”  The ending phrase, “because it is holy,” is taken to include any sacrificial food that has become disqualified; hence, this verse prohibits eating both notar and piggul.

 The punishment for eating piggul is learned by g’zairah shavah from the punishment verse for eating piggul.  Lev. 7:18 says that one who eats piggul “bears his sin [“avon”].  Apparently eating piggul is punishable, but the verse does not say what the punishment is.  Lev. 19:6-8 says the punishment for eating notar is karet.  The word avon appears in that passage as well.  The g’zairah shavah based on the word avon teaches that the punishment for eating piggul is also karet.

Even though the prohibitions on eating notar and piggul have source verses in common, they are considered separate mitzvot.  The author does not explain why that is so, but he does refer to the Gemara for that proposition.

 The author does not place these two mitzvot together even though the prohibitions are derived from the same verse.  He puts the prohibition on eating piggul in the place generated by the source verse, and puts the prohibition on eating notar in the place based on the verse that explains its punishment.

The author fills in a few details of this mitzvah.  Eating some parts of a sacrificial animal are punishable as notar, but eating other parts are not punishable.  The prohibitions of piggul and notar do not apply to sacrifices brought by non-Jews. If someone ate half a k’zayit of notar and half a k’zayit of piggul, the eater is punishable.