Season One‎ > ‎Class #24‎ > ‎

Class Notes - Class #24

Under certain situations, what a person brings as a hattat depends on what the person can afford.  A person brings a sheep or goat, or birds, or a plain meal offering.  These sacrifices are called “oleh v’yored,” because the value can be high or low.  Mitzvah #123 outlines those situations, and mitzvot # 125 and 126 fill in some details about how a poor person’s oleh v’yored is brought.

            First the author outlines the sins for which one brings an oleh v’yored: 

  1. Someone who enters the Temple must be tahor rather than tamei.  There are several levels of tumah.  The most severe is called an “av hatumah.”  Someone who becomes tamei at the av hatumah level and then, b’shogeg, enters the Temple, brings a korban oleh v’yored.
  2. The person described above, who b’shogeg eats something that may only be eaten if one is tahor brings a korban oleh v’yored.
  3. Someone makes a “shvuas bitui” and then, b’shogeg, violates his oath brings a korban oleh v’yored.  (Look back at our discussion of mitzvah #30 to review what a shvuas bitui is.)
  4. Last class we looked at mitzvah #122, which requires someone with information about a civil case in court to give testimony when asked by one of the litigants.  If someone testified that he knew nothing about the case when, in fact, he had relevant information, he brings a korban oleh v’yored whether his false testimony was b’mazid or b’shogeg.

The author distinguishes between someone who acts b’mazid, someone who acts b’shogeg, and someone who is forced into his or her action.  He does not define what it means to be forced, but he does say that someone forced into a wrong action is not liable for a hattat at all.

The author reminds us that one brings a hattat to atone for wrongful behavior.  The point of the sacrifice is to help us clean up our act and ask God for forgiveness.  The author thinks it is easy to commit the sins that trigger a korban oleh v’yored.  God, in His kindness, lets a poor person who makes one of these easily made errors bring a sacrifice he or she can afford more easily than the kid or lamb of the normal individual hattat.  The author then explains why he thinks each of these sins is so easy to do.  As to the shvua, promises are easily made and easily broken.  The rules about tumah and taharah are complicated to understand and even more complicated to implement, so it’s easy to become tamei without realizing it.  And commercial disputes are common; people often do not take their role in those disputes as seriously as they should.  People are easily tempted to lie or stretch the truth.  People do not realize the harm they are doing.  The result is a plethora of inaccurate testimony.  So God makes atonement for that a little easier, even if the false testimony was deliberate.

            But the author warns us that the point is to avoid bad behavior.  God may provide a way for people to atone for a wrong act, and God may even make that atonement relatively easy.  But the lesson we need to take away is that God doesn’t want us to do the wrong act in the first place.

            The author covers two topics in the dinei hamitzvah section of this essay.  First he explains that the mitzvah here is for the person involved to bring the sacrifice he or she can afford.  A person who can afford a female sheep or goat of a regular hattat has not fulfilled his or her obligation by bringing a less expensive option of birds or a meal offering.  But a person who cannot afford a sheep or goat should not save up the money to avoid bringing the birds or meal; the mitzvah is to bring what you can afford and if you cannot afford a sheep or goat and bring one anyway you have not fulfilled your obligation

The author raises the case of someone whose financial circumstances deteriorate between the time he becomes obligated to bring a sacrifice for one of the four transgressions to which this mitzvah applies and the time he or she is ready to bring the sacrifice.  Normally, once an object or money has been designated by the owner to finance a sacrifice, that designation is irrevocable.  The owner may not decide later that he or she would prefer to give less.  Now consider someone who, for example, entered the Temple while tamei, b’shogeg.  Since the person can afford to do so, the person designates money to buy a female sheep for a hattat.  Then the person’s financial resources plunge so he or she can no longer afford the sheep.   Our author says the person should buy birds with the money, and the person may keep the rest of the money and use it for personal needs even though it had previously been designated to buy a sacrifice.  Similarly, if the person designated money to buy birds and can no longer afford that much, the person can use the money to buy flour for a meal offering and use the remaining money for personal needs.  But if someone who could not afford a sheep or goat finds his financial situation substantially improved before bringing the sacrifice, the person should bring the sheep or goat.  What one brings depends on what one can afford at the time the person actually brings the sacrifice.

Then the author helps refine what we mean by b’shogeg when it comes to being obligated to bring a hattat or oleh v’yored. In the process he gives us another example of how the rabbis derive halachah from Biblical verses.  Someone brings a hattat for sins done b’shogeg that would have been punishable by koret had the sin been done b’mazid.   Where the sin was entering the Temple or eating kodesh food while tamei, the Torah says the sin “was hidden” from the person.  Read that language closely and you will see that it implies the person knew something, then had that knowledge hidden, and then regained the knowledge; in that case, the sin was hidden. Thus, for someone to be required to bring an oleh v’yored for coming into the Temple while tamei, the person must start out knowing he or she was tamei.  Then that has to become hidden; the person forgets he or she is tamei and goes to the Temple.  And then the person recovers the information that the person was tamei. 

Distinguish the case of entering the Temple while tamei from other cases where a person must bring a hattat for sins done b’shogeg.  For those cases, the relevant verse says the “thing becomes know to him.”  Reading those words carefully, the person does not have to have all the relevant information at the outset.  But, because the words of the source verse are different, that principle does not apply to our case of entering the Temple while tamei.  Someone who thinks he or she is tahor enters the Temple, and later finds out that he or she was really tamei.  Had this been any other mitzvah the person would be required to bring a hattat, but since the source verse requires that the “thing be hidden,” the person does not bring a oleh v’yored.

The author then considers several other permutations.  Let’s say the person knows he or she is tamei, forgets and enters the Temple, and then never remembers about the tumah.  In that case, the person never knows there was a sin to atone for.  If the person ever does find out, the person brings an oleh v’yored.  Let’s say the person thinks he or she is tahor and enters the Temple, then discovers that he or she was tamei all along.  The person cannot bring an oleh v’yored because the person was not aware of the tumah at the outset.  The author considers several other cases, and for each case explains that a specific communal sacrifice will either accomplish “kaparah,” atonement or “postpone.”

The author mentions these concepts, of kaparah and postponement, but does not explain them.  These concepts are common in halalchic literature.  It would seem that there is some Divine accounting such that, for each sin, we are punished if we do not succeed at obtaining kaparah.  If we cannot accomplish the kaparah, there are some actions that might put off the judgment.  And the kaparah is accomplished by bringing the appropriate sacrifice.  Some communal sacrifices can accomplish kaparah when there is no appropriate individual sacrifice.

This explanation is not entirely satisfying.  It seems mechanical:  if I sin and go through the right rituals, I am forgiven.  If I miss the right rituals, I am not forgiven.  This does not seem to be about a person’s relationship with God, and God’s evaluation seems to be based on ritual rather than our motivation, character, repentance, etc.  The author does not shed any conceptual light on these concepts, so I suppose we will just need to be puzzled by them.


            Mitzvot #125 and 126 prohibit putting oil and frankincense on the meal offerings of poor people who bring an oleh v’yored.

            By way of shoresh, the author points out that oil is a luxury.  It is used to anoint kings and priests.  That seems inconsistent with the humility required of someone bringing a sacrifice because the person has done something wrong.  The author also returns to his theme of God considering the needs of poor people, making it as easy as possible for the poor person to bring the required sacrifice.  Almost everyone has a little flour for a sacrifice.  The author thinks that the shorshei hamizvah should serve as a model for us of character traits we should try to incorporate into our lives.  These mitzvot reflect God’s concern for the needs of poor people.  They have broad implications for our everyday lives that have nothing to do with the Temple service.

            The author also gives some basic information about meal offerings.  The basic unit of measure for the flour in a meal offering was the “issaron,”  about 2.5 liters.  For most m’nachot, the person bringing the sacrifice brought issaron units; the person could bring anywhere from one issaron to sixty, but not more than sixty.  Most m’nachot required one “log” of oil per issaron of flour, plus one handful of frankincense.  A “log” was the equivalent of the volume of six eggs.  Those eggs might be smaller than the eggs we buy in the supermarket.  Even now, we consumers get the big, beautiful eggs, and the small ugly eggs go to commercial food producers.  Even our eggs are smaller than we think they are.


Like the hattat, there is no voluntary asham.  There are two types of korban asham, one called an ”asham vadai,” an “asham of certainty,” and one called an “asham talui,” an “asham of doubt.” Mitzvah #128 is a mitzvah to bring an asham talui when circumstances require it.  Mitzvah # 129 defines the circumstances that require an asham vadai. 

            Recall that if someone violates a mitzvah b’shogeg that, had the person done the action b’mazid the act would be punishable by karet, the person brings a hattat.  The person brings an asham talui if the person did an act which would require a hattat if the person was sure he or she had violated the mitzvah, but the person is not sure.  The asham talui must be a ram worth a certain minimum amount.

            The author gives a very clear example.  Someone has two pieces of animal fat.  One is permitted, and the other is “helev,” specific fat that someone is liable to karet for eating b’mazid.  The person eats one piece, and does not know if he or she ate the permitted fat or the helev.  That person must bring an asham talui.  If the person later finds out that he or she ate the helev, the person brings a hattat.  If the person later finds out that he or she ate the permitted fat, then the person is all set.  Another example is a case where someone ate helev, but may or may not have eaten a k’zayis.

            The author understands the shoresh of this mitzvah as a reminder that we need to be careful about mitzvot.  The Torah requires us to bring a sacrifice even when we might have violated one of those mitzvot that are so serious they are potentially punishable by karet.  We know the asham talui is about reminding us to be careful because it does not actually atone for the underlying sin.  If the person later learns that he or she has, in fact, violated the mitzvah, the person brings a hattat to atone for the violation.

            There is one more requirement that our author explains: there definitely has to be a prohibition the person might have done.  If it is clear that there was a prohibition the person might have done, the person brings an asham talui.  The person does not bring an asham talui if the choice the person made was between something that was permitted and something that might or might not have been forbidden.  The author gives two examples.  In the case we had above of the helev, if there were two pieces of fat, one permitted and one that might or might not have been helev, the person does not bring an asham talui.  The author gives another example.  If a man has sex with a woman who had been married, but who may or may not be divorced, he brings an asham talui.  There was a fixed prohibition; we know the woman had been married.  But we do not know if she was still married when they had sex, so the man brings an asham talui.  This is different from a case where a man had sex with a woman who may or may not have already gotten married.  Here, we know that she had been single, in which case there was no violation.  And we do not know if she has or has not gotten married, so there may not be any violation at all.  Neither choice is for sure a violation, so the man does not bring an asham talui.


Mitzvah #129 requires bringing an asham vadai under any of five specific circumstances.  The author covers three very briefly.

1.      An asham meilot, the asham brought for misappropriating holy property that we will discuss in mitzvah #127.  The author points out that the word meilah means treachery, which describes someone who would take personal benefit from sacred property.

2.      The asham of a nazir who becomes tamei, either intentionally or unintentionally.  The author says we will get the details of that in mitzvah #377.

3.      A healed metzorah brings an asham.


The author goes into much more detail about the other two cases.

The fourth case arises when someone has illicit possession of someone else’s property.  The person swears he or she does not have the property when called into court.  The property must be worth at least a prutah.  The person holding the property might have obtained it in several different ways:  the person stole it, or kept it after it was left for safekeeping, or kept it after the owner lent it to him, or any other situation where the owner or the owner’s heirs or legal representatives would be entitled to recover the property.  If the person later regrets his false testimony he or she brings an asham.  As we will see shortly, if the property was stolen the thief has to repay the owner plus a penalty.

The author quotes the midrash halachah to explain the source verse which says the person swearing falsely has breached faith against God.  It would seem the person had breached faith against the owner of the property.  Typically, the parties to a commercial transaction recruit witnesses.  When the person later swears falsely, the person is falsely challenging the word of the witnesses.  But God is always a witness to everything people do.  When the person swears falsely about the property, the “third party between them is the Divine Presence.”


The fifth case is more complex. It is not a case that could have happened very often.  The author comments that he goes into detail here because there is no other place to discuss this topic.  It’s clear that the author is now thinking of his book as an overall curriculum, and he is thinking about what he wants to cover the where each topic should go in the overall organization.  I am not sure why the author thinks this topic is something he needs to find a place for, though.

The author describes one way in which this odd case could arise.  A woman is enslaved.  (We must be talking about a shifchah c’na’anis, a non-Jewish slave, since the halachah does not recognize slavery of a Jewish woman.)  She is in the process of buying her freedom, and has paid her owner half the required amount.  Then she undergoes airusin, the first part of the marriage ceremony, with a Jewish man, but they do not complete nisuin, the second part of the marriage ceremony.  (Remember that once the couple has airusin, they have all the restrictions of marriage but none of the permissions.)  After that, a different Jewish man has sex with her.  Whether he acts b’shogeg or b’mazid, he is required to bring an asham.

Normally, adultery is a capital crime.  And having sex with a woman who has undergone airusin but not nisuin would be considered adultery.  But here, the airusin does not have the same effect because the woman is still half-slave, and she is not Jewish.  Thus, what is surprising here is not the lack of death penalty, but the fact that there is any penalty at all.  Because the woman is a slave, the author says it is easy for people to take her less seriously than they should.  The author says this is a “moral blunder,” but God understands how easy it is for people to think that way and provides a sacrifice by way of atonement.  The woman in this case is punishable by malkos, though, since she has no reason not to take herself seriously.

The author’s shoresh for this mitzvah focuses on the cases of asham vadai that involve illicit financial gain, for example the asham meilot and refusing to give relevant testimony in financial cases.  In these cases, it is not enough to repay the financial loss.  Rather, the person must bring a sacrifice, lest the person think that repaying ill-gotten gain is sufficient.  God want us to be honest about property, not just treat restitution and penalty as transaction costs.  The author speaks in this passage about robbery.  I do not know why.  The source verse for mitzvah #130 lists many situations where a person who has improperly taken someone else’s property has to return the property with a penalty, and some of those situations also require an asham vadai.  But robbery does not.


Mitzvah #127 deals with someone who misappropriates sanctified property for personal use.  The mitzvah covers misappropriating something that belongs to the Temple, something that has already been dedicated to the Temple or as a sacrifice, items given to cohanim because a mitzvah requires that gift, eating kodesh food, etc.  This act of misappropriation is called “meilah.”  If someone did one of these things b’shogeg, the person brings an asham of a ram.  The person also has to make good for the misappropriated property, paying back its value plus a penalty of 25%of the value.  That helps keep us in awe and reverence of the Temple and things associated with it.  (A person who misappropriates holy property b’mazid must repay the principle, and was punishable with malkos.) 

            As the author explains, fractions in halachic literature are expressed differently from the way we express fractions.  Our author says the person guilty of meilah pays back the value of the property plus “a fifth.”  That is calculated by looking at the value of the property plus the penalty, and then determining what fraction of that total is the penalty.  In our system, we would look at the value of the property and express the penalty as a percentage of that value.  So what the author calls a fifth we would call 25%.

            The author then takes us through many details about who pays this penalty and who doesn’t: 

The property must be worth at least a “prutah.”  That was the minimum available copper coin, like our penny, and was considered a de minimis amount. 

This mitzvah does not apply to a non-cohen who eats the parts of sacrifices allocated to the cohanim, since at some time that food was permissible for someone to eat. 

The act of meilah is not complete until the person uses the property for his own benefit.  For example, if he takes a coin, the meilah is not complete until he spends the coin.

            The author deals with cases where one person is guilty of meilah as to some property and then someone else misappropriates the property. This rubric only applies if the misappropriated property is an animal or a vessel belonging to the Temple.  If the first person acted b’shogeg, that person is liable for an asham and the penalty.  The property has already been profaned, so the second person that misuses it need not bring an asham or pay the penalty.  But if the first person acted b’mazid, so that he or she is not liable for the asham and the penalty, then the second person is responsible for the asham and the penalty. 

            Someone who does not know for sure whether or not he or she had committed meilah does not bring the asham, pay the value of the property or pay the penalty. 

            Someone who fails to bring this asham or repay the principle when required to is lacking kaparah, but someone who fails to pay the required penalty is not.

            If someone sets aside the penalty and, before paying it the person gets personal benefit from it, the person pays a 25% penalty on the penalty.