Season One‎ > ‎Class #26‎ > ‎

Class Notes - Class #26

Mitzvot #142 – 146 deal with sacrifices gone wrong.  They deal with ways sacrifices can become defiled, and what to do with the defiled sacrifices.

            Every sacrifice that someone was allowed or required to eat had a time limit.  The people eating the sacrifice had a time deadline before which they had to eat the sacrifice; after the deadline whatever was left over was defiled.  The part of the sacrifice left over after the deadline is called “notar.”  We saw this concept early in our study when we learned not to leave any leftovers of the korban pessah.  Mitzvah #142 prohibits leaving the meat of a korban todah over until the day after it was sacrificed.  The author says there is a time limit for other sacrifices, too.  The time limit varies depending on the sacrifice.

            The author develops his ideas about notar in his essay on mitzvah #143, which is a positive mitzvah to burn notar.  (The author says the same rules apply to destroying “piggul,” which we will meet in mitzvah #144.)

            The author offers a very practical shoresh for this mitzvah.  Everything about sacrifices is supposed to inspire us with grandeur.  Fresh meat might do that, but meat going bad will not. Burning the meat is the most thorough way of destroying it.  The mitzvah also reflects our trust in God; we destroy food trusting that God will provide what we need.

The notar had to be burned during daylight, not at night.  If it was clear that the meat involved was notar or piggul the meat was burned at once.  If there was doubt, they would wait until the time for eating that korban had passed so the meat was certainly notar and then burn it.

The author also discusses what happens if someone finds meat of a korban abandoned so that no one is sure what sacrifice it came from.  The solution depends on the most likely possibility given the facts at hand.  Meat found in the azarah, if the piece was consistent with the butchering procedure for an olah, was assumed to be an olah.  If the meat was in smaller pieces, the meat was assumed to be from a hattat or asham.  If it was found elsewhere in Jerusalem, it was assumed to be a shlamim.  But since it was possible the found meat was notar, the meat was burned anyway.  If someone ate that meat, they would bring a sacrifice appropriate for inappropriately eating the presumed type of sacrifice.

Mitzvah #144 prohibits eating any sacrifice that was disqualified because it was piggul.  A sacrifice becomes piggul when a cohen processing the sacrifice did so while thinking inappropriate thoughts.  For example, the cohen might be planning to eat the meat of the sacrifice after the allotted time, or planning not to burn the parts of the sacrifice that were supposed to be burned, or planning to burn the sacrifice after the allotted time.  The cohen did not have to act on these thoughts.  Someone who ate piggul is punishable by karet.  The cohen is prohibited from having those inappropriate thoughts, but that is covered by mitzvah #287 prohibiting making a blemish in a sacrificial animal.

The shoresh the author formulates reiterates that the purpose of the action of bringing sacrifices is to redirect people’s thoughts away from things sinful and toward things more honest and upright.  Since the main purpose of the sacrifices was about thoughts, it seems appropriate that sacrifices where the cohen had improper thoughts should be disqualified.  The author does not explain why this is the set of disqualifying thoughts.  Nor does he explain how this mitzvah would work in practice; it would seem the only mechanism for this mitzvah to go into effect would be for the cohen to fess up.

The author deals with finding both a punishment verse and a source verse for the underlying prohibition.  (Earlier in out study we saw that the rabbis insist on both a prohibition verse and a punishment verse.)  Here, the source verse refers to someone who will “bear his sin,” a phrase the rabbis understand the mean karet.  This is a punishment verse.  The author finds two prohibition verses, but neither is directly on point.  Exodus 29:34 says notar from the sacrifices initiating the cohanim should be burned.  The rabbis extend the notar in the verse to any defiled sacrifices, including piggul.  Deuteronomy 14:3 prohibits eating “toeivah,” anything abominable.  Since the word piggul also means something abominable, the rabbis understand toeivah to include piggul.

The dinei hamitzvah section of the essay depends on some preliminary concepts the author does not define in detail.  Each sacrificial process involves many different steps.  Some of those steps are officially designated “avodah;” others are not. The steps should be done in a prescribed order.  There are steps that are preliminary to the official avodah but that are necessary prerequisites for the avodah.  These are called “matir,” steps that permit the avodah to proceed.  The author mentions several examples of things that are matir, but I think that is more detail than I want to deal with at this point.

A person who eats a k’zayit of piggul is only punishable with karet if the person ate the parts of the sacrifice that was supposed to be burned on the altar or eaten by someone.  A person who ate part of a matir of a sacrifice, however, is not punishable with karet; that person is punishable with malkos. If a minchah was piggul a different rubric applies. Eating a k’zayit of the minchah that was supposed to be eaten was punishable by karet.  Eating a k’zayit of the kometz taken off to burn on the altar or of the frankincense was punishable with malkos.  The cohen who had the improper thoughts is not punishable, since he did no overt action.

Mitzvah #145 prohibits eating the meat of any sacrifice that becomes tamei.  The author distinguishes this from the mitzvah prohibiting a person who became tamei from eating sacrificial meat, which is prohibited by mitzvah #167.  If the person eats sacrificial meat while the person is tamei, the punishment is karet.  If the person is tahor but the person eats meat that is tamei, the punishment is malkos.

We have not yet covered the mitzvot that help us define and try to understand tumah and taharah.  The author is facing the same problem.  The author says that this mitzvah helps maintain the sense of purity that contributes to the atmosphere in the Temple.  He also says that the mitzvah d’oraita only applies to the two highest levels of tumah, “av hatumah” and “vlad hatumah.”  We will have to wait until we cover tumah and taharah in more detail for these comments to take on fuller meaning.

Mitzvot # 146 require us to burn sacrifices that have become tamei.  In this essay the author gives us several lists of things relevant to sacrifices.

First, he explains where various kinds of sacrifices are burned if they become defiled.  That list is quite straightforward.  Then he lists other items that must be burned. (This list and the next list reflect a Mishnah in Temurah.)

1.      Sacrifices that have become tamei.

2.      Notar.

3.      A sacrifice that becomes invalid for another reason.

4.      An asham talui whose owner discovers, before the blood of the sacrifice has been sprinkled on the altar, that the owner need not bring the sacrifice.  (Recall that one brings an asham talui when the person thinks but is not sure that he or she is required to bring a hattat.)

5.      A woman who gives birth to a baby brings a hattat of a bird.  A woman who gave birth but does not know if the infant was born alive or was stillborn brings a hattat of a bird, but the sacrifice is burned.

6.      We will see later in our study that it is forbidden to harvest and use the produce of certain plants in the first three years of the plant’s growth.  It is also forbidden to plant certain types of plants together in the same field.  If the produce in those situations is picked, that produce should be burned.  If it is too wet to burn, it should be spilled out.

7.      The hair of a nazir who has completed his or her term of n’zirut. (This is the only item on this list that does not reflect something going wrong.)

The author then lists items that we are required to destroy by burying:

1.      Consecrated animals that died.  This applies if the animal was promised as a sacrifice or as a gift in kind to the Temple.

2.      If a consecrated animal miscarried, the stillborn young were buried.

3.      An ox stoned to death for having killed a person.

4.      When a person is found dead in an area between two towns, the elders of the nearest town are required to perform a ceremony in which they disavow responsibility for the murder.  The ceremony involves breaking the neck of a calf.  That calf is buried after the ceremony.

5.      One of the bird offerings brought by a healed metzorah. (Details when we discuss metzorah in detail.)

6.      The hair of a nazir who becomes tamei.

7.      A firstborn donkey that was not redeemed.  (We covered that topic early in out study.)

8.      Meat and milk cooked together.

9.      Animals not part of a sacrifice that were slaughtered in the azarah.

Finally, the author teases out complexities of who burns what where.  If something was to be burned in the Temple, that job went to the cohanim.  Ordinary people burned other items in their own homes.  Someone who violates this mitzvah and does not burn piggul and notar has violated a positive mitzvah and is therefore not subject to punishment.


Mitzvot #149 – 152 give some requirements for the cohanim who are serving in the Temple.

            Mitzvah #149 prohibits the cohanim from entering the Temple if their hair is too long so that they might seem to be in mourning.  The mitzvah is repeated specifically about the cohen gadol.  That eliminates a possible misreading of the Biblical verse that prohibits Elazar and Itamar from letting their hair grow long, which we might misunderstand to mean that this prohibition only referred to cohanim who were in mourning.  The shoresh relates to the overall atmosphere the Temple is trying to create.  There is more of a sense of grandeur and seriousness if the functionaries look tidy.  Further, if the functionaries look like mourners, the institution will not foster the appropriate sense of joy.

            According to the dinei hamitzvah section of this essay, it takes thirty days for hair to become too long.  The cohen gadol would need a haircut at least every thirty days whether or not he was serving in the Temple.  Ordinary cohanim only needed monthly haircuts if they were serving in the Temple.  If a cohen violated this mitzvah and entered the Temple with inappropriately long hair, he was subject to death at the hands of Heaven, but the sacrifices he worked on were not disqualified.

            The author describes a disagreement between Rambam and Ramban about the scope of this mitzvah.  Rambam thinks this mitzvah also prohibits a cohen entering the Temple with overly long hair.  The punishment for entering the Temple was malkos; the punishment for working on the sacrifices was death by the hands of Heaven.  That is how our author describes the mitzvah in this essay.  Ramban thinks that the prohibition on cohanim entering the Temple but not working on the sacrifices is d’rabanan rather than d’oraita, and that d’rabanan prohibition only applies to the area between the “ulam,” the entrance hall of the heichal, and the altar.

            Mitzvah #150 prohibits the cohanim from entering the Temple with torn clothing.  Like long hair, torn clothing is slovenly and is also a sign of mourning.  Someone who tears his or her clothing in mourning has to make a tear at least a tefach,” a “handbreadth,” which is about four inches.  A cohen is not punishable for violating this mitzvah unless his clothing is torn at least that much.

            Rambam and Ramban have a parallel dispute about this mitzvah as they did about the prior mitzvah.  Rambam thinks a cohen who enters the Temple beyond the altar with torn clothing is punishable with malkos, and a cohen who processes sacrifices while wearing torn clothing is punishable with death by the hands of Heaven.  Ramban thinks that d’oraita this mitzvah only prohibits cohanim from processing sacrifices while wearing torn clothing; a cohen who does that is punishable with malkos.  The prohibition on entering the Temple while wearing torn clothing is d’rabanan, and is therefore punishable by makas mardus.

            This mitzvah is repeated about the cohen gadol, and that repetition is understood to mean that the cohen gadol is forbidden to tear his clothing in the normal way when his close relative died.  Rather than tearing near the neck of the garment, the cohen gadol tears the bottom hem.  The cohen gadol is a person so totally identified with the Temple and its service that the Torah requires him to abandon aspects of his personal life.  We will see that the cohen gadol does not participate in the funeral of even his closest relatives lest he become tamei.  He does not let his hair grow as part of his mourning, and he tears the hem rather than the neck of his garment.  His role as head of the Temple ritual trumps his personal role as family member and mourner.

            Mitzvah #151 prohibits cohanim from leaving the Temple during the time sacrifices are being brought. The main idea seems to be that the cohanim need to take their work in the Temple seriously and not take random breaks when it suits them.  As with the prior two mitzvot, this mitzvah has aspects about cohanim leaving the Temple and aspects about cohanim mourning for deceased relatives.  Most of the author’s essay here focuses on cohanim and mourning.

            The author starts with the midrash halachah’s interpretation of the source verse.  This is part of the author’s enterprise of introducing us to the styles used in the midrash halachah. 

The first midrash is in a specific question and answer style.  Each question is introduced with the word “yachol,” “it might be.”  That introduces a Torah phrase with ambiguous implications.  The phrase might mean one thing, or it might mean something else.  The answer is introduced with the phrase “talmud lomar,” “the teaching says.”  The midrash then cites another verse to resolve the ambiguity.  As to this mitzvah, the author cites two examples of midrash halachah in this form.

The mishkan, the temporary traveling sanctuary, had just been inaugurated, and Aaron and his sons had been anointed as priests.  Two of Aaron’s sons violated the sacrificial protocol and were immediately killed.  At that point, in Leviticus 10:6-7 Mosheh instructs Aaron and his remaining sons not to grow their hair or tear their clothes, lest they die. Further Mosheh tells them not to exit the door of the tent lest they die, since the anointing oil was upon them.  That rubric addresses all cohanim, since Mosheh is speaking to Aaron and his sons.  Later, in Leviticus 21:10-12, the Torah addresses only the cohen gadol.  The cohen gadol is instructed not to let his hair grow long, not to tear his clothes, not to go out of the sanctuary with any dead body or to become tamei if a close relative dies. Further, he should not go out of the sanctuary or profane the sanctuary. 

The midrash focuses on the phrase in Leviticus 10 prohibiting the cohanim from going out of the door of the sanctuary.    The midrash asks whether the cohanim should not go out at any time or only during the avodah, the sacrificial service.  In the characteristic phrase, the midrash says “yachol,” it could be that the phrase means at any time or only during the avodah.   It uses the verse addressed to the cohen gadol for the answer.  That verse says the cohen gadol should not go out of the sanctuary and not profane.  Hence, the prohibition on going out must be at a time when there are sacrifices going on that could be profaned.  The midrash uses the characteristic answer phrase “talmud lomar” to identify the phrase “not to profane” as the source for the answer to the question.

Next the midrash uses a style that asks whether a principle stated narrowly about one situation applies to other situations as well.  The mitzvot in Leviticus 10, prohibiting the cohanim from serving with unkempt hair or torn clothes, are addressed to Aaron and his sons, and specify that he had been anointed with God’s oil.  The midrash asks whether those mitzvot apply to all cohanim or only to Aaron and his sons who had just been anointed.  Using another very typical midrash halachah phrasing, the midrash quotes the verse and then says, “ain li elah,” “that only tells me” about Aaron and his sons.  Does it apply to other cohanim as well?  Typically the answer comes in a quote from another verse, but here the answer comes as a reinterpretation of the same verse.  The verse said “the anointing oil of God is on you.”  That anointing sanctified not only Aaron and his sons, but their descendents as well.  Hence the mitzvot apply to cohanim in the generations after Aaron. 

After that discussion the author returns to his theme of defining what cohanim may or may not do when a close relative has died.  When someone’s close relative dies, the person becomes an “onen.”  The onen’s time and attention is assumed to be fully occupied with preparing for his dead relative’s proper burial.  Normally an onen is exempt from positive mitzvot.  If an ordinary cohen is serving in the Temple when he gets the news that a close relative of his has died, the cohen becomes an onen and should not continue his service in the Temple.  However, it would disrespectful of the Temple for him to run out immediately, so he is instructed to hand off his job to another cohen but to stay until that job is completed.

The cohen gadol is in a different position.  As we said earlier, he is much more comprehensively identified with the Temple and its service.  Thus, the cohen gadol serves even when he is an onen.  He does not leave the Temple to participate in the funeral of his close relative.  The job of the cohen gadol involves conveying to the people that nothing is more important than the required service of God.  Thus, the cohen gadol does not absent himself from the Temple service.

At one point in the essay the author refers to the “transcriber” of the Rambam’s Sefer haMitzvot.  All of the Rambam’s works except the Mishneh Torah were originally written in Arabic.  The works were later translated into Hebrew, which is how those of us who do not read Arabic have access to them.  A major area of study involves tracing various translations of Rambam, how they differ from each other and how they influenced each other. 

The author begins mitzvah #152 by telling us it prohibits entering the Temple while drunk.  This mitzvah goes in several directions.  The author discusses the application of this mitzvah to cohanim in the Temple and to other people coming to the Temple.  The author extends the scope of this mitzvah to ordinary people giving decisions in halachah.  In all these cases the author says the shoresh is straightforward.  These are serious matters, and people involved in them should do so sober.

The author starts with examples of midrash halachah in forms already familiar from the prior mitzvah.  In the source verse, Leviticus 10:9, God instructs Aaron and his sons to “Drink no wine or strong drink” when they go to the mishkan.  The midrash halachah focuses on the phrase “drink no wine.”  It says, “ain li elah yayin,” “that only tells me about wine.”  In typical style the midrash asks “minayan,” “from where do I know” about a prohibition on the cohanim entering the Temple after drinking other kinds of intoxicants.  The answer is obvious, since the verse adds “and other strong drink.”  But the real point comes next:  the midrash asks why the verse bothered mentioning wine, since if the verse had only mentioned strong drink that would have included wine.  Here the midrash gives a less obvious answer.  The verse specifies wine because the penalty for wine is death whereas the penalty for other intoxicants is malkos.

If a cohen drank more than the minimum amount, that cohen was prohibited from going into the Temple complex past the altar. (Rambam considers that a d’oraita prohibition.  Ramban thinks that the only d’oraita prohibition on the cohanim was to do the avodah while drunk.  He considered the prohibition on cohanim entering the Temple drunk as d’rabanan.)  Cohanim are subject to the death at the hand of Heaven for serving in the Temple after having drunk too much.  The avodah that the cohen did would be disqualified.

The author gives us information about the limits on the amount of wine or other alcohol cohanim were allowed to drink and when.  If the cohen drank a r’vi’it of wine, about 1.5 eggs, or about 3-4 ounces of wine; if that wine was fully fermented, having had at least 40 days to ferment; and if the cohen drank it all at once and at full strength, then the cohen was punishable for doing avodah.  Further, the avodah he did disqualified the sacrifice he worked on.  Similarly, if the cohen drank more than a r’vi’it, even if the wine was diluted or if the cohen drank it slowly, he was subject to punishment and his service disqualified the sacrifice he worked on.  If he drank less than that, he was still forbidden to serve in the Temple, but he was not punishable.   If he drank enough other intoxicants to be drunk and then participated in the avodah, he was punishable by malkos but his avodah did not disqualify the sacrifice he worked on.

The author deals with questions about how long after the cohen took his drink he is forbidden to participate in the avodah.  If the cohen drank only a r’vi’it and there was a little water in it, or if the cohen slept a little or walked for about twenty minutes, he could then serve.  But if he drank more than a r’vi’it, even if he diluted it or took a nap or took a walk, he could not serve; he had to wait until the alcohol wore off.

This essay introduces us to the organizing system under which the cohanim served in the Temple.  The cohanim were divided into 24 groups called “mishmarot.”  Each mishmar served in the Temple for two one-week periods.  The remaining several weeks of the year were weeks including holidays, when all the cohanim served.  Each mishmar was divided into groups called “beit av,” “father’s house.”  Each beit av would be responsible for one of the days of that mishmar’s week of service.  If one beit av could not handle all the required work for its day, other members of the mishmar would fill in and help them out.

As to the cohanim on duty in the Temple, the author says that the members of the beit av on schedule for the next day could not drink any alcohol the night before or that morning.  Other members of the mishmar on duty could drink at night even though there was a chance they would be called on to help the designated beit av the next day.  But no member of the mishmar could drink in the morning.

The author then considers cohanim nowadays.  After all, there is always some small chance the Temple service will be restored.  Thus, a cohen who knows his beit av and knows the day on which his beit av would be called to serve is required to abstain from drinking alcohol that day and the night before.  A cohen who does not know his beit av but does know his mishmar and knows which week his mishmar would be called to serve is required to abstain from drinking alcohol during that entire week.   Most cohanim nowadays don’t know their mishmar or their beit av.  Under those circumstances, that cohen need not refrain from drinking alcohol, since he would not be able to serve until the priestly administration could determine his mishmar and beit av.  That would give him time to sober up. 

An ordinary person who drank more than the minimum amount was forbidden to go into the Temple complex past the ezrat nashim.  The author also mentions that d’rabanan the ordinary person may not enter the Temple with overly long hair or torn clothes.  The definition of long hair is not the same as it is for cohanim; the ordinary person need not have a hair cut within the last thirty days. He or she just has to avoid looking unkempt.

This mitzvah applies to non-cohanim in another way; it prohibits anyone from issuing rulings about halachah after drinking intoxicants.  The definition of drinking intoxicants is the same as we saw for cohanim; no one should issue halachic rulings after drinking a r’vi’it of wine or liquor or after drinking any amount of alcohol that could cloud one’s judgment.

The author tries to define what it means to give a ruling in halachah.  The prohibition does not apply to reading Torah aloud.  It does not apply to issuing rulings about things that are explicit in the Torah such that even the Sadducees would agree about them.  It seems that to issue a ruling, someone’s judgment must be involved.  However, when other people look to someone to issue halachic rulings, even a speech or d’var torah by that person would be forbidden if the person was under the influence of alcohol.  The speaker might not intend to give halachic rulings, but other people might take the message as halachic decision anyway. 

Look closely at the author’s discussion of the people to whom this mitzvah applies.  The author says that the prohibition on entering the Temple drunk applies when the Temple existed, to men and women.  He also says that the prohibition on giving halachic rulings while drunk applies to men and to women who are qualified to give halachic rulings.  We wondered earlier about our author’s view of women’s intellectual abilities.  This comment supports our conjecture that the author thinks that women are not qualified to be witnesses for social reasons rather than because women’s innate intellectual capability is limited.  

The very casualness of this comment strikes me as significant.  The author clearly thinks that women might be capable of the educational accomplishments needed to give halachic rulings, and that women could be capable of the good judgment required of someone giving halachic rulings.  Apparently, if a woman has that education and that judgment, she can give halachic rulings and other people should take them seriously.