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Class Notes - Class #19

The mitzvot in this series bring us back to the topic of Passover and other pilgrimage holidays.

            Our author describes mitzvah #485 as prohibiting Jews from eating hametz after midday on the day before Passover, the day the Passover sacrifice is brought.  Recall that in ancient times “hours” were calculated by taking the entire period of daylight and dividing it into twelve equal parts, so “midday” would be at the exact middle of the day, at the end of the sixth hour. 

The author has explained several times that Passover is crucial because when the Jews left Egypt God did spectacular and public miracles which everyone experienced.  This is evidence of the fundamental notion that God is the master of the natural processes of the world and thus evidence that God is the creator and master of the entire material universe.  Since the exodus is so important, we have many mitzvot with many requirements that apply to Passover.

            This mitzvah/essay focuses on two different ways of understanding this mitzvah.  Specifically, Rambam and Ramban take different approaches.  Each approach reads the source verse differently and each approach follows a different tanaitic position.  We need to brush off many of the skills the author has already taught us in order to understand this essay.

            Very early in our study, in mitzvot #5 – 16, we learned some of the mitzvot of Passover.  Mitzvah #9 requires Jews to get rid of hametz; mitzvah #11 instructs that no hametz be found in the houses of Jews on Passover, and mitzvah #5 requires bringing the Passover sacrifice starting at midday on the day before Passover.

Some Biblical verses seem to associate the prohibitions on keeping and eating hametz with the requirement to eat matzah, but other verses seem to associate the prohibition on keeping and eating hametz with the Passover sacrifice which is brought on the day before Passover. Verses we saw early in our study imply that Jews may not keep or eat hametz for the seven days of Passover.  Ex. 12:19 says no hametz should be found in Jews’ houses for seven days.  That sounds like the prohibition on owning and eating hametz extends for seven days. The source verse for this mitzvah, Deut. 16:3, referring to the Passover sacrifice, says “lo tochal alav hametz,” one should not “eat hametz on it.” So apparently the prohibition on keeping and eating hametz is associated with the Passover sacrifice.  Ex. 12:15 says, “… But on the first day you should remove leaven from your houses, and the soul of anyone who eats hametz from the first day to the seventh day shall be cut off from his people.” 

That helps explain a tanaitic disagreement.  Rabbi Yehudah holds that prohibitions on keeping and eating hametz begin at the first moment it is possible to bring the Passover sacrifice, at midday on the day before Passover. Rabbi Shimon holds the prohibition on keeping and eating hametz is coextensive with the seven days during which Jews are instructed to eat matzah.  Of course, each of these approaches has a problem with the verses that support the other approach.

            Rambam follows Rabbi Yehudah. The author explains Rambam’s approach, starting with along quote from Sefer haMitzvot Neg. 199. The Passover sacrifice can be slaughtered from midday on the day before Passover.  Therefore, according to the Talmud as cited by our author, one may not eat hametz from midday on the day before Passover.  Note that Rambam comments that this is the text in reliable copies of the Talmud.  Apparently there were unreliable copies available.

            But Rambam will need to explain away the verses that imply the prohibition on keeping and eating hametz is coextensive with the seven days of Passover.  Rambam would agree that Ex. 12:19 requires Jews not to keep hametz during the seven days of Passover.  But Ex. 12:15 extends that time forward.  The verse says to remove hametz on “yom harishon,” “the first day,” apparently the first day of Passover.  But in other contexts the term rishon can mean earlier rather than first.  Under that reading this verse instructs removing hametz earlier than the first day of Passover.  The phrase in the verse starts with the word “ach,” “but,” a word that seem superfluous.  That word can support using a deadline of midday of the day before Passover.  That reading is logical as well.  We know the hametz has to be removed sometime on the day before Passover, but we don’t know when.  We might be tempted to require the hametz to be removed at the very beginning of the day, but that is too impractical for us to think that is what the Torah meant.  We are forced to divide the day, but how no evidence as to exactly when the dividing point should be, so half seems the best solution.  The author refers to a more esoteric explanation of why midday should be the crucial moment, which he says is a misunderstanding.  We should not be surprised that our author opts for the approach that involves working with the more obvious meaning of the Biblical verse.

Playing out this opinion, d’oraita Jews are prohibited from eating hametz from the end of the sixth hour on the day before Passover.  The Talmud, P’sachim 4b, says that everyone agrees hametz is forbidden after midday. The Talmud continues to explain that according to the rabbis Jews may eat hametz until the end of the fourth hour on the day before Passover. Predictably the rabbis moved up that deadline to make sure people didn’t mess up either because the sky was cloudy so people could not be sure when the end of the sixth hour was, or because folks typically leave things to the last minute.  During the fifth hour Jews may get benefit from hametz, for example by selling it, but Jews may not eat hametz.  Remaining hametz should be burned at the beginning of the sixth hour, well before the d’oraita deadline of the end of the sixth hour.  Someone who eats a k’zayit of hametz after midday on the day before Passover is punishable with malkot, and someone who eats a k’zayit of hametz during the fifth or sixth hours on the day before Passover is punishable with makkat mardut.

Ramban, however, follows Rabbi Shimon’s opinion that the prohibition on keeping hametz is coextensive with the seven days of Passover.  This approach interprets Deut. 16:3, prohibiting eating hametzalav,” “on the Passover sacrifice” with the time when the Passover sacrifice was eaten rather than the time when the Passover sacrifice was offered. Thus Ramban would not count this as a separate mitzvah at all.

 This approach also has to deal with the Talmudic passage that said everyone agrees hametz is prohibited from midday on the day before Passover.  Ramban understands it to be about getting benefit from hametz from midday on, something implied by the positive mitzvah to get rid of hametz.  A careful reading of the Talmudic passage indicates that it is the positive mitzvah to get rid of hametz that kicks in at midday. The rabbis pushed the deadline back in order to prevent folks from inadvertently getting benefit from hametz after midday.  But they did not push back the deadline for eating hametz, a prohibition that begins at nightfall.

As a practical matter, though, there is not much difference between these two approaches.  Rambam holds that d’oraita Jews are prohibited from eating or keeping hametz from midday on, and are prohibited d’rabanan from eating hametz from the end of the fourth hour and getting benefit from hametz from the end of the fifth hour.  Ramban holds that d’oraita only getting benefit from hametz is proscribed from midday although eating hametz is not.  But it is hard to eat something without getting benefit from it.  Ramban accepts the same rabbinic extensions as Rambam.

As usual our author follows Rambam’s approach to include a prohibition on eating hametz from midday on the day before Passover among the 613 mitzvot.  The author does not take sides in the dispute about whether or not to count this as a separate mitzvah.  Rather, he affirms that there can be many different approaches that are all within the halachic system and that all of those approaches and the scholars who follow those approaches should be respected.

We have speculated earlier about why our author choses to describe certain earlier sources or halachic arguments.  Here he tracks through a topic where there are Biblical verses that support two different approaches.  That leads to a dispute between tanaim, each reading the relevant verses differently.  Rambam follows one tana, and Ramban follows a disagreeing tana.  Each approach has to deal with the sources that seem to support the other approach, and each approach has to spell out its understanding of the practical implications. This is a prototypical dispute, basic to the way the halachic system works.


The remaining mitzvot in this series deal with coming to the Temple on the three pilgrimage holidays and bringing the appropriate sacrifices.

Mitzvah #489 requires all Jewish men to go to the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover, Shavuot and Succot. Mitzvah #490 prohibits them from showing up on those occasions without bringing a sacrifice.  The pilgrim brings three sacrifices: an olah, called the “olat r’iah,” the “olah of being seen”; a shlamim, called a “shalmei simcha,” a “joy shlamim”; and a hagigah.  The olah is the sacrifice required by mitzvah #490. Like all olot it is completely burned on the altar. This olah can be as inexpensive as one small bird. The meat of a shlamim and a hagigah is eaten by the owner and his or her guests.  On Passover there is also the Passover sacrifice, eaten by the members of the group of people who brought it. 

The source verse for the obligation to go to the Temple on the three pilgrimage holidays specifies that men must go. The author says the men should bring along boys old enough to walk on their own. (There are more details on exactly who is obligated to go in mitzvah/essay #88.)  Our author explains that the mitzvah falls on men because men serve as the head of the household so when they come to the Temple they can also represent the women and children.  Once every shmittah cycle, though, men, women and children come to the Temple to hear part of the Torah read.  We will learn more about that in mitzvah #512.  A fundamental concept of shmittah is that everyone is equal in their servitude of God, so at least once the women and children come on their own, not represented by the menfolk.

We have seen our author repeatedly discuss the kinds of emotions the Temple and its ritual are supposed to instill in us. In the shoresh section of this essay, the author gives that notion a very personal tone, reflecting on the precious opportunity Jews have to become close to and more appreciative of God through mitzvot in general and the rituals of the Temple in particular.  Each Jew, child or adult, rich and poor, shares in this special opportunity.  We have wondered before how our author understood the notion that Jews have many more mitzvot, creating many opportunities for Jews to behave well and invite God’s blessing, which non-Jews do not have.  In this passage our author imagines someone coming to the Temple on the pilgrimage holiday seeing himself as a retainer to the king, someone with enhanced responsibilities but also with enhanced status and closeness to the center of authority.  This was a more comfortable notion for our author than it might be for us.  Nothing in that characterization disparages others, but it does reaffirm that Jews do have a special status others do not have.

Mitzvah #488 requires Jews to rejoice on the pilgrimage holidays.  The prime example of that rejoicing is eating the meat of the sacrifices we just discussed.  Meat was an expensive luxury for most people, so having all that sacrificial meat to eat must have been a special treat.

But other types of rejoicing also fulfill this mitzvah, and the standard for what constitutes rejoicing is subjective: each person should do what makes that person happy.  In general, men like meat and wine, women like new clothes and jewelry, and kids like candy.  (Maybe things have not changed so much since our author’s time.)  In the Temple, instrumental music also contributes to the happy atmosphere.  Men, as heads of families, are required to help provide the things that make other family members happy.  But making our family happy is insufficient, we are also encouraged to make sure those less fortunate, the powerless, the poor and converts, have whatever it takes for them to have a pleasant holiday.

The shoresh of this mitzvah seems clear, but our author explains that people need joyous times just as people need food and sleep.  This mitzvah encourages Jews to associate joyous times with the pilgrimage holidays, to help us see that the joyous parts of our lives are coming from God.

Our author says women are also obligated to rejoice on pilgrimage holidays.  Therefore, our author says, women must also bring and eat the shlamim sacrifice, although apparently women need not bring the associated olah or hagigah. Women are generally exempt from positive mitzvot that must be done at a certain time, but this is part of the complex ritual of the pilgrimage holidays, a package of positive and negative mitzvot.  The author does not say why women need not bring the olah or hagigah, which seem to be part of the same package.  Eating sacrificial meat to increase the rejoicing on pilgrimage holidays is no longer applicable, but the other aspects of the mitzvah still apply.  The author reminds us specifically that providing for the poor on holidays is still in effect.

Mitzvah #486 extends the notion of notar (not eating sacrificial meat after its pull date) to the hagigah sacrifice that is brought in conjunction with the Passover sacrifice. The Passover sacrifice and the hagigah were brought on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan.  The Passover sacrifice was eaten that night, the night of the 15th of Nissan. The hagigah must be eaten before the end of the 15th day of Nissan.  So the hagigah could be eaten on the afternoon of the 14th, adding joy to the time when the Passover sacrifice was brought but could not yet be eaten.

The author does not give a full discussion of exactly when each of the three sacrifices required for pilgrimage holiday should be brought.  He does say that someone who has vowed to bring a voluntary shlamim may use that shlamim as a shalmei simchah even if it was brought before the holiday provided it was eaten on the holiday.  The main point is that there should be meat to eat to enhance the joy of the holiday.  If someone brings the hagigah sacrifice before the holiday and then eats the meat on the holiday, the person has not fulfilled the obligation to bring the holiday hagigah, but one has contributed to the joy of the holiday by providing meat to eat on the holiday.

Mitzvah #487 adds another aspect to our understanding of the Passover sacrifice.  During some of the periods when the Tabernacle was functioning after the Jews entered Israel, people could bring sacrifices in the Tabernacle or they could build private altars and bring sacrifices on those private altars.  (When the Tabernacle was set up in Gilgal individual altars were permitted, but after the Tabernacle was set up in Shiloh private altars were prohibited.)  Once the Temple was established, though, all sacrifices were to be brought in the Temple.  (See mitzvah # 439.)  Even when Jews could bring sacrifices on private alters the Passover sacrifice was an exception.  It could only be brought in the Tabernacle or, later, in the Temple.  This was another way to give Passover special prominence because the theological implications of the Passover story were so important.  This mitzvah continues to be in effect.  Someone would violate this mitzvah by consecrating a Passover sacrifice and then bringing that sacrifice somewhere other than the Temple.

Our author presents this mitzvah as straight forward and explains exactly how this mitzvah has long-term application rather than being limited to the specific time period when sacrifices outside the Tabernacle were permitted.  The translator, though, tells a fascinating story of the complex history of this mitzvah.  Recall that our author follows Rambam’s count of the mitzvot.  Rambam lists the mitzvot in Sefer haMitzvot, which he wrote in Arabic.  Sefer haMitzvot was translated into Hebrew during Rambam’s lifetime.  There were two editions of Sefer haMitzvot.  The first edition included this mitzvah, but the second replaced this mitzvah with a mitzvah based on Ex. 29:33 which forbids a non-cohen from eating the parts of sacrifices that cohanim were supposed to eat.  Although several scholars before Rambam mention this as a distinct mitzvah, apparently Rambam’s son, Avraham, had never seen the edition of the Sefer haMitzvot the included this mitzvah.  Apparently our author had never seen the second edition either.