The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
Masechet Zevachim 79a-b: Eating a sandwich at the Passover Seder
When we sit down to the seder, among the most important mitzvot that we fulfill is eating matzah and marror. Our tradition is to first make the appropriate blessings (ha-motzi and al akhilat matzah) on the matzah, then to make the blessing on the marror (al akhilat marror – the blessing of borei pri ha-adamah having already been recited on the karpas), and finally to make a sandwich from them together, reminding us of Hillel‘s tradition during Temple times.
This tradition is based on the conclusion of the Gemara in Masechet Pesachim (115a), which points out that Hillel was of the opinion that ein mitzvot mevatlot zo et zo – that two mitzvot done together do not negate one-another. That is to say, that the commandment to eat matzah (or marror) does not need to be done on its own and can be done in conjunction with another commandment. Hillel argues that this is the intention of the passage (Bamidbar 9:11) al matzot u-merarim yokhluhu – that the Passover sacrifice will be eaten together with the matzah and the marror.
Although our Gemara attributes the idea of ein mitzvot mevatlot zo et zo to Hillel, the conclusion of the Gemara in Pesachim is that the rest of the Sages essentially agree to that principle; their argument is that it is not necessary to eat the matzah and marror that way.
The Talmud Yerushalmi disagrees and suggests that although the Sages who argue with Hillel believe that two mitzvot will not negate each other, if there are three mitzvot being done at the same time, then two mitzvot will overwhelm the third mitzvah.
Another point of difference between our Gemara and the Yerushalmi relates to mitzvot that are obligatory on different levels. According to our Gemara, mitzvot do not negate each other only if both of the commandments being fulfilled at the same time are on the same level – that they are both Biblical commands. If, however, one of them was on a lower level (i.e., if one of them was only a Rabbinic obligation), then we would rule that they could not be done together. Since the accepted halacha is that since the destruction of the Temple – with the korban Pesach no longer being sacrificed – marror is only a Rabbinic obligation, we can no longer eat matzah and marror together. Thus we first eat them separately and only afterwards eat them together as a remembrance of what Hillel did in the time of the Mikdash.
According to the Yerushalmi no one suggests that a Rabbinic commandment can negate a Biblical one; the only disagreement relates to Biblical commandments that overlap one-another.
Zevachim 80a-b: Temple period flasks
One of the most difficult commandments to understand is the process of purification involving the ashes of a parah adumah – a red heifer (see Sefer Bamidbar, Chapter 19). A full tractate of Mishnah – Masechet Parah – is devoted to these laws, which require the slaughter and burning of a parah adumah, mixing those ashes with water that is drawn and prepared for this purpose and then applying the water – referred to as mei chatat – to the individual who is tamei met (ritually defiled through contact with the dead).
In the context of discussing issues of mixture and halakhah, the Gemara on today’s daf quotes a Mishnah that teaches about a case where a small amount of ordinary water fell into the tzelochit – the flask – that held the mei chatat. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the water can still be used for the ritual, all that needs to be done is to apply the water twice to the person who was tamei met. The Chachamim argues that this does not solve the problem, and that this water cannot be used.
A tzelochit, or flask, was a container – ordinarily made of earthenware, but occasionally made of glass or metals like gold or silver. Such flasks had many uses. They were used as serving utensils at meals, as containers for scents used in different places, e.g. in cemeteries, for body oils and perfumes, for medicines, but mainly for storing and transferring liquids. During the water libation service in the Temple on Sukkot, the water was brought to the Temple in golden flasks like these.
Some such earthenware vessels were made with covers from the same material, but covers were not always made for these flasks, most likely because in those cases the expectation was that the liquid would be kept in the flask for a relatively short period of time. In those cases, when it was necessary to close the flask, they used whatever was readily available, including the paper that they used at that time.
Zevachim 81a-b: Mixed-up blood
As we learned above, in the fifth perek of Masechet Zevachim (see daf 47), one of the most important parts of the sacrificial service in the Temple was sprinkling the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Different sacrifices had their blood placed in different parts of the Temple; the closeness of the sprinkling of the blood to the Holy of Holies in the Temple indicated the level of holiness of the sacrifice. The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses how to deal with a situation when blood of different sacrifices became mixed together. What is to be done when sacrifices whose blood must be placed on the outer altar in the Temple courtyard (e.g. an ordinary korban chatat – a sin-offering – or a korban asham – a guilt-offering) was mixed with blood from sacrifices that are placed in the inner sanctuary, on the golden altar or on the curtain of the Holy of Holies (i.e. chata’ot penimiyot, the inner sin-offerings of the High Priest or the community, see Vayikra 4:3-21)?
What is clear is that blood of sacrifices that belongs on the altar in the outer courtyard becomes disqualified if it is brought into the inner sanctuary. This is derived from a passage in Sefer Vayikra (6:23) that teaches that the blood of a sin-offering that enters the sanctuary must be burned. This leads the Mishnah to rule that if the two types of sacrificial blood became mixed together, the mixture should not be used and should be poured into the drain in the courtyard. If, however, a kohen took the mixture and placed the blood first in the inner sanctuary and then on the outer altar, the service would be valid ex-post facto. If, however, it was done in the reverse order, then the blood that was placed on the outer altar will be problematic, since it would have become disqualified upon being brought into the sanctuary.
There is a difference of opinion regarding this last situation. Rabbi Akiva understands that the abovementioned passage would render invalid the blood all types of sacrifices that should not have entered the sanctuary. The Hakhamim limit the disqualification only to the case of a korban chatat, since that is the sacrifice that is specifically mentioned in the pasuk in Vayikra. Rabbi Eliezer agrees with the Chachamim, but adds a korban asham as well, since the Torah equates the sin and guilt-offerings (see Vayikra 7:7).
Zevachim 82a-b: A Talmudic parable
As we learned on yesterday’s daf, when the blood of a sacrifice that must be placed on the outer altar in the Temple courtyard (e.g. an ordinary korban chatat – a sin-offering – or a korban asham – a guilt-offering) became mixed with blood from sacrifices that are placed in the inner sanctuary, on the golden altar or on the curtain of the Holy of Holies (i.e. chata’ot penimiyot, the inner sin-offerings of the High Priest or the community, see Vayikra 4:3-21), the blood was not to be used. Nevertheless, if a kohen took the mixture and placed the blood first in the inner sanctuary and then on the outer altar, the service would be valid ex-post facto. If, however, it was done in the reverse order, Rabbi Akiva rules that the blood of the sacrifice that was placed on the outer altar will be invalid, since it would have become disqualified upon being brought into the sanctuary. The Chachamim limit the disqualification only to the case of a korban chatat, since that is the sacrifice that is specifically mentioned in the pasuk in Vayikra (6:23) as becoming disqualified if its blood was brought into the sanctuary.
The Gemara on today’s daf attempts to clarify the reasoning behind Rabbi Akiva’s ruling, given the fact that the passage in Sefer Vayikra does, in fact, mention a sin-offering specifically. By way of explanation, Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as offering a parable: If a student is sitting before his teacher and he dilutes his wine for him using hot water (in Talmudic times, wine was ordinarily purchased in concentrated form and was diluted with three parts water to one part wine), when the teacher asks him to prepare another cup of wine for him, if the student asks “with what?” (i.e. with hot water or with cold water), the teacher will respond that if until now he was using hot water, the new request must be adding an additional element, and he means with either hot or cold water.
According to Tosafot, the teacher’s argument in this parable is that if he simply wanted the same thing, he would not have needed to make a special request, since that is what the student would have prepared in any case. Rashi‘s reading of the Gemara has the teacher asking specifically for hot water, but explaining that since hot water was already the standard being used, had he wanted hot water, he would not have needed to specify. Since he emphasized that his request was for hot water he was actually indicating that it could have been either hot water or cold water.
The parallel to our case is that the context in Vayikra was a korban chatat. Somewhat counter-intuitively, when the Torah emphasizes in this pasuk (6:23) that the law applies to a korban chatat, it is effectively indicating that the law applies not only to a sin-offering, but to all sacrifices.
Zevachim 83a-b: Catching mistakes in the Temple – a moment too late
As we learned at the beginning of the eighth perek of Masechet Zevachim, the various responsibilities of the kohanim who were working in the Temple would invariably lead to mistakes and confusion on occasion (see above daf 70). Having completed the examination of the laws regarding sacrifices that became mixed up with one another, the ninth perek of Masechet Zevachim, which begins on today’s daf, focuses on a different question – what should be done with invalid sacrifices that somehow make their way to the altar.
From the passage in Sefer Shemot (29:37) that teaches that “anything that touches the altar will become holy” the Sages derive that animals that are appropriate for sacrifice will become fully sanctified if they are brought onto the altar, even if there is a problem that would, ordinarily, cause them to be invalid for sacrifice. In the language of the Mishnah, keivan she-alu, shuv lo yerdu – once they were elevated onto the altar, they cannot be brought down, and they will be sacrificed. There are two somewhat surprising elements in this ruling – first that the invalid sacrifice is not removed from the altar, and secondly that it is treated as an ordinary sacrifice once it is on the altar.
The first Mishnah in the perek makes clear that this law does not apply to anything that is brought to the altar, only to animals that are appropriate for sacrifice. The source for this idea is the passage in Sefer Vayikra (6:2) that teaches that the olah – the burnt-offering – is brought on the altar, and the Sages derive that just as the olah on the altar can only be an animal that is worthy of sacrifice, so, too, all other cases of sacrifice are limited to animals that are worthy of sacrifice.
Zevachim 84a-b: Different types of sacrificial blemishes
In the Mishnah on yesterday’s daf we learned about invalid sacrifices that somehow made their way to the altar – keivan she-alu, shuv lo yerdu – once they were elevated onto the altar, they cannot be brought down, and they will be sacrificed. The Mishnah on today’s daf clarifies that ruling, limiting it in a variety of ways. According to the Mishnah, problems with the sacrifice like being left overnight, becoming ritually defiled or having been taken out of the Temple precincts, will all invalidate the korban, but if such an invalid korban were placed on the altar, it will be sacrificed. Among the problematic sacrifices that will be rejected even if they were placed on the altar are animals that have mumim – physical blemishes – those that were used in idol worship ceremonies and those that were purchased with the profits of a prostitute or the sale of a dog (see Sefer Devarim 23:19).
Rabbi Shimon explains the difference between these two categories (and neither list in the Mishnah is exhaustive) by distinguishing as follows – kol she-pesulo ba-kodesh, ha-kodesh mekablo, lo hayah pesulo ba-kodesh, ein ha-kodesh mekablo – if its disqualification arose in the sanctuary, the sanctuary will accept it; if its disqualification did not take place in the sanctuary, the sanctuary will not accept it.
Rashi explains this statement simply. If the sacrifice entered the Temple precincts in pristine condition, the sacrifice can be brought. If the problem existed even before the sacrifice entered the grounds of the Temple, then it is disqualified entirely. In his Panim Me’irot, Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt explains that Rashi means that those disqualifying characteristics that only apply to an animal that is already sanctified can be ignored if the animal has already been placed on the altar. Those disqualifications that arise in any animal cannot be overlooked, however.
Zevachim 85a-b: Why are stories included in the Talmud?
We learned in the Mishnah on yesterday’s daf that among the problematic sacrifices that will be rejected even if they were placed on the altar are animals that have mumim – physical blemishes. The Mishnah continues by bringing a contrary opinion in the name of Rabbi Akiva, that ba’alei mumim – animals with physical blemishes – can be brought as sacrifices if they were placed on the altar. This is followed by a statement made by Rabbi Hanina Sgan Kohanim who testified that his father would reject animals with blemishes even if they had been placed on the altar.
The Gemara on today’s daf asks why the Mishnah included the story related by Rabbi Chanina Sgan Kohanim. Two suggestions are made by the Gemara:
- the expression that Rabbi Chanina Sgan Kohanim used to indicate that the korban was rejected by his father was docheh – to push aside. This is understood by the Gemara as teaching that he was careful to do it in a circumspect manner and not publicly, so that the sacrifice would not be degraded.
- ma’aseh ka mashma lan – the story itself was important to teach. When the Mishnah wants to emphasize that the halacha follows a particular opinion, one of the most powerful ways that it can show this is by telling a story that illustrates that the ruling actually followed that position in practice. In fact, in this case, in his Commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam rules according to Rabbi Chanina Sgan Kohanim’s story.
In truth, even Rabbi Akiva was not as lenient regarding this question as he appears to be in the Mishnah. Rabbi Yochanan explains that Rabbi Akiva’s lenient position was limited to blemishes that were similar to dukin she-ba’ayin – a cataract in the animal’s eye. Since this blemish did not apply to sacrifices that were brought from fowl – from turtledoves and pigeons – it was less problematic than other types of blemishes. (See the discussion of Rabbi Akiva’s position above on daf 77.)
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.