Halachah, History and Doggie Bags in the Last Perek of Zevachim

We welcome the following post from Alan Gersch.   Readers are encouraged to submit guest posts or to become regular contributors.  Please contact Rabbi Dov Linzer, if you are interested.

The last perek of Masechet Zevachim, and the last sugya, provide some fascinating insights with which to look at zevachim in general.

The (very long) mishna and most of the perek give us a halachic/historical narrative of sacrifices from Sinai through the Temple in Jerusalem. There are many details provided, especially in the sugyot of gemara that discuss the different halachot involved. However, it seems that one overarching idea in this narrative of halachah over centuries is that there is an advancement or increase, albeit not monotonic, in kedushah. Although there are ups and downs along the way, the increase in restrictions on sacrifices from before Sinai (e.g. the discussion of whether the olot offered at Matan Torah required hefshet and nituach) until finally reaching an apex in the Temple is dramatic. The gemara even takes it as far back as Hevel’s sacrifice, at the dawn of humanity, and includes it in the discussion of this historical/halachic progression.

This progression is typical of the Jewish understanding of history. We view Jewish and world history as a progression towards a better, more Godly, world. Although there are, again, ups and downs along the way, overall, the world is moving from a godless place full of paganism and other evils to a future in which knowledge of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and peace and justice will fill the world. This progress, and striving, towards increasing kedushah is also intended to be a focus of our own individual lives and this too is reflected in this perek. Not only national sacrifices – i.e. korbanot tzibbur – are part of the increasing holiness demonstrated by more laws becoming applicable to them, but also individual sacrifices. Even when bamot yechidim (private altars) were allowed, they included various halachot which had not been applicable to sacrifices in previous eras. Again, the inclusion of Hevel, an individual’s sacrifice, as part – even the very first part – of this history emphasizes this idea.

Increasing kedushah, as in many other areas of halachah, involves increasing halachot and restrictions – as is most prominently demonstrated here by the halachot of sh’chutei chutz – sacrificing outside the Sanctuary. However, it is also evident that other halachot of korbanot also became more restrictive over time, such as the last clause in the mishna and the corresponding final sugya in the gemara describe; Rabbi Yehudah lists many halachot which do not apply when sacrificing on private bamot – high place altars (in those periods when they are allowed) but do apply to the communal altar. He finishes however with a pointed note that “z’man, notar and tamei” do apply equally in both situations.

It seems quite nostalgically appropriate to end the masechet with a discussion of these, z’man and notar in particular, as pigul – a.k.a. z’man – the thought/intention of improper eating time frame, seemed to be a frequently recurring (perhaps even favorite) theme in the earlier chapters of the masechet. (Notar is actually eating a sacrifice past its halachically prescribed time frame, without necessarily having intended to do so while one of the sacrificial rites was being performed.)  Along with other forms of improper intention (e.g. shelo l’shmah, chutz l’mekomo…) when doing various parts of avodah, pigul featured prominently. It is perhaps not surprising that the mesechet so often focuses on machshavah. In the absence of the Beit Hamikdash and actual korbanot, machshavah – i.e. kavanah – is one of the best “take away” mussar messages from the gemara’s extensive discussions of the topic of sacrifices. It is an idea that is applicable to all our actions – that they be done l’shem shamayim, with proper attention.

[For a related discussion on the theme of intent in mesekhet Zevachim, over and above that of action, see the post “Siyyum on Zevachim – Action and Thought in Korbanot.” – ed.]

The idea that even a slight improper thought can totally ruin an otherwise perfectly kosher sacrifice is a powerful one, and this is exemplified by the the emphasis on pigul.  Perhaps, even suspiciously so. Why is pigul so severe – it involves a chiyuv karet (when a sacrifice is eaten after having become pigul) – when many other types of improper machshavah are merely pasul, or even, b’dieved kosher? (Hearkening back to the very first mishna of the masechet.)

To answer this, I would like to look at one stage of the historical narrative of korbanot which could easily be overlooked when learning this perek – Pesach Mitzrayim – the original Korban Pesach. Although the Pesach Dorot does appear here in halachic discussions, it seems almost conspicuous that Pesach Mitzrayim does not get featured. It was the first sacrifice which Hashem commanded Am Yisrael, even before those offered at Matan Torah. It was the first sacrifice to include actual detailed mitzvot – the very prototype of our topic! However, it is interesting to note that although many rules of future pesachim are found there, only one law of Pesach Mitzraim applies in general to other korbanot: the law of notar – the prohibition of leftovers. (OK, well, perhaps notwithstanding the implicit rules of shechitah, but they are not actually mentioned there…) In fact, it was so different from other sacrifices that it did not even have an altar (apparently) and no part was “offered up” in the “normal” sacrificial manner!

One could say that the houses in which that Pesach was eaten, that had the blood of the paschal lambs put on them, served the function of an altar. The logical extrapolation from that is that the locus of God’s presence (or God’s proxies, analogous to the fire of the altar) in receiving the sacrifice was in the homes of Am Yisrael – with them while they ate their Paschal lambs!

This presents an interesting paradigm to understand sacrifices. While many have argued or advocated for the olah or the chatat – the fully burnt offering or sin offering – as the archetypical sacrifice [see the post “The Purpose of Sacrifices” – ed.], the idea embodied here might lead one to think otherwise. One could argue that the shlamim – the ”peace” offering –  of which the Korban Pesach is a special example, is the prototype of sacrifices and the idea behind them is that we are drawing near to God by, ki’viyachol, sharing a meal together with God. Consider it like a state dinner in which we, the subjects, get the privilege of dining with our King. (Note also that the kohanim are often said to get their portion of sacrifices, where applicable, as “mishulchan Gavoah ka zachu” – meriting their portion from the “the table of the [Most] High”.)

It is also noteworthy that while people of all nations may bring olot (note, again, the gemara’s desire to bring in mention of Hevel’s and Noah’s sacrifices…) only Yisraelim can bring shlamim (and certainly Pesachim!) This special relationship allowing us to draw near to Hashem in this manner begins with Pesach Mitzrayim and continues through future historical stages of korbanot to grow more and more unique and holy.

That being the case, then the idea behind the rule of notar would be obvious: you cannot ask for a “doggie bag” of leftovers from a royal dinner! “I’ll take that to go” is an absolutely unacceptable request – or even thought – in such circumstances. (Although, this idea would also include “yotzei” – perhaps analogous to getting “take out” from our royal dinner – as seen in the gemara, it is lesser in severity than pigul/notar because it cannot be universally applied; in the time of permissible bamot everything might be considered “yotzei”.) Thus the antiquity (going back to Egypt) and severity of notar derives from it being an affront to the expression of our close relationship to Hashem – the royal dinner analog.

Pigul is the flip side of notar – the intention to commit the sin of notar. Other than the obvious injunction “Don’t even think about it!”, it combines this idea of the anathema of notar with the above mentioned theme of machshavah, intention or kavanah, being essential to our avodat Hashem.

Thus, z’man/pigul and notar also represent something of an overarching thought with which to conclude our masechet, and with which to pursue our progress of ever increasing kedushah. Even in the absence of sacrifices, two key features of korbanot are still very applicable to our lives, and in particular to avodah shebalev – our “substitute” for sacrifices. Those are to always have the proper machshavah/kavanah when serving Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and to always be mindful of the special relationship we have with God.

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