Menachot 4b- Topics in the Gemara – Scope of Shelo Lishmo – Is it the Purpose or Category that Matters?

On daf 4b of the daf yomi, the issue under discussion was the scope of shelo lishmo.  Which sacrifices are invalidated by it?  Is it a function of the sacrifice’s category or the sacrifice’s purpose?

Rav assumes that the reason a minchat choteh and chatat which are done shelo li’shma are invalid is because they become purposeless.  Since the entire purpose of these sacrifices is to effect atonement, when they cannot do this (because a korban shelo lishma does not relate to the owner), they are invalid. (Menachot 4b)

  • Thus, states Rav, other korbanot which become purposeless as a result of shelo lishma will also be invalid.  This includes all sacrifices which are coming to effect a change of personal status – such as the asham for the metzorah and nazir – or to change of halakhic status – the omer.
  • This position makes a lot of sense and should logically then include all ashamot.  That is, since an asham comes either to atone for sin or to change status, it should always be invalid if done shelo lishma.  This is indeed the position of R. Eliezer (Mishna Zevachim 2b and Gemara 10a-b), that an asham shelo lishmo is invalid, and Reish Lakish could not understand how the opposite position made sense.  As the Gemara states in Zevachim (5a):

Resh Lakish fell on his stomach in the Beth Hamidrash, and raised a difficulty: If they are valid, let them be accepted; while if they are not accepted, for what purpose do they come?

  •  Nevertheless, we rule against R. Eliezer, Reish Lakish and Rav, and we say that the invalidity of shelo lishmo applies to certain categories of sacrifices, and is not a function of purpose.  Thus, a chatat is always invalid, while an asham is always valid (although does not count for the owner), regardless of their function.  The same is true regarding menachot.

About Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a groundbreaking Orthodox smicha program. Rabbi Linzer spearheaded the development of YCT to create an innovative four year smicha program which provides its students with rigorous talmud Torah and halakhic study and sophisticated professional training in the context of a religious atmosphere which cultivates openness and inclusiveness. Rabbi Linzer has published Halakha and machshava articles in Torah journals and lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity. He is most recently the awardee of the prestigious Avi Chai Fellowship.
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