Recent sugyot have been exploring the question of what happens when an prohibited act is done to a person, animal, or object that is already, in some way, damaged or unfit. In today’s daf (Menachot 60a), the Gemara addressed the prohibition of placing oil or frankincense on a minchat chotei, a mincha functioning as a sin-offering. The mishna (59b) had taught that one transgresses for placing oil alone and for placing frankincense alone. The Gemara now asks, is this only when there are two kohanim involved, or even if it is only one kohen. It is hard to understand why it should matter if one or two kohanim are doing this transgression, and therefore Tosafot (s.v. Yachol) explains that the question is not really about two kohanim as much as it is about 2 minachot.
The question, according to Tosafot, is whether one will transgress by placing frankincense on a minchat chotei, which already has oiled placed on it. Since the mincha is already invalid, is this act of placing the frankincense prohibited or not? Tosafot has two different ways of understanding the Gemara’s conclusion: one, that there is a transgression in this case, and the other that there is not. Tosfaot points out that this question is similar to the question the Gemara raised earleir (57a) regarding kneading, shaping, and making a mincha that is chametz after it had already become chametz. There, the conclusion had been that one transgresses even after the mincha is already chametz, but the issue is less clear here.
What is at stake with these questions? To one degree, it is a question whether one looks at certain acts independently, or as part of a process. It is taken for granted that I would not transgress if I made a normal mincha that was otherwise invalid (say, it was tamei) into chametz, or if I added frankincense to an otherwise invalid sin-offering mincha. However, when I allowed it to become chametz at the beginning of the kneading, and then continued to knead, shape, and bake it, then I am not doing a new act, but continuing in the process that I began before, and it is reasonable to say that I continue to transgress the more I deepen and perpetuate the original transgression. Similarly, since oil and frankincense are equally excluded from the minchat chotei, it is reasonable to see the addition of one and then the other as a continuation of a process, and not a new act. Thus, although the mincha is already invalid because of the oil when I place the frankincense, I have really just continued in the process I began, but because I took it to the next step, I have transgressed again.
Understood this way, to transgress these prohibitions does require invalidating the mincha from a prior state of validity. However, when something is part of an ongoing process, we look at the mincha in terms of its state prior to, or independent of, that process. [In this way, this can be compared to the principal that one can only make a korban pigul if it was fit to be accepted regardless. However, in evaluating this, we bracket any invalidity that results from the fact that it is pigul, because this is all part of the same process that we are evaluating.]
The question of Tosafot regarding placing the frankincense after the oil would, according to this, be understood as whether the placing of these two different substances should be understood as one process or as two. On the one hand, they are different objects (and even the minimum amount to transgress is different, as we saw today). On the other hand, both are “beautifying” the minchat chotei, and should thus maybe be seen as variations of a theme.
There is, however, a very different way of looking at this. What is at stake might be the very question of whether the act needs to invalidate in order for it to be the prohibited act. Perhaps the very placing of frankincense, even if it does not add an invalidity, would be prohibited. Now, we actually know the answer to this, because we had just learned in the Gemara yesterday (59b), that the frankincense does not invalidate the mincha, since if one removes it, the mincha can then be used. [It is possible to frame this otherwise, that the frankincense temporarily invalidates the mincha, but that its validity can then be restored. This relates to the question of dichuy, and the answers given to it, as discussed on 59b, and in Tosafot, s.v. Vi’teyhavei.] Thus, the prohibition to put on it frankincense is regardless of whether this invalidates, and thus one would transgress even if the mincha was already invalid. Of course, this would mean that one transgresses even if she places frankincense on an invalid mincha, and Tosafot does suggest as much. [It is also possible that an invalidity due to tumah – which is a violation of the very kedusha – would be treated differently than one due to the addition of a wrong ingredient.]
This question – what is the nature of the prohibited act, is it the act itself, or the problem that it causes – is a key one to ask in general. In contemporary Brisker/conceptual terminology, the question is: Is it the ma’aseh, the act, or the tozta’ah, the result of the act?
Now, this question seemed to be at the heart of the sugya earlier (56b) which looked at a number of prohibited acts which were not actually effecting a new result. The Gemara considered:
- Continuing to make a mincha that was chametz after it had already become chametz
- Further castrating an animal that had already been castrated
- Inflicting a blemish onto a korban that already had a blemish
[Interestingly, the last two appeared in this week’s parsha, Emor, which we read yesterday.]
The Gemara stated that there was a consensus that in the first two cases one would transgress. The Gemara proves this based on verses, but does not explain it. Regarding the mincha the explanation seems clear. The prohibition is not to allow it to become chametz, it is to make it into (chametz) bread. Thus, although even if it is already chametz, one is still making it into bread when he continues to knead, shape and bake it. In fact, it is a surprise when R. Ami states afterwards (56b, bottom) that one transgresses by just placing sour dough on the dough of the mincha and allowing it to become chametz, since in this case one is not actually doing a defined process of making it into bread. Tosafot (s.v. Hiniach) is forced to say that there is a separate prohibition to allow it to become chametz. [One could also have said that adding sour dough to make dough rise is part of making it into bread. The difference between these two approaches would be whether one transgresses if he just passively lets the dough ferment.]
So, when it comes to the mincha and chametz, the prohibition is not the end result, but the process – don’t make it into bread when it is chametz. However, the case of castration of animals is much harder to understand. Even if the prohibition is not the end result – to make the animal sterile – one could still argue that something is not considered an act of castration if it doesn’t sterilize. Perhaps, however, it all depends on how one defines the act. Certainly, an act of “sterilizing” requires making a non-sterile animal sterile. However, the act of “castration” could emphasize the bodily disfigurement and not the effect of sterilizing. This is apparently how the Gemara understood it, perhaps basing itself on the fact that this prohibition appears in the middle of the section of the Torah that talks about general blemishes, and that immediately after this prohibition the Torah states: “And from the hand of a foreigner you shall not offer up the food of your God from all of these, for they are mutilated, their defect is in them, they shall not be accepted in your favor.” (Vayirka 23:25). Clearly, the problem is the mutilation, and not the fact that the animals have been rendered sterile.
The Gemara then turns its attention to the prohibition of making a blemish on an korban that already has a blemish. Based on what was just discussed regarding castration, we would expect that here, as well, the act of making a blemish would be problematic, even if the animal is already blemished. However, we find that this case is debated. Rabbi Meir says one does transgress even if the animal was already blemished, much like the case of castration, while the Sages say that in this case one does not transgress. Presumably, castration is seen as a much greater violation and mutilation, and is thus inherently problematic, whereas a blemish is not itself a big deal, unless it has the effect of making an unblemished, and heretofore acceptable sacrifice, into a blemished and invalid sacrifice.
So, when it comes to making blemishes in sacrifices, the Sages are concerned with the result and R. Meir is concerned with the act itself. Hence, the Sages quote in their support the verse, “Perfect it shall be, to find favor,” (Vayikra 22:21) while R. Meir quotes in his support the end of that same verse, “No blemish shall you make in it.” (ibid.) Thus, also, when the Gemara explores how the Sages deal with one of R. Meir’s verses, it states the following:
That verse is necessary for the following teaching: It is written, ‘There shall be no blemish at all therein’: I gather from this that one may not inflict any blemish upon it, but whence do I know that one may not cause it to suffer a blemish indirectly, [e.g.] that one may not place a lump of dough or a pressed fig upon its ear so as to tempt a dog to take it? The text therefore says, ‘No blemish at all’; not only does it say ‘no blemish’ but also ‘no blemish at all’.
That is the same part of the verse from which R. Meir derives that the act is what matters, the Sages learn something else. They derive that one transgresses even if he does not do the act directly, but only by gramma, indirect causation. This, of course, makes total sense. Since the Sages focus on the end result, then the same reasoning that leads them to exempt the person who blemishes an already blemished animal, will lead them to find liable the person who indirectly causes an unblemished animal to suffer a blemish. In the first case, there was an act without a result, and in the second case there was a result without an act. For this prohibition the Sages have said that it is the result that matters. Hence, in the first case the person is exempt and in the second case he is liable.
This conceptual distinction- act or result – is thus key in understanding the nature of various prohibitions, and of course the focus can vary from prohibition to prohibition. We have also seen that the concept of gramma, indirect causation, is closely linked to this question. The more we focus on the result, the more we are concerned with gramma, even if the person did not do the act per se. It is thus interesting to explore the status that gramma has in different prohibitions, whether it is Biblically prohibited, Rabbinically prohibited, or permissible. This can serve as a rough index into the degree to which the concern is that of the act or of the result.
All of this is mostly of theoretical interest. However, there is one application which is highly relevant, and that is another case from last week’s parsha – the prohibition for Kohanim to come in contact with the dead. Is the concern there the act – coming in contact is inherently problematic, regardless of the result, or is it the result – that they should not become impure as a result of this contact? If it is the latter, then it needs to be asked whether the prohibition would be the same nowadays, if we assume – as we often do – that everyone is already impure due to contact with the dead (we have been in hospitals, been to cemeteries, etc.). I hope to explore this in a post to soon follow.