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Parsha Tzav

03/22/2018 08:42:23 PM


Many of the Korbanos offered in the Temple were eaten by the Kohanim, and there seems to be conflicting impressions regarding which specific Kohen would eat the Korban.  On the one hand, the Torah writes about the Korban Asham:” Every male among the Kohanim shall eat it,” indicating that Korbanos are to be divided among the Kohanim.  On the other hand, the Torah writes about the Korban Chatas: “the Kohen who performs its service should eat it,” indicating that the meat was to be eaten specifically by the Kohen who performed its service.  To resolve the issue, the Gemara in Zevachim 99a explains that the term who performs is not meant literally as the Kohen who physically performs its service.  Rather, the meat of the offering is apportioned among all the Kohanim who are eligible to perform its service, whether or not they actually did so.  If a Kohen was theoretically able to perform the service, he may eat the meat even if he did not actually do the service.  A Kohen who was ineligible for service, such as an impure Kohen, is not allowed to eat its meat later on.  

Although the Gemara’s interpretation leaves us with clear rulings on the matter, it begs the question of why the Torah would use the words the Kohen who performs its service should eat it if the truth is that the offering can be eaten by any Kohen who was eligible for its service.  Tosafos to Yevamos 40a writes that the Kohen who actually performed the service has a mitzvah to eat a bit of the offering, and once he has eaten a bit, then the remaining meat can be eaten by the rest of the Kohanim who were eligible to perform the service.  According to this opinion, we can understand that the Torah wrote the Kohen who performs its service because there was indeed a unique mitzvah for that Kohen to first taste from the offering before it was distributed among the Kohanim. 

The Meshech Chochma suggests a novel idea for understanding why the Kohen who performs the service must first eat a bit of the offering before the other Kohanim, as he notes that the laws of Korbanos have many laws that pertain to the thoughts of a Kohen while the service is performed.  Whole chapters in the laws of Kodshim are dedicated to the discussion of various inappropriate thoughts a Kohen may think during the service, and the law is that most of these “wrong thoughts” invalidate the entire offering and ruin the Korban.  Obviously, all mitzvos should ideally be performed with pure sincerity, but it seems that Korbanos specifically are unique in the dominant role of the mind throughout the service. Building upon this observation, the Meshech Chochma writes that it stems from the idea that Korbanos are morally challenging to understand, because how could God mandate Mann to come close to the Almighty through harming and paining animals?  While this question is definitely what the Meshech Chochma coins “ Sha’las Minim-heretical questioning,” (and there are most certainly good answers to the question) the reality is that is in natural for any Kohen to struggle with the concept of Korbanos as he performs the service.  The source of all “bad thoughts” during the service stems from this struggle, because the Kohen may perform the service in perfunctory manner while his heart and mind wander and dare to wonder how this all really makes sense.  In order to ensure that we can trust that the Kohen had the right intentions in mind during the service, the Torah insists that the Kohen who performed the service be the first to eat from the offering, as this would be the ultimate test of whether the Kohen really believed in the service or not.  If the Kohen is willing to actually eat from the Korban he offered, we are assured that Korban was valid and other Kohanim can partake in it as well, but until that point, there is always an aura of suspicion that hangs over the Korban.  

This concept in reminiscent of a practice mentioned in Yoreh De’ah 146 for a Rabbi who ruled leniently on a chicken’s kosher status to actually go ahead and eat a bit from the chicken in order to substantiate his ruling, as sometimes the only way to prove the truth is to actually “eat the chicken.”  Words are cheap, and sometimes, service is weak as well, and the ultimate test lies in whether or not the Rabbi is willing to eat the meat.  Sometimes leadership can be from the pulpit, but at other times, leadership comes from actions themselves that prove the truth instead of preaching it.   

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781