Sunday, 22 April 2018

Zevachim 9: Can We Be Lenient About Offerings? Halacha as Metaphor

We begin today's daf with a conversation that sheds light on the larger picture behind these endless details.  The rabbis wonder why we would not count an offering as the offering it was intended to be. The rabbis are aware of the leniencies that would overcome so much of Jewish thought: can we assume that halacha should be used as metaphor?

As soon as we explore what was done in the Temple, we can assume that there were cases that fell in between the broad laws that existed at the time.  To solve those problems, the rabbis looked to similar cases, to similar words used at other times, to any hint that they could find.  And in the end, many of those cases are called "unresolved" in the Talmud.  We are encouraged to study not just the halacha, but the arguments that precede - or replace - halacha.  

And so how do we know what to do when the halacha does not apply to a given situation?  And, to be clear, almost all cases have little to do with halacha.  This entire masechet, for example is dedicated to a particular type of offering in the Temple.  Even when the rabbis had these conversations, the Temple had been destroyed.  Beyond rebuilding the Temple and reasserting these halachot, these practices do not apply to us.  Yet we must learn them.   Why?  Are they teaching us how to question and how to think?  Or are they teaching us how to behave according to metaphor?

For example, there are different 'types' of people, and each should bring different offerings for different purposes.  As metaphor, this suggests that we should be thinking about how we are different and how our offerings of apology or thanksgiving should hold meaning for each of us differently.