Monday, 23 September 2013

Pesachim 96 a, b

We continue to learn about the Paschal lamb.  Who is allowed to eat of it? Those who are ritually impure? Those who are ritually pure?  How might this compare with other offerings?  What about the Paschal lamb offered in Egypt and those in subsequent generations - how might these practices differ?  Circumcision is a huge question, too.  When is a convert allowed to eat of the Paschal lamb?  And what about substitute Paschal lambs - are these allowed? In which circumstances?  What about lost lambs that are designated for sacrifice and are thus consecrated?

A mishna in 96 (b) demonstrates uncharacteristic human fallibility on the part of Rabbi Yehoshua.  He tells that he heard two rulings about whether or not a substituted Paschal lamb is used as a peace offering after Pesach.  The implication is that he cannot recall the circumstances or application of these rulings.  He could not recall!  Of course other rabbis are happy to jump in and explain this apparent contradiction.

The Gemara tries to make sense of this by suggesting that Rabbi Yehoshua was actually teaching us that there are times when the substitute Paschal lamb is not sacrificed.   Our rabbis debate further about the possible implications of this statement.

Our daf ends with a conversation about she-goats, Paschal lamb substitutes, and peace-offerings.  The rabbis attempt to understand how and when we should maintain the sanctity of a once-holy animal.

This discussion reminded me of thoughts regarding the seder plate.  After our Pesach seder, it seems bizarre to throw the shankbone, the marror, the matzah, etc., into the compost with other scraps from the meal.  How can something so recently understood as sanctified suddenly be leftovers?  Or, on a deeper level, how can something into which we ascribed great meaning suddenly be redefined as 'without value'?  

I am sure that this is something that the rabbis thought about as well, given that they are concerned about how to address the changing meanings of a once-consecrated animal.  It is always exciting for me to read ancient words that touch upon the same questions that I ask today.  And our commonality is not in the resolution of these questions, but in the asking.

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