SALT - Friday 21 Iyar 5780 - May 15, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Tuesday 18 Iyar, May 12
            Yesterday, we noted God’s warning in Parashat Bechukotai (26:32) that if Benei Yisrael disobey His commands, He would destroy the Beit Ha-mikdash – “Va-hashimoti et mikdesheikhem” – “I shall make your Sanctuary desolate.”  The Rambam, in Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira (6:16), cites the Sages’ understanding of this verse as implying that the site of the Temple retains its halakhic sanctity even after the building’s destruction.  Therefore, the Rambam writes (based on the Mishna, Eiduyot 8:6), it is halakhically permissible to offer sacrifices at the site, even when there is no Beit Ha-mikdash.  As we saw, some writers questioned this conclusion based on the continuation of the verse, “ve-lo ari’ach be-rei’ach nichochakhem” – “I shall then not smell the pleasing fragrance [of the sacrifices].”  God here clearly states that after the Temple’s destruction, He will not accept our sacrifices.  How, then, can the Rambam rule that sacrifices may be offered without a Beit Ha-mikdash?
            Rav Yitzchak Aharon Itinga, in his work of responsa (Teshuvot Mahari Ha-levi, 1:88), dismisses this question, stating that God’s decision to accept or reject our sacrifices has no bearing upon the technical, halakhic permissibility of offering them.  Rav Yitzchak Aharon noted that not every warning in the tokhecha section (the list of curses which God threatens to bring upon the people for their disobedience) materialized, and just because God warned that He would not accept our sacrifices, this does not mean that this would definitely be the case.  If the sanctity of the site of the Temple is intact, thus satisfying the halakhic prerequisites for offering sacrifices, then the question of whether God will accept them is immaterial.  Rav Yitzchak Aharon borrows in this context the prophet Yeshayahu’s exhortation to King Chizkiyahu (Berakhot 10a) regarding a different matter, “Be-hadei kavshei de-Rachamana lama lekha” – “What are you doing probing the Almighty’s secrets?”  When or why God chooses to accept our sacrifices – or any other mitzva we perform – is not a factor in considering whether or not conditions allow for such observances.  (See also Keli Chemda, Parashat Ki-Tavo.)
            Others, however, accept the question’s premise, and offer different answers.  Rav Nachum Weidenfeld, in Chazon Nachum (2:42), notes the position of the Ra’avan (50), that according to the view permitting sacrifices without a Beit Ha-mikdash, if one erects a private altar on the site of the Temple, the altar would have the status of a bama (private altar).  A bama – which was permitted at certain points in Jewish history – has different halakhic properties than the national altar in the Beit Ha-mikdash.  For example, only personal, voluntary sacrifices may be offered on a bama, but not obligatory or communal sacrifices.  Possibly, Rav Weidenfeld writes, the warning of “ve- lo ari’ach be-rei’ach nichochakhem” pertains only to obligatory sacrifices offered on the national altar, but not to voluntary sacrifices offered on a private altar on the site of the Mikdash.  Therefore, this warning does not prevent one from offering personal sacrifices on a private altar on the site of the Beit Ha-mikdash after its destruction.  (Interestingly, Rav Meir Simcha Ha-kohen of Dvinsk, commenting to this verse in his Meshekh Chokhma, suggests that to the contrary, this verse implies that God would destroy the Temple and also refuse to accept sacrifices even if they are offered on private altars.)
            Netziv, in his Meishiv Davar (Y.D. 56) and his Ha’ameik Davar (Devarim 16:3), offers an especially creative solution.  He notes that the term “rei’ach nichoach” – expressing the notion that a sacrifice is to be a “pleasing fragrance” for God – is mentioned by the Torah in the context of all sacrifices except one, namely, the korban pesach.  Evidently, Netziv writes, the korban pesach is unique in that it is not offered for the sake of “rei’ach nichoach.”  Therefore, he explains, the view allowing offering sacrifices in the absence of the Beit Ha-mikdash refers specifically to the korban pesach, which does not require the element of “rei’ach nichoach.”