SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, March 17, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Tzav presents a number of halakhot relevant to the consumption of sacrificial meat, distinguishing in this regard between the various kinds of sacrifices.  The basic rule that applies is that sacrifices classified as kodashei kodashim, which are consumed only by the kohanim, may be eaten only throughout the night following the day of their offering.  For example, a kodashei kodashim offering which was sacrificed on Sunday may be eaten (on the level of Torah law) until daybreak Monday morning.  The lower category of sacrifices, kodashei kalim – those sacrifices whose meat is shared by the kohanim and the person bringing the offering – may be eaten also the following day.  Such a sacrifice which was offered on Sunday may be eaten until sundown Monday afternoon.  The exception to this rule is the korban toda – the thanksgiving offering.  Although this sacrifice is generally treated as kodashei kalim, its meat may be eaten only through the night following the offering, and not the next day.  (See 7:15-16.  We do not discuss here the korban pesach, which is classified as kodashei kalim but is exceptional in several respects.)
            The Mishna in the beginning of Masekhet Berakhot (2a) teaches that the Sages enacted a safeguard regarding the consumption of kodashei kodashim (and the toda), requiring that it be eaten only until chatzot (midnight as defined by Halakha).  Although Torah law permits eating the meat until daybreak, Chazal enacted a provision prohibiting eating the meat of these sacrifices beyond chatzot, fearful that otherwise the people might continue eating the meat past daybreak, in violation of the Torah’s command.
            Tosafot, in Masekhet Zevachim (57b), raise the question of why no such safeguard was enacted with regard to the other sacrifices – those that the Torah allows eating until sundown the following day.  Chazal permitted eating these sacrifices throughout the entire following day, as the Torah allows, without instituting an earlier deadline as a safeguard.  Why did they find it necessary to enact a safeguard regarding those sacrifices with a shorter deadline – requiring that they be eaten only until chatzot, and not through the night – but not regarding those sacrifices which the Torah permits eating the entire next day?
            Tosafot answer that the advent of sundown is more obvious than the advent of daybreak.  The darkening of the afternoon sky is sensed more readily than the brightening of the nighttime sky, and therefore Chazal felt there was greater risk of people missing the daybreak deadline than there was of people missing the sundown deadline.  For this reason, they enacted a safeguard regarding those sacrifices whose Biblically-assigned deadline is daybreak, and not for those sacrifices whose Biblically-assigned deadline is sundown.
            On a symbolic level, Tosafot’s explanation might perhaps reflect a deeper psychological observation regarding a type of innate pessimism that plagues many people.  Many of us sense the onset of “darkness” more readily than we do the onset of “light.”  When we enjoy “daylight” – general stability and happiness – we are very attuned to signs of “darkness,” and sensitive to minor problems and hardships.  But at “nighttime,” during life’s difficult and painful periods, we do not easily see the “light.”  We tend to remain negative until the sun shines brightly, until the problem is completely solved, rather than appreciating the glimpses of light that appear on the horizon.  This is in contrast to periods of joy and good fortune, when we tend to instantly discern and worry about any “darkening” that begins to unfold.
            Symbolically, then, Chazal’s enactment represents the special effort that we need to make to take note of the “brightening skies” in times of darkness.  Knowing that we so often focus on the “darkness” of our lives and fail to appreciate the rays of “light,” Chazal moved up the deadline for eating sacrifices from daybreak to chatzot, urging us to anticipate “morning” even in the middle of the “night.”  When we find ourselves mired in the darkness of hardship, we should direct our eyes towards the eastern sky and search for the rays of light that will assuredly appear at one point or another.  Even in the middle of the “night,” as we struggle with adversity and challenge, we can and should try to notice and appreciate the “light” of hope for a better future, and trust that the current period of “darkness” will eventually give way to the “light” of happiness and good fortune.