Chagigah 17

More than you can handle.

As we have learned, the Torah establishes three pilgrimage festivals — Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot — when sacrifices were meant to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. The obligation to bring these offerings falls on the first day of the holiday. 

But as we saw a few days ago, sometimes you can’t make it on time. Instead of saying you are fresh out of luck, the rabbis taught that if you were unable to present your sacrifice on the first day, you could still offer it on subsequent days of the holiday. This works out fine for Passover and Sukkot, which are weeklong holidays. But on Shavuot, which is celebrated for only one day in Israel, are there any options?

In fact, there are two:

Rabbi Elazar said that Rabbi Oshaya said: From where is it derived that the Shavuot offerings can be sacrificed for seven days? As it is stated: “Three times a year all your males shall appear … on the festival of Passover, and on the festival of Shavuot, and on the festival of Sukkot.” (Deuteronomy 16:16) The verse compares the festival of Shavuot to the festival of Passover by analogy: Just as one can redress the failure to bring the offering on the festival of Passover on all seven days of the festival, so too, on the festival of Shavuot, one can redress the failure to bring the offering for all seven days.

According to Rabbi Elazar, if one can bring a Passover sacrifice for seven days, one can also bring a Shavuot sacrifice for seven days — the holiday itself and the six days that follow. 

But this is not the only option. The Gemara goes on to suggest that Sukkot is also a fair comparison to Shavuot. 

Just as the festival day of Sukkot can be redressed for all eight days, so too can the festival of Shavuot be redressed for all eight days.

If one fails to bring a festival offering on the first day of Sukkot, it’s permitted to bring it for an additional seven days — the six remaining days of the holiday plus the additional day of Shemini Atzeret. But wait, the Gemara objects, isn’t Shemini Atzeret a holiday of its own? If so, one should be able to bring a forgotten Sukkot offering for only an additional six days, just like on Passover. 

It’s true that sometimes we consider Shemini Atzeret to be its own holiday, says the Gemara, answering its own question. However, for the purpose of determining how much extra time to give for the holiday sacrifice, it’s considered to be part of Sukkot. 

So if we compare Shavuot to Sukkot, we get eight days for sacrifices. If we use Passover, we only get seven. How do we choose? 

The Gemara tells us: 

If you grasped many, you did not grasp anything; if you grasped few, you grasped something.

This principle says that if you have to choose between a larger number and a smaller one, if the rationale for each is comparable, choose the smaller one. What’s the logic here? Well, if you choose the more expansive option and you are wrong, you’ll lead people astray. In our case, you would be permitting people to bring sacrifices after the time to bring them has expired. But if you choose the narrower option and are wrong, you’ve shortened the permissible period for bringing sacrifices unnecessarily, but you haven’t caused anybody to err as a result of your decision.

In the Talmud, this principle is used consistently in the way that it is on our daf. But in modern Hebrew, it’s more akin to the English aphorism, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.” So if someone says the phrase tafasta m’ruba, lo tafasta to you,know that you are being cautioned to take on a less ambitious task rather than a larger one that may be too much for you to handle. 

Read all of Chagigah 17 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 26th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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