Tractate Chagigah focuses on the rules and regulations of holiday sacrifices. Ideally, the special shalmei chagigah – holiday peace offering – is brought on the first day of any pilgrimage festival: Sukkot, Passover or Shavuot. (In fact, it’s from this particular sacrifice that the tractate gets its name.) But what happens if you forget?
The mishnah at the top of today’s daf states:
One who did not celebrate by bringing the festival peace offering on the first day of the festival (of Sukkot), he may celebrate the entire remaining days of the pilgrimage festival, and even on the final day of the festival.
According to the mishnah, if you forget to bring the shalmei chagigah at the start of Sukkot, you’re still able to offer it anytime during the holiday, including as late as Shemini Atzeret, the final day of the holiday. But what if you forgot altogether and remembered only when the holiday is over? Unfortunately, in that case, you are out of luck.
The mishnah continues:
If the pilgrimage festival passed and one did not celebrate by bringing the festival peace offering, he is not obligated to pay restitution for it. About this it is stated: “That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” (Ecclesiastes 1:15)
In other words, once the holiday ends, it’s too late. But what does the curious prooftext from Ecclesiastes mean?
The talmudic sage Bar Hei Hei says the phrase “cannot be numbered” refers to a person who has an opportunity to join others in doing a mitzvah but declines to do so. Rashi explains that this person also misses out on any reward that might be gained from the performance of a mitzvah. The phrase from Ecclesiastes can be understood to refer to a person who is “crooked” because they deviated from the path that would have led them straight to perform a mitzvah.
But we also know that there are times when you can make up a sacrifice (or prayer) if you miss the opportunity the first time around. Pesach Sheni (literally “second Passover”) was a do-over date for those who failed to sacrifice the paschal lamb due to travel or ritual impurity. And with regard to prayers — the post-Temple replacement for animal sacrifices — medieval law codes such as the Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Tefilah 3:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Hayyim 108:7) permit a person to add missed prayers to their next prayer opportunity.
So why does the Gemara single out this particular sacrifice, the shalmei chagigah, as a mitzvah that cannot be made up? In this case, it’s all about intent — or lack thereof.
A person who forgets to bring a sacrifice on the first day of a weeklong festival can be forgiven for losing track of time. But a whole week? In that case, the Gemara assumes the person just doesn’t care and therefore doesn’t get a do-over. In the case of the paschal sacrifice, a person is only excused if they are delayed for an unavoidable reason: they’re away, or they’re ritually impure. But someone who fails to bring the shalmei chagigah for an entire week has simply been neglectful. In that case, the onus is on them, and no mechanism exists for them to make up their assignment.
Read all of Chagigah 9 on Sefaria.