Talmud

Nazir 25

Whodunnit?

I was a big fan of the board game Clue growing up. As macabre as it might be, I enjoyed moving my token around the two-dimensional mansion trying to figure out who had murdered Mr. Boddy, where the murder had taken place and what manner of death was visited upon him.  

Today’s daf also tackles a mystery that veers toward the ghastly. Yesterday we learned about a case where a woman has already set aside animals for sacrifice at the end of her nazirship, and then her husband annuls her nazirite vow, obviating the need for sacrifices. Since the animals have already been consecrated, they can’t just return to being regular animals. So what happens to them? The burnt offering and the peace offering are still sacrificed (because those can be sacrificed for any reason) and the sin offering animal is left to die of neglect. Very tidy.

On today’s daf, we’re discussing a related question about the offspring of, and substitutes for, animals that have been consecrated as peace offerings. In other words, if I’ve set aside a specific animal for sacrifice, can I bring another one in its stead? The Torah explicitly prohibits this, but the rabbis address what rules apply if, in fact, a substitute is made anyway.  (The rabbis also lump the offspring of consecrated female animals into this group, as the offspring acquires at least some of the mother’s sanctity while in the womb.)

What is their remedy? “You shall take and go to the place that the Lord shall choose” (Deuteronomy 12:26). (One might have thought this means) he must bring them up to the Temple and withhold water and food from them so that they should die. Therefore, the verse states: “And you shall sacrifice your burnt-offerings, the flesh and the blood.” (Deuteronomy 12:27).

The first verse from Deuteronomy offers a specific location, the Temple, where the animals must be taken. But without the second verse specifying that they should be sacrificed there, the Gemara is concerned that we might have thought the procedure is to starve and dehydrate the animals to death. This seems like a strange and grisly place for one’s mind to go. Why might one think that starvation and dehydration are appropriate ways to deal with the substitutes of peace offerings? 

(Why) would one think he should act in this manner? It is only the offspring of a sin-offering that we learned (that it must be left to) die. 

This gives us a little more clarity. As we learned yesterday, the offspring of sin offerings are in fact left to die without food and water, so this idea isn’t coming from nowhere. So what purpose do the verses from Deuteronomy serve in the context of peace offerings?

If not (for the verse), I would say that the offspring of a sin-offering (may be killed), but the offspring of (other) sacred animals (must be brought) to the Temple. (The verse) teaches us not to (leave the offspring of peace-offerings to die). 

This is another situation where we need two verses because each teaches a different lesson. The Gemara sees Deuteronomy 12:26, which concerns the location of the offering, and Deuteronomy 12:27, which concerns the manner of the offering, as being required for all of the offerings in question. If there were no mention of going to the Temple in verse 26, we might think it permissible to leave the offering substitute to die anywhere. To make it clear that any requirements about sin offerings’ gruesome manner of death don’t spill over to other kinds of sacrifices, we need the specification about altar sacrifice in verse 27.

There’s a lot less mystery to animal sacrifice than there is in Clue. That said, the details are still important, and the rabbis are quite keen on figuring out where and in what manner each of the concluding nazir sacrifices are supposed to take place.

Read all of Nazir 25 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 17th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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