Pesachim 61

All or nothing.

Having an all or nothing mentality is not productive — and our rabbis knew it. Let me explain.

A running theme throughout the Talmud is that intention matters. We’ve covered it many times in this series. The mishnah on today’s daf is also concerned with intent. In this case, what matters is that the paschal lamb should be properly assigned to a party of people who intend to consume it that very evening. Furthermore, it must be slaughtered for people who are qualified to eat it: 

If one slaughtered the paschal lamb for people who cannot eat it or for those who did not register in advance to eat it, or if one slaughtered it for people who are uncircumcised or for those who are ritually impure, it is disqualified.

Circumcision (for men) and a state of ritual purity are both preconditions for eating the paschal lamb. If the lamb is slaughtered for people who do not meet these basic criteria, not only are they not allowed to eat it, but the sacrifice itself is invalid — it can’t be eaten by anyone.

This is true for a group that are all disqualified from eating the offering. But would one or two disqualified members spoil a sacrifice for an entire group of otherwise qualified eaters? The mishnah addresses this next:

If one slaughtered it for those who can eat it and for those who cannot eat it; for those who have registered for it and for those who have not registered for it; for the circumcised and for the uncircumcised; for the ritually impure and for the ritually pure, it is valid.

No, one rotten apple doesn’t spoil the bunch. If a person slaughters a paschal lamb for a mixed group of some people that are not allowed to eat it and some that are, then the paschal lamb is not disqualified and can be used (though it still may not be eaten by those who are not qualified to do so).

As we read further in the mishnah, we see an even more nuanced approach to this sacrifice:

If one slaughtered the paschal lamb before midday it is disqualified, as it is stated: And the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it in the afternoon. (Exodus 12:6)

If he slaughtered it before the daily afternoon offering (tamid) it is valid, as long as another person stirs its blood (to prevent it from congealing) until the blood of the daily offering is sprinkled. And even if the blood of the paschal lamb is sprinkled before the blood of the daily offering, it is nonetheless valid.

Exodus clearly states that the paschal lamb must be offered in the afternoon — no points are scored for accomplishing it earlier in the day (in fact, doing so invalidates it). The rabbis took this to mean that the paschal offering should technically be made after the afternoon tamid, the daily afternoon sacrifice. (On Pesachim 58, we learned that they sacrificed the tamid earlier in the day on Erev Passover to accommodate the paschal offerings.) However, there is quite a bit of latitude here. If the paschal lamb is slaughtered before the tamid, it is not considered invalid, one simply must keep stirring the collected blood (which is to be offered on the altar) to keep it from congealing, and then throw it on the altar after the tamid has been offered so that at least the offerings (if not the slaughterings) take place in the right order. But, the mishnah also states, even if everything happens out of order and the paschal offering is slaughtered and offered before the tamid, as long as the paschal offering was made after noon it is still valid.

As we can see in this mishnah, there is a progression toward ever more nuance and leniency. Yes, in the minds of the rabbis, there is a right way to do things. But sometimes that isn’t possible or realistic, and the mishnah does not wish to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Especially in an age such as ours in which too many see disagreements as a matter of “all or nothing,” nuance and leniency are necessary or we’ll all end up screaming into the void with no one to listen.

Read all of Pesachim 61 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 21st, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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