Pesachim 63

Mouth and heart.

A few days ago, we learned in a mishnah that while one may not offer a paschal lamb for a group of people who are all uncircumcised, one may slaughter a paschal lamb for a group of people that includes both those circumcised and uncircumcised members. At the bottom of yesterday’s page, we came to an additional tannaitic (early rabbinic) teaching about these mixed (circumcised/uncircumcised) groups:

Aherim (literally “others,” understood to be Rabbi Meir) say: If one sacrifices a paschal lamb for both circumcised and uncircumcised people and had in mind first the circumcised people and then the uncircumcised people, the offering is valid. But if he had in mind first the uncircumcised people and then the circumcised people, it is disqualified.

Naturally, the Gemara wants to know: why does the order matter? After all, a mixed group is a mixed group. Why is it important that I state first the names of those who are circumcised and only afterward those who are not circumcised?

So, on today’s page, the rabbis envision a circumstance where it matters. Rava suggests this scenario:

We are dealing with a case where one decided in his mind to slaughter the offering for both of them (circumcised and uncircumcised) and he verbally expressed his intention with the phrase “for uncircumcised people” but did not have a chance to say “for circumcised people” before the slaughter was already finished.

Even though the lamb was intended for a mixed group, Rava explains, one can imagine that the person who starts listing the names of people intended for the sacrifice might not finish the list before the not-so proverbial axe comes down. In that case, only the names of uncircumcised people would have been expressed and we might now have an invalid offering (as per the mishnah on page 61).

Rava explains the underlying principle behind this concern: (Aherim/Rabbi Meir) hold that we do not require that one’s mouth and heart be the same. In other words, what is legally significant is the verbal expression. Even though the sacrifice was intended (in the mind) for both circumcised and uncircumcised people, since only uncircumcised people were mentioned aloud, the sacrifice is effectively made only on behalf of these people — and therefore invalid.

Judaism is famously a religion of deeds and so it is not surprising that Rabbi Meir holds that what one says is more important than what one thinks — at least, when determining whether the paschal offering was made on behalf of the right people. It turns out, however, that his is a minority opinion. The majority hold the opposite: we require that one’s mouth and heart be the same. In other words, according to the majority, in Rava’s hypothetical scenario there is no real problem. Since the offerer’s intention was to offer for a mixed group that included circumcised members, his offering is still valid — even if he didn’t get all the names out in time.

As we have seen so many times before, intention — one’s inner mental state — matters materially for the rabbis. For the majority of rabbis, it matters more than what is actually said. Nonetheless, we see here that there is also a value to making our mouths and hearts the same, in representing our inner intention accurately with our words.

Of course, as the rabbis well knew, it is not always possible. Not only do we make mistakes, sometimes we fail to get words out in time or do not find the right words — and sometimes we outright lie. In a memorable midrash found in Genesis Rabbah 8:5, the heavenly angels argue about whether human beings should be created at all, knowing that they would engage in lies and other misdeeds. God, undaunted, throws truth to the ground and creates human beings anyway because though highly imperfect, they are capable of remarkable deeds of kindness and tzedakah.

We may never be able to perfectly align our mouths and hearts, but it’s something to strive for.

Read all of Pesachim 63 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 23rd, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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