Pesachim 71

Get your head straight.

Today’s daf continues a discussion of a topic we have seen in recent pages about what happens if someone slaughtered the paschal lamb for Passover with the incorrect intention. Recall that for sacrifices to be done properly, all the steps involved need to be done for the purpose of offering that specific sacrifice. If someone slaughtered the paschal lamb but intended for it to be used for some other purpose, their offering is considered invalid. 

In a lengthy mishnah toward the bottom of today’s daf, the rabbis consider a significant implication of this principle. What happens if someone slaughtered the paschal lamb on Shabbat without the proper intention?

As a general rule, it’s forbidden to kill animals on Shabbat, even insects, unless they pose a serious threat to humans. For this reason, some strict Shabbat observers take care not even to step on insects, lest they be killed. But this prohibition does not apply to sacrifices that must be offered on Shabbat. The question then becomes, if you slaughter an animal on Shabbat with improper intention, thus rendering the animal invalid for the very purpose that made it permissible to slaughter it on Shabbat in the first place, has the person committed a sin?

The mishnah tells us this:

A paschal lamb that one slaughtered for a different purpose on Shabbat is disqualified, and he is liable to bring a sin-offering for it.

As for all other offerings, such as a peace-offering, that one unwittingly slaughtered on Shabbat for the purpose of a paschal offering, if they were not fit for the paschal offering, (e.g., if they were female or cattle or more than a year old and clearly ineligible for the paschal offering) he is liable to bring a sin-offering. 

This mishnah’s general rule here seems intuitive: If the paschal lamb is disqualified for use because it was slaughtered without proper intention, the act of slaughter is considered a violation of Shabbat. Similarly, if a person slaughtered an animal on Shabbat for the purpose of offering it as a paschal sacrifice, but the animal was later deemed unfit for that purpose for one reason or another. One can only kill an animal on Shabbat for the purpose of bringing a permitted sacrifice. If that sacrifice is deemed ineligible for whatever reason, then the killing was not permitted and the person who slaughtered the animal must bring a sin-offering to atone for the Shabbat violation. 

Note that the person in question is liable for a sin-offering because the action was considered to be unwitting. Had they intentionally slaughtered an animal they knew was unfit, no offering would have sufficed since, in the realm of sacrifice and many other halakhic matters, there is no atonement for deliberate sins. But the slaughter is also not considered an involuntary action, for which no act of atonement is required. The slaughterer had an obligation to first get their head straight and conduct proper due diligence before taking a life. 

This distinction is captured in a later halakhah found in this mishnah: 

If he slaughtered it and it was found to have a blemish, the offering is disqualified, and he is liable to bring a sin-offering for having unwittingly performed a prohibited labor on Shabbat. If he slaughtered it and it was found to have a hidden condition that would cause it to die within twelve months (rendering it a tereifa and therefore unfit) that could not have been discovered before the slaughter even if it were examined properly, the offering is disqualified, but he is exempt from bringing a sin-offering. 

In the first instance, the slaughtered animal is deemed unfit for sacrifice because of a blemish that could have been discovered earlier. In that case, the sacrifice is disqualified and the slaughterer must bring a sin offering for violating Shabbat. But if the animal is disqualified because of the discovery of a condition that no pre-slaughter examination could have uncovered, the Shabbat violation is considered to have been involuntary and no act of atonement is necessary. 

Both these examples underscore a general principle about both sin and atonement and the paschal sacrifice: intention matters — and so does attention!  

Read all of Pesachim 71 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 31st 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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