Pesachim 90

Prices and profiteering.

When the Israelites were first commanded about the paschal sacrifice in Egypt, they were told that it should be slaughtered and consumed by each individual family. As today, some people had large families, others had smaller families, and some didn’t have families at all. Given this, the Torah informs us that: If the household be too little for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearby take one. (Exodus 12:4)

In other words, families and individuals were permitted to join together for the paschal offering.

A paschal lamb doesn’t come cheap! In a pre-industrial world both the animal and the fuel for the fire were dear. Given this, we are taught in today’s daf that those who joined with another family for the paschal offering would make a financial contribution in order to be legally considered as part of the offering and also to cover some of the costs.

Still, the rabbis were concerned that selling parts of a paschal offering might become an inappropriate money-making business. Given this, they limited the funds that one family could receive for the paschal offering to those items directly related to the sacrifice (such as wood to roast it on the fire). This leads to a fascinating debate regarding how we define “items directly related” to the offering.

We are taught (Exodus 12:8) that the paschal lamb was to be accompanied by matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). Are these “items directly related” to the offering? One Amoraic view in the Gemara holds that opinion is divided:

The Rabbis hold that this is considered a different eating.

But Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi holds that since it facilitates the consumption of the paschal lamb, it is like the paschal lamb itself.

According to this opinion in the Gemara, the rabbis felt that someone who had purchased a paschal lamb (along with matzah and maror) could not ask for a financial contribution for the matzah and maror by arguing that these were “items directly related” to the paschal offering, while Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi disagrees and says that this may be done.

However, according to a different Amoraic opinion, all agree that it is reasonable to ask participants to make a financial contribution to the matzah and maror. Instead, the real point of disagreement between the rabbis and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was the extent to which the owner of the paschal lamb can personally gain from those contributions:

The rabbis hold that the Torah stated “If the household is too small miheyot miseh (for a lamb)” meaning “sustain the lamb” (hachayeihu leseh).

But Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi holds that it means “sustain yourself from the lamb” (hachayei atzmekha miseh).

What this teaches us is that while the rabbis acknowledged that contributions could be sought for all paschal related costs but nothing more, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi argued that the costs involved in a paschal offering include the costs relating to the basic needs of the person bringing it. Taking care of that person is, ultimately, considered to be among the “items directly related” to the paschal offering. This leads us to consider how far we take such a ruling. Does it show sensitivity for the needs of those who bring the paschal lamb? Or does it open the door to possible profiteering? What do you think?

Read all of Pesachim 90 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 19th 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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