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by R. Moshe Kurtz

Lomdus on the Parsha: Vayikra

Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon

Q: Why do we not keep track of the offerings we owe God? 

And if any one of the common people sin through error, in doing any of the things which the Lord hath commanded not to be done, and be guilty: or if his sin, which he hath sinned, be known to him, then he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he hath sinned. (Leviticus 4:27-28)

R. Mordechai Carlebach expresses how he is puzzled and disturbed by the fact that even the most devout religious figures we see today do not keep a running record of their sins which require an offering to be brought in the Temple. The Mishnah Berurah, in his introduction to volume three, expresses how neglecting the study of the Laws of Shabbos will lead to countless inadvertent violations that can easily accumulate. For example, if one does not study the parameters of borer (selecting), they will likely transgress this prohibition at every Shabbos meal and other contexts. Indeed, there are some, such as the Minchas Soles (2:9), who espouse the belief that in the future the Jewish people will collectively sacrifice all of the daily Tamid offerings that we were unable to bring due to the exile. It would therefore stand to reason that as individuals, we should also also be expected to maintain a log of our personal offerings that we will one day, God willing, fulfill when the Temple is rebuilt.

However, such an imperative appears to be absent from our standard legal codes. The Tur (O.C. 301) writes:

If I came to write all of the laws of Shabbos the work would overwhelm me for there are numerous laws that pertain to Shabbos (based on Shabbos 12a). Furthermore, all the thirty-nine categories and their subcategories are well-known and thus there is no need for me to elaborate on them nor their thresholds – for the thresholds only determine whether one is Biblically culpable, but there [in any event] remains a [Rabbinical] prohibition with even a minute quantity… 

The Tur states that it is not essential to know the precise thresholds for violating Shabbos on a Biblical level nowadays. However, if one was expected to keep track of every time they accidentally transgressed the laws of Shabbos in order to know how many offerings they would be obligated to bring in the future then this would actually be very pertinent information! Thus, it can be inferred that the Tur did not expect his readership to maintain a record of their future Temple offerings (see Beis Yosef, ad loc.)

A similar conclusion can be inferred from the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 334:26) who rules that one who has violated Shabbos should atone by fasting or contributing charity – with no mention of gaining atonement through future Temple offerings. However, the Magen Avraham (334:33) tersely makes reference to a Talmudic passage (Shabbos 12b) in which the great sage Rabbi Yishmael did indeed maintain a log of future Temple offerings:

[Tosefta:] One may not read [a book on Shabbos] by the light of the lamp, lest he adjust it. Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha said: I will read and will [make sure] not [to] adjust… Rabbi Natan says: [It occurred that] he read and [actually] adjusted [the wick], and he wrote [after Shabbos] in his notebook: I, Yishmael ben Elisha, read and adjusted a lamp on Shabbos. When the Temple will be rebuilt I will bring a fat sin-offering.

While there are some commentaries (e.g. Tosafos on Shavuos 26a, s.v. Es, Sefas Emes on Yoma 80a, Be’er Heteiv O.C. 334) that read this excerpt as an explicit precedent for the practice of maintaining a record of one’s future Temple offerings, others (e.g. Responsa Yad Eliyahu M’Lublin, no. 29) dismiss this story as merely an instance of a midas chasidus, a non-normative, pious practice. Thus, it is difficult to rely on the Talmudic account in Shabbos as dispositive data.

(There is a related discussion about Rabbi Yishmael and the extent that we as a Jewish people need to practically anticipate the rebuilding of the Temple. (See Ta’anis 17a and Rashi on Sanhedrin 22b, s.v. Aval.)

The Chidushei HaRan on Shabbos 12b suggests that Rabbi Yishmael was not simply maintaining a log of his offerings for Messianic age, but was making plans for a potentially imminent rebuilding of the Temple during his lifetime. That is because the offerings would otherwise be invalidated by his death under the category of a chatas shemeisu ba’aleha (see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Pesulei HaMukdashin 4:1.)) 

Perhaps the most compelling justification for why we do not log our offerings like Rabbi Yishmael is due to the monumental conversation between God and Avraham found at the end of Tractate Megillah (31b):

And it is written: “And he said, O Lord God, by what shall I know that I shall inherit it?” (Gen. 15:8). Avraham said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, perhaps, Heaven forbid, the Jewish people will sin before You, and You will do to them like the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion. [God] said to him: No. [Avraham] said before Him: Master of the Universe: “By what shall I know this?” [God] said to him: “Take Me a heifer of three years old” (Genesis 15:9). (With this, God intimated to Abraham that even if his descendants will sin, they will be able to achieve atonement through sacrificing offerings.) Avraham said before Him: Master of the Universe, this works out well when the Temple is standing, [but] when the Temple will no [longer] be standing, what will become of them? [God] said to him: I have already established for them the order of offerings. Whenever they read those [portions], I will deem it as if they sacrificed an offering before Me, and I will pardon them for all of their iniquities.

Thus, God reassures Avraham that during our time of exile, when we have no means to bring offerings, we can atone for our sins by reading the passages of the offerings in lieu of physically bringing them to God. As it is written: “…Instead of bulls we will pay [with the offering of] our lips (Hosea 14:3).” Similarly the Talmud (Menachos 110a) records: “Reish Lakish said: What [is the meaning of that] which is written: “This is the law [torah] of the burnt offering, of the meal offering, and of the sin offering, and of the guilt offering…(Leviticus 7:37)? Anyone who engages in Torah [study is considered] as though he sacrificed a burnt offering, a meal offering, a sin offering, and a guilt offering.”

It would seem as if we have been let off the hook a little too easily. According to the aforementioned passages, all we need to do is simply recite the passages of the offerings instead of actually expending the resources and effort to physically bring them. (Ironically, this minimal measure appears to be too challenging for some – how many of us actually recite the passages of the offerings every morning?) However, R. Carlebach cites the Chasam Sofer who conceptualizes the reading of the offerings as more of a stop-gap than an actual fulfillment of the mitzvah (which we may term it a patur versus a kiyum). Accordingly, the recitation of the passages of the offerings serve to defer Divine retribution for the sins we have committed until one has the opportunity to physically bring the actual sacrifice. (The concept of a convert deferring his offering is also germane to this discussion. See Kerisus 9b and Tosafos s.v. Tzarich.)

Regardless of which side one finds more compelling, hopefully we can all look forward to the rebuilding of the Third Temple so that we may soon “renew our days of old (Lam. 5:21)” by bringing sacrifices to God speedily in our days.

Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria,, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected]

About Moshe Kurtz

Rabbi Moshe Kurtz is Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, CT. He welcomes questions, feedback and speaking requests at: [email protected].

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