Tag Archives: Asham Vadai

More Mitzvot of Sacrifices (P#68-79)

The list of positive mitzvot continues with more procedures for sacrificial offerings.

Read the full text here.

Kohanim serving on the Temple Altar (Courtesy: Temple Institute)

Summary: The 68th mitzvah is for a sacrifice to be brought by the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land, if it erred in one of its decisions. The 69th is for a person to bring a sacrifice if they inadvertently transgressed one of the big sins (that would result in a karet punishment – being “cut off” from the nation). The 70th mitzvah is the asham talui, a “conditional guilt offering” that a person would bring if they are not sure whether they committed a sin or not. The 71st is when a person commits a sin unknowingly, ie. they definitely sinned, but they were not aware at the time that it was a sin. This is an asham vadai, an “unconditional guilt offering”. The 72nd mitzvah deals with an “adjustable” offering, korban oleh v’yored, which depends on a person’s financial means. Whatever kind of offering a person brings, they must confess their sins when they do so, and this is the 73rd mitzvah. The next four mitzvot are for the following people to bring a sacrifice after they have healed and been purified: a man or woman who were afflicted with a certain disease affecting the reproductive organs, a woman who has given birth, and anyone who has recovered from tzara’at, loosely translated as “leprosy”. The 78th mitzvah is to tithe one’s cattle and livestock, meaning a tenth of one’s animals were donated to the Temple. Similarly, the firstborn of every animal was donated to the Temple as a sacrificial offering, which is the 79th mitzvah of the Torah.

Insight: Here, the Rambam enumerates many of the Torah’s mitzvot that deal with sacrifices. However, in his other monumental work, Moreh Nevukhim, “Guide for the Perplexed”, the Rambam explains the proper approach to sacrifices. He explains how God never intended for people to bring animal sacrifices at all. In fact, in the Garden of Eden – that perfect world God initially created – there was no death, slaughter, or meat consumption at all! Many of the later prophets repeat the statement that God does not want any animal sacrifices (see, for instance, Jeremiah 7:21-23, or Hoshea 14:3). If that’s the case, why did God command sacrifices to the Exodus generation? The Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim, Part III, Ch. 32) explains:

The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service… But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole of Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that which he is used to; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action.

For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; namely, to build unto Him a temple; “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exodus 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; “An altar of earth you shall make me” (Exodus 20:21); to offer the sacrifices to Him; “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord” (Leviticus 1:2), to bow down to Him and to burn incense before Him… By this Divine plan it was affected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established. This result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them…