Contemporary Mechir Kelev Questions

Question #1: Practical applications of Mechir Kelev

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“Are there any practical applications of the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev that apply before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?”

Question #2: Unusual Rashi

Stew Dent asked me the following question:

“Someone told me that there is a comment of Rashi in this week’s parshah that does not follow the accepted halachah. Is this true? Why would Rashi explain a pasuk not according to the accepted halachah?”

Question #3: Doug from the Outback

Doug, originally from the Outback, asked one of the most unusual questions of my rabbinic career:

“Rabbi, I am a recent baal teshuvah, and I discovered that the Torah prohibits offering a korban of an animal that was once exchanged for a dog. Although this problem should not be germane when we have no Beis Hamikdash, I believe I created such a problem, and I want to rectify the situation. I grew up in a rural area, where my folks still live. They own sheep and other livestock. My folks, like all their neighbors, own watchdogs, sheep dogs, and a few pet dogs, one of which, Charlie, was always regarded as mine. A neighbor’s child had taken a liking to Charlie, and, before I left home for yeshivah in Israel, I wanted to give Charlie to the neighbor, figuring that this child would provide Charlie with a good, loving home, and plenty of attention. My neighbor insisted on giving us something in return for Charlie – a yearling lamb — which I accepted.

“Although I understand that I did nothing wrong in exchanging Charlie for a lamb, I also understand that this lamb is no longer kosher for a korban. I am concerned that this lamb may get confused with the other lambs and sheep on Dad’s ranch, and then none of them will be usable for korbanos. May I have them brand the lamb, so that it does not get confused with the other lambs on the ranch? After all, it would be nice to be a purveyor of animals for korbanos in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash!”

Answer:

I am quite certain that I have not been asked previously about the mitzvah of mechir kelev, which is mentioned in this week’s parshah. To quote the Torah:

Lo savi esnan zonah umechir kelev beis Hashem Elokecha lechol neder, ki so’avas Hashem Elokecha gam sheneihem, “You shall not bring the gift of a harlot or something exchanged for a dog to the house of Hashem your G-d as a donation, for both of them are despicable to Hashem, your G-d (Devarim 23:19). The animal, or item, bartered for a dog is called mechir kelev, and this term is also used to describe the prohibition. Before answering the above questions, we need to discuss the basic laws of this mitzvah.

If someone exchanged a dog for a lamb, a calf, or some doves, none of these animals may be used any longer as korbanos; and the same is true if he exchanged a dog for flour, wine or oil: they may no longer be used for korbanos (Temurah 30b).

However, the prohibition applies only to the actual item that was exchanged for a dog. If someone sold a dog, and then used the cash to purchase a lamb, this lamb may see service as a korban (see Temurah 30b; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:18).

Shinuy – the item changed

What if the original exchanged item has undergone major modification? Is there still a prohibition of mechir kelev?

The Gemara (Temurah 30b) records a dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel whether an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev that underwent a permanent physical change is still prohibited to be used as a korban. According to Beis Hillel, only an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev that appears as it originally did, or could be converted back to its original appearance, is prohibited, but not if it has been processed into a different form (see Minchas Chinuch 571; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:23). Thus, for example, if grain, grapes or olives were used either as an esnan zonah or as a mechir kelev, and then the grain was ground into flour, the grapes were pressed into wine or the olives were crushed into oil, the resultant flour, wine and oil may be used for korbanos, since they have undergone a permanent transformation. This change is called a shinuy.

Beis Shammai disagrees, contending that a transformation, even a permanent one, does not remove the stigma of the item being an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev. This approach contends that grain, grapes or olives used as an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev remain prohibited forever as korbanos, even after they have been processed into flour, wine or oil.

What is the basis of the dispute between Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai? It is based on a dispute regarding how one understands the end of our verse: Lo savi esnan zonah umechir kelev beis Hashem Elokecha lechol neder, ki so’avas Hashem Elokecha gam sheneihem. The Gemara (Temurah 30b) notes that the words gam sheneihem, literally, “for both of them,” appear to be redundant, which provides basis for deriving halachos from the seemingly extra words of the Torah. Both Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel interpret the word them in the verse to mean that the offspring of a ewe or cow that became an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev may be offered as a korban – the stigma of esnan zonah or mechir kelev is restricted to the animal that was, itself, presented as a gift or exchanged, not to its offspring. The offspring is permitted, unless the original “business deal” of esnan zonah or mechir kelev specified that the unborn offspring was included in the transaction of the esnan zonah or the mechir kelev (Minchas Chinuch 571; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:23).

Beis Shammai explains that the additional word gam, “for,” expands the items included in the prohibition of esnan zonah and mechir kelev to teach that even if the original esnan zonah or mechir kelev became transformed permanently, it remains prohibited. Thus, Beis Shammai derives from the word gam that the grain, grapes or olives used as an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev remain prohibited as korbanos, even after they have been processed into flour, wine or oil.

Beis Hillel, on the other hand, holds that the word them in the verse teaches both that the offspring of an esnan zonah or mechir kelev mother may be used as a korban and that an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev that underwent a change become permitted as a korban. Thus, Beis Hillel derives two laws from one extra word of the verse, and no law from the other extra word, which is unusual. The Gemara notes this difficulty with Beis Hillel’s approach, but does not resolve it. Nevertheless, the authorities assume that the halachah is in accordance with the opinion of Beis Hillel, as it usually is (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbeiach 4:18).

An obscure Rashi

At this point, I would like to examine Stew Dent’s question, quoted at the beginning of our article:

“Someone told me that there is a passage of Rashi in this week’s parshah that does not follow the accepted halachah. Is this true? Why would Rashi explain a pasuk not according to the accepted halachah?”

Rashi explains that the word gam teaches that if someone gave wheat as an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev and it was then processed into flour, the prohibition remains intact, and the flour cannot be offered as a korban. Thus, Rashi explains the verse in a way that follows Beis Shammai’s opinion. The Ramban questions how Rashi can explain the verse in accordance with Beis Shammai, when the halachic conclusion follows Beis Hillel.

One of the answers provided to explain Rashi’s opinion allows much food for thought. The Mizrachi contends that Rashi follows Beis Shammai’s opinion since the Gemara raises a question on Beis Hillel’s opinion that it does not resolve. Thus, Beis Shammai’s ruling is the approach that fits the verse with more clarity. According to the Mizrachi, this means that, in this instance, Rashi disputed the halachic conclusion of the other authorities and ruled according to Beis Shammai. Alternatively, Rashi felt it more important to explain the Chumash in a clearer way, regardless of the halachic ramifications (Sifsei Chachamim).

Thus, indeed, Stew’s question is very much in order.

Which of the nineteen?

The Gemara discusses the following case: Reuven owned ten lambs, whereas Shimon owned a dog and nine lambs that were smaller or otherwise less valuable than Reuven’s ten lambs. The two of them agreed to trade Reuven’s ten lambs in exchange for Shimon’s  dog and nine scrawny lambs. The Gemara asks whether any or all of these lambs are now prohibited as mechir kelev.

The Gemara concludes as follows: The nine scrawny lambs that were swapped along with the dog may be used for korbanos, whereas the ten lambs that were received in exchange all qualify now as mechir kelev and are therefore prohibited as korbanos.

Why is this so? The answer is that, since the dog is clearly worth more than any of the lambs, part of the value of the dog was included in the exchange differential when ten more expensive lambs were traded for nine of lesser value. Therefore, each of the ten is considered to have been exchanged, albeit only partially, for a dog, and this is sufficient to confer on them the status of mechir kelev (Temurah 30a). However, the nine scrawnier lambs were never exchanged for a dog – they were on the same side of the deal as the dog.

Similarly, in a case where two brothers divided an estate in such a way that one received a lamb while his brother received a dog, the lamb is now considered a mechir kelev, prohibited for a korban (Temurah 30a).

What is prohibited?

Someone who shechted (slaughtered) either an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev as a korban, or performed zerikah or haktarah, putting parts of these animals on the mizbeiach, the altar, is subject to the punishment of malkus for violating the Torah’s prohibition (Minchas Chinuch 571).

It is curious to note that, although one may not offer an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev as a korban, someone who declares them to be a korban does not violate any technical prohibition of the Torah. Furthermore, it is permitted to declare these animals as property of the Beis Hamikdash (bedek habayis), in which case, the treasurers of the Beis Hamikdash sell the esnan zonah or the mechir kelev and use the money for repairs in the Beis Hamikdash. This is permitted, since the esnan zonah or the mechir kelev will not be used for a korban.

One prohibition or two?

Are esnan zonah and mechir kelev two different prohibitions, lo saaseh commandments, of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, or are they counted together as one lo saaseh commandment?

This matter is the subject of a dispute between rishonim. The Rambam contends that esnan zonah and mechir kelev are counted together as one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah, whereas the Ramban contends that they are counted as two different mitzvos. The practical dispute between them is whether someone who offered both an esnan zonah and a mechir kelev at the same time receives punishment for violating two different offenses of the Torah, which means that he incurs two sets of malkus, or whether he is punished with malkus only once.

Mitzvos other than korbanos

The opening question of our article was: “Are there any practical applications of the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev that apply before the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt?” I would like to first expand this question a bit. Do the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev apply to any laws other than korbanos?

The answer is that the prohibitions of esnan zonah and mechir kelev are not restricted to the korbanos offered on the mizbeiach in the Beis Hamikdash, but extend to several other mitzvos of the Torah. For example, one may not bring bikkurim, brought of the seven types of produce for which Eretz Yisroel is celebrated, from produce that has the status of esnan zonah (Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 1:6; Aruch Hashulchan He’asid 56:22). This is because bikkurim are also brought to the Beis Hamikdash, and the Torah states: “You shall not bring the gift of a harlot or something exchanged for a dog to the house of Hashem, your G-d.”

The mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev apply also to items used to decorate the Beis Hamikdash itself, such as the gold plate applied to its walls (Temurah 30b). Some authorities contend that a parah adumah may also not be from either an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev, since the Torah calls parah adumah a chatas, a sin offering (Minchas Chinuch 571). There is also discussion about whether an eglah arufah may be from either an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev, since the Torah says that its purpose is to atone, similar to a korban. However, the halachic conclusion is that an esnan zonah or a mechir kelev calf may be used for the mitzvah of eglah arufah (Minchas Chinuch #571).

A shul donation

Do the mitzvos of esnan zonah and mechir kelev have any practical application today? In actuality, there is a halachic ramification of these two mitzvos that is applicable today. The halachah is that the prohibitions of esnan zonah and mechir kelev both apply to an item donated for use in a shul (Rema, Orach Chayim 153:21). This is understood to mean that the Torah’s prohibition “You shall not bring the gift of a harlot or something exchanged for a dog to the house of Hashem, your G-d, as a donation” should be applied to any house of G-d, even a shul or a Beis Medrash. Therefore, a candelabrum or other item that was once exchanged for a dog, cannot be used in a shul or as building material for a shul (Minchas Chinuch 571:2). However, if someone sold a dog for money, the money received may be donated to the shul, since the money itself is not being used.

We are now ready to analyze Doug’s question. Doug correctly noted one of the interesting aspects of mechir kelev: It is permitted to trade something for a dog, yet the item received in exchange becomes prohibited as a korban. This juxtaposes to esnan zonah, which is banned only when the gift was in exchange for an illicit relationship (Temurah 30a).

Korbanos from outside Eretz Yisroel

Doug is also correct that korbanos may be brought from animals from outside of Eretz Yisroel (Parah 2:1; Temurah 21a; Rambam, Hilchos Maasei Hakorbanos 18:1). Therefore, any sheep in Dad’s flock that are unblemished are all valid for korbanos, at least until the introduction of a mechir kelev into their midst.

Went along with the herd

Doug is also correct that if one animal that is a mechir kelev was in a large herd of cattle, and one does not know which one is the mechir kelev, none of the animals in that herd may be offered as korbanos (Mishnah, Temurah 28a). Thus, there is a basis for his concern that the introduction of one mechir kelev could invalidate his father’s entire flock from use for korbanos.

Conclusion

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that although we never know why Hashem commanded us to observe specific mitzvos of the Torah, we can, nevertheless, derive a moral lesson, a taste, of what the mitzvah teaches. The Ramban presents a very nice explanation why the animals acquired by way of esnan zonah and mechir kelev may not be used as korbanos. Often, it happens that a person performs activities that are unacceptable, but feels that he can redeem himself by donating a percentage of his profits to a good, charitable cause. In his mind, he has now justified his misdeeds, because of the mitzvah he performed afterwards. By prohibiting esnan zonah, the Torah demonstrates that this is completely unacceptable. A person must face the sinful nature of his actions and not try to create an excuse with which to cover them up. Similarly, says the Ramban, those who use dogs for hunting and for other ill-advised activities may want to donate their exchanged value as atonement for their own misdeeds. The Torah wants it to be clearly understood that such donations are, themselves, misdeeds and are unacceptable; the perpetrator cannot attempt to hide his sins behind his charitable activities.

 

Bnei Noach and Korbanos

Question #1: Rite or Wrong?

“My neighbor is not Jewish and believes in G-d, but she has rejected any of the existent organized religions. She often burns incense, which she learned about in Eastern religions, and she says that she does this to feel G-d’s presence in her life. May I enter her house while the incense is burning?”

Question #2: Joining the Sprinklers

“This must be the strangest question that I have ever asked. While camping, I met a group of sincere non-Jews who told me that they believe in one G-d and have regular getaways to discuss how they can live more in His image. While I was with them, they sprinkled some wine and oil on a campfire in commemoration of the Biblical sacrifices. They invited me to join them, which I did not, but I am curious to know whether I could have sprinkled with them.”

Question #3: The Doubting Moslem

“My coworker, who still considers herself a Moslem, confides in me a lot of her doubts about her religion. Should I be encouraging her away from Islam, or is it not necessary to do so, since they do not worship idols?”

Answer: Mitzvos Bnei Noach

All the questions asked above were by Jews about non-Jews. Indeed, although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are hundreds of gentiles for every Jew in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. As a matter of fact, there are many non-Jews who are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, thousands and perhaps millions more would observe the mitzvos of Bnei Noach that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.

Fortunately, there is a revival of interest among gentiles to observe the requirements given them in the Torah. There are now many groups and publications devoted to educating non-Jews about their halachic responsibilities. The mitzvah requirements of non-Jews are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos of the Bnei Noach,” although in actuality, these “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories. A gentile is required to accept that these commandments were commanded by Hashem to Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11). A non-Jew who follows these instructions qualifies to be a “righteous gentile,” one of the Chassidei Umos Ha’olam who merits a place in Olam Haba.

Jews should be familiar with the halachos that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a gentile to transgress his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this context, the verse means: Do not cause someone to sin if he is blind to — that is, unaware of — the seriousness of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b). For example, a Jew may not sell an item to a gentile that he will use for idol worship, or an item that is designed for criminal activity.

Gentiles and the Beis Hamikdash

May a gentile pray in the Beis Hamikdash?

The Beis Hamikdash was meant to serve gentiles as well as Jews, as the pasuk states: Ki beisi beis tefila yikarei lechol ha’amim; My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (Yeshaya 56:7). This sentiment was expressed by Shlomoh Hamelech in his public prayer whereby he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash, “…and also to the gentile who is not from Your people Israel, and who comes for the sake of Your name from a distant land. When they will hear of Your great Name, Your powerful hand and Your outstretched arm and come to pray in this house, You will hear from Heaven, the place of Your abode, and do whatever the gentile requests of You, so that all the nations of the Earth will know Your Name and fear You (Melachim I 8:41- 43).

Gentiles and Sacrifices

Not only was the Beis Hamikdash a place where gentiles could pray and serve Hashem, it was also a place where they could offer korbanos (Zevachim 116b). A gentile who desired to bring a korban in the Beis Hamikdash could do so, and, when it is rebuilt, their offerings will be welcome. The laws governing how these korbanos are offered are fairly similar to what governs voluntary korbanos offered by a Jew. Allow me to explain.

A Jew may voluntarily offer several types of korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash. He may offer a korban shelomim (sometimes called a “peace-offering”), in which case the owner receives most of the meat to eat in Yerushalayim when he is in a state of purity (taharah). A Jew may also offer a korban olah, which is offered in its entirety on the mizbei’ach, the altar, in a specifically prescribed fashion.

A gentile may offer a korban olah in the Beis Hamikdash, but he may not offer a korban shelomim. When this olah is offered, the procedure of its offering is virtually identical to that of a Yisrael. This means that any Jewish shochet may slaughter the korban, but it may not be slaughtered by a gentile, since a gentile’s slaughtering is, by definition, invalid as shechitah. The Kohanim then proceed to offer the korban of the gentile, just as they would offer the korban of a Jew, following all the halachos of a korban olah.

Gentiles and Imperfections

The animal that a gentile offers in the Beis Hamikdash must be completely unblemished (Vayikra 22:25). An animal suffering from visible impairments or injuries is called a baal mum and is invalid. Some examples of this are an animal with a broken limb, one that cannot walk in a normal way, one whose limbs are noticeably disproportionate to one another or relative to its species, or a blind animal. All told, there are 73 different imperfections that invalidate a korban as a baal mum (Sefer Hachinuch). Were a kohen to offer the imperfect offering of a gentile, he would be violating the Torah’s express prohibition and be liable for the resultant punishments. For an in-depth discussion of this topic, the intrepid reader is referred to Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 292. The same author mentions that the laws governing a gentile’s korban may, in one situation, actually be more stringent that those governing a Jew’s korban. The details of how this could happen are beyond the scope of this article.

Treatment of Holy Bulls and Sheep

There are a few differences in halachah between the korban olah offering of a Jew and that of a gentile. Prior to a Jew offering a korban, he rests his hands on the head of the animal and presses down on the animal’s head. This procedure is called semichah, and, while doing so, the owner of the korban recites viduy, confessing his sins. However, when a gentile’s offering is brought, no semichah is performed (Temurah 2a).

There is another curious difference between the olah offered by a gentile and that offered by a Jew. When a Jew consecrates an animal as a korban olah, someone who subsequently uses the consecrated animal, such as one who sheared the wool of a consecrated ram or worked a consecrated bull, violates a serious prohibition of the Torah called me’ilah. The individual who committed this prohibition negligently must offer a special korban called an asham as atonement. However, when a gentile donates an olah there is no prohibition min haTorah to use the animal and there is no violation of the prohibition of me’ilah. The Gemara concludes that using the consecrated animal is prohibited only miderabbanan (Temurah 3a).

Gentile Exceptions

A Jew may also offer wine to the Beis Hamikdash, which is then poured onto the mizbei’ach. However, a gentile may not offer wine or other similar offerings (Temurah 2b, as explained by Rashi). On the other hand, a gentile may donate any item of value or cash to the Beis Hamikdash to assist in its upkeep (Bedek Habayis). This leads to a very surprising halachah. Although, as I mentioned above, there is no prohibition of me’ilah should one use the korban of a gentile, property that he donates to the Beis Hamikdash is subject to this prohibition in the same way that a Jew’s donation is (Temurah 3a).

Outside the Beis Hamikdash

Once the Beis Hamikdash was constructed, the Torah prohibited a Jew from offering korbanos anywhere else in the world (Devarim 12: 13, 14, 26, 27). Someone who sanctifies an animal to be a korban and then offers it on an altar outside the Beis Hamikdash violates two grave prohibitions of the Torah called shechutei chutz, slaughtering a korban outside the approved area, and ha’ala’ah bachutz, offering a korban outside its approved area. As a result, since our Beis Hamikdash unfortunately still lies in ruins, we cannot offer any korbanos to Hashem, and we must await its rebuilding to offer them.

A gentile is not required to observe these mitzvos, and, consequently, he may offer korbanos anywhere he chooses: in his backyard, on his camping trip or even in a shul! A Jew, however, may not assist in this endeavor, since this violates his mitzvos shechutei chutz and ha’ala’ah bachutz, notwithstanding the fact that the korbanos were sanctified by a gentile (Zevachim 45a; Rambam, Hilchos Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16).

Although a Jew may not offer these korbanos for the gentile, he may instruct the gentile how to offer them correctly. To quote the Rambam, “A gentile is permitted to offer korbanos olah to Hashem anywhere he would like, provided that he offers them on an altar that he constructed. A Jew may not help him, since a Jew is prohibited from offering korbanos outside the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, a Jew may teach him how to bring the korban to Hashem properly” (Rambam, Hilchos Maaseh Hakorbanos 19:15).

The Rambam adds a requirement to this halachah — this korban must be offered on some type of constructed altar.

Blemished Offerings

Whereas the korban of a gentile offered in the Beis Hamikdash must be performed by kohanim, a gentile who offers a korban outside the Beis Hamikdash may perform the procedures himself, and actually must have the procedures performed by a non-Jew. In addition, he may offer from any kosher species (Bereishis 8:20 with Bereishis Rabbah and Rashi), whereas in the Beis Hamikdash one may offer only sheep, goats, bovines, turtledoves and pigeons. Furthermore, most of the 73 blemishes that invalidate a korban as a baal mum do not apply to what a gentile offers outside the Beis Hamikdash. The only such restriction that applies outside the Beis Hamikdash is a missing limb, but any other injury or physical impediment does not invalidate the korban (Temurah 7a; Avodah Zarah 5b).

Gentile Mitzvos

We need to address one more point before we can answer our opening questions: May a gentile observe mitzvos of the Torah, and may he create his own observances?

A gentile may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest (meaning, a day that he refrains from doing any activity that is forbidden on Shabbos, melachah) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b). This is considered a very grievous violation of the Torah. I am aware of three approaches provided by the Rishonim to explain this law.

Rashi’s Reason

Rashi explains that a non-Jew is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom valayla lo yishbosu,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the non-Jews) may not rest.” According to his understanding, this prohibition has nothing to do with any ban against a gentile performing religious practices to Hashem. There is a specific requirement for gentiles to work every day – or, at least, to perform melachah.

Meiri’s Reason

The Meiri presents a different reason why a gentile may not observe a day of rest — that a Jew may mistakenly learn from him that it is acceptable to create his own mitzvos. Of course, creating one’s own mitzvos, which is a very popular idea among contemporary religions, defeats the entire reason of observing the Torah and keeping mitzvos. The purpose of the Torah is for us to become close to Hashem by following what He instructs us to do. Creating one’s own mitzvos implies that I can somehow bribe G-d to do what I want. Although we realize the foolishness of this approach, this idea underlies all of idolatry and greatly influences the way most of mankind views religion.

Rambam’s Reason

The Rambam’s approach is similar to the Meiri’s, in that he explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or any other religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made religions (Hilchos Melachim 10:9). In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger tzedek) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos or he remains with the laws that he has without adding or subtracting.” Any attempt to create a mitzvah other than that of the Torah runs counter to Hashem’s goals for mankind, as I will soon explain.

Contradiction in Rambam

However, many authorities ask if the Rambam seems to be contradicting himself. The Mishnah states that the terumah or maaser separated by a gentile from his own crops is halachically valid, and his declaring his property to belong to the Beis Hamikdash (hekdesh) is similarly valid (Terumos 3:9). In his Commentary, the Rambam states that even though a gentile is not obligated to keep mitzvos, observing them allows him a small degree of reward. This statement implies that a gentile can receive reward for fulfilling mitzvos of the Torah.

There are several approaches to answer this seeming contradiction. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, there are a few very specific mitzvos that a gentile is permitted to observe, and only in these instances will he reap any reward for observing them. Those are mitzvos where we find that a gentile was specifically included, such as tzedakah, prayer, offering korbanos and separating terumos and maasros (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:7). In Rav Moshe’s opinion, a gentile who observes any other mitzvah receives no reward. However, should he perform these mitzvos knowing that he is not commanded to do so, we do not stop him. On the other hand, if he performs these activities because he wants to consider himself obligated to keep them, we should prevent him from doing so if we can, and we should certainly discourage his observing them.

Others contend there are ways whereby a gentile can become obligated in Torah mitzvos (Biur Halachah, end of 304, in explanation of the Magen Avraham), and there are others who feel that a gentile who observes mitzvos, knowing that he is not required to do so, receives reward for his endeavor (see Sefer Hamafteiach, Melachim 10:10). Among those authorities who follow the last approach, some exclude a gentile from observing certain mitzvos. For example, the Radbaz (Hilchos Melachim 10:10) prohibits a gentile from wearing tefillin or placing a mezuzah on his door, and the Taz (Yoreh Deah 263:3) and the Levush prohibit him from performing bris milah (but see the Shulchan Aruch 268:9, Nekudos Hakesef ad locum, and the Shach, Yoreh Deah 263:8 and 268:19 who disagree).

Answering our Questions

At this point, we are equipped to examine the opening questions. The first question was:

“My neighbor is not Jewish and believes in G-d, but she has rejected any of the existent organized religions. She often burns incense, which she learned about in Eastern religions, and she says that she does this to feel G-d’s presence in her life. May I enter her house while the incense is burning?”

Is the neighbor doing something idolatrous? It may be, depending on what her understanding is of G-d. If, indeed, her acts comprise avodah zarah, then one should not be in her house when the incense is kindled, because one is benefiting from idol worship.

On the other hand, if she understands G-d similar to the way a Jew does, there is no idolatry in her act. Assuming that this is true, then there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fragrance of her incense.

Joining the Sprinklers

The second question was: “This must be the strangest question that I have ever asked. While camping, I met a group of sincere non-Jews who told me that they believe in one G-d and have regular getaways to discuss how they can live more in His image. While I was with them, they sprinkled some wine and oil on a campfire in commemoration of the Biblical sacrifices. They invited me to join them, which I did not, but I am curious to know whether I could have sprinkled with them.”

It is good that you did not join them. For a Jew to effect any type of korban outside the Beis Hamikdash is prohibited, although, because of certain halachic details, this situation would not have involved the severe violation of ha’ala’ah bachutz. Similarly, these individuals did not fulfill a gentile’s mitzvah of offering korbanos, because their fireplace did not meet the halachic requirements of an altar.

The Doubting Moslem

“My coworker, who still considers herself a Moslem, confides in me a lot of her doubts about her religion. Should I be encouraging her away from Islam, or is it not necessary to do so, since they do not worship idols?”

Without question, observing Islam is a grievous sin, even for a gentile, despite the fact that there is no idolatry involved (see also fRitva, Pesachim 25b). Hashem gave very specific instructions of how He wants mankind to worship Him, and any other attempt is prohibited. Therefore, if your coworker is asking you for direction in her life, you should explain to her the fallacies of Islam and how she could indeed fulfill Hashem’s wishes by becoming a proper bas Noach.

Conclusion

We are meant to be “a light unto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. If we have the opportunity to educate non-Jews how to live their lives as proper, G-d-fearing Bnei Noach, that is surely within the scope of our directives.

This Is the Way We Salt Our Meat

raw meatQuestion

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

Introduction to Meat Preparation

In parshas Korach, the Torah calls the covenant of the kohanim a bris melach, a covenant of salt. In parshas Tzav, the Torah presents both a positive and a negative mitzvah requiring that we salt meat and all other offerings that are placed on the fire of the mizbeiach. These must be salted on all sides (Menachos 21a). Someone who places any offering on the mizbeiach without salting it first abrogates a mitzvas aseh, and furthermore is subject to malkus for violating a lo saaseh.

As long as our Beis Hamikdash remains destroyed, we unfortunately cannot fulfill this mitzvah. Nevertheless, I will use these opportunities to discuss the basic laws of kashering meat, notwithstanding that the salting of kosher meat accomplishes a completely different purpose than does salting korbanos.

In several places, the Torah proscribes eating blood. Blood is the efficient transporter of nutrients to the entire body and permeates the animal’s flesh while it is still alive. Thus, blood is absorbed throughout the meat. If so, how can we possibly extract the prohibited blood from the permitted meat?

The Gemara and the halachic authorities provide the guidelines how to properly remove the forbidden blood. The process begins during the butchering, when one is required to remove certain veins to guarantee that the blood is properly removed (Chullin 93a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 65:1).

After these veins are removed, there are two methods of extracting the blood from the meat. One is by soaking and salting the meat, which is what we will discuss in this article. In practical terms, the first approach, usually referred to as kashering meat, involves soaking the meat for thirty minutes, shaking off the excess water, salting the meat thoroughly on all sides, and then placing it for an hour in a way that the blood can drain freely. A bird should be placed with its open cavity downward so that the liquid drains off as it is kashering; similarly, a piece of meat with a cavity, such as an un-boned brisket, should be placed with its cavity draining downward. One may stack meat that is being kashered high as one wants, as long as the liquid is able to drain off the meat properly. After the salting is complete, we rinse the meat thoroughly, in order to wash away all the blood and salt. The poskim instruct that one should rinse the meat three times (Rama, Yoreh Deah 69:7).

Until fairly recently, every Jewish daughter and housewife soaked and salted meat as part of regular meal preparation. Today, the kashering of meat is usually performed either in the factory or by the butcher. Still, every housewife should know how to kasher meat, before it becomes a forgotten skill, reserved only for the specialist!

Case in point: A talmid of mine is doing kiruv in a community without a lot of kashrus amenities, but that happens to be very near a kosher abattoir. Because of necessity, they are now proficient in the practical aspects of kashering their own meat, a skill that they were fortunate to learn. Thus, we see another example of the importance of being able to kasher meat yourself.

Another case in point:

I know a very fine Jew who, following the guidance of gedolei Yisrael, accepted a kabbalah before he married that he would only eat meat that was kashered at home. Someone wanted to invite him for a sheva berachos and wanted to be able to serve him what she prepared for all her guests, but was unable to do so because she never learned how to kasher meat. (Instead, she prepared him fish, but had to find out what brand and type of fish he would use.)

For these reasons, when I taught in Beis Yaakov, I made sure that the girls knew how to kasher meat, although frankly I was quite appalled to find out how little they knew about the process. In those days, most of their mothers still knew how to kasher meat, but today, even the mothers and teachers of Beis Yaakov students no longer know how to do so.

On the other hand, I am reminded of the time some Iranian talmidim of Ner Yisrael spent Pesach at a university in Oklahoma to be mekareiv Jewish students. Although the students, natives of Shiraz and Tehran, were no longer observing many mitzvos, they all assisted in the kashering of the chickens for the Seder. Every one of them remembered exactly how to kasher meat!

Why do we Soak our Meat?

Before addressing the question that I shared at the beginning of our article, we need to understand more thoroughly the process of kashering meat. The Gemara (Chullin 113a) teaches:

“Shmuel said: The meat does not rid itself of its blood unless it is well salted and well rinsed.” The Gemara subsequently explains that the meat must be rinsed both before the salting and afterwards. We well understand why we must rinse away the salt after kashering the meat, since it is now full of forbidden blood. But why does one need to rinse the meat before kashering the meat? And why emphasize that it must be “well rinsed”?

There are actually many different explanations for this law. Here are some approaches mentioned by the rishonim, as explained by the master of practical kashrus, the Pri Megadim (in his introduction to the laws of salting meat, Second Ikar, s.v. Va’atah):

(1) Soften the Meat

Soaking the meat softens it, so that the salt can now remove the blood, but if the meat is not saturated thoroughly with water, the salt will not successfully extract the blood from the hard meat, and the meat remains prohibited (Ran). According to this reason, the Gemara’s instruction that the meat is “well rinsed,” requires not simply rinsing the surface of the meat, but submerging the meat. The later authorities interpret that one should soak the entire piece of meat to be kashered for half an hour, to guarantee that it is soft enough for the salt to extract the blood (see Darchei Moshe 69:1; as explained by Gra, 69:4).

The authorities dispute whether one is required to submerge the entire piece of meat. Some contend that if part of the meat remained above the water, one is not required to submerge the meat that remained above the water line, since it will become softened by the water absorption of the lower part of the meat (Pischei Teshuvah 69:5). Others maintain that the upper part will not soften this way, and one must submerge it for half an hour before salting the meat (Yad Yehudah, Peirush HaAruch end of 69:10; Darkei Teshuvah 69:20).

(2) Remove the Surface Blood

A second approach to why the meat must be rinsed well contends that one must rinse blood off the surface of the meat, because, otherwise, this blood will impede the ability of the salt to remove the blood that is inside the meat (Mordechai). This approach, as well as all the others that the Pri Megadim quotes, does not require submerging the meat, but merely rinsing the surface well. However, according to this approach, if the meat was submerged for half an hour and then afterwards someone sliced into the meat, one must rerinse the area that was now cut. Failure to rerinse the newly cut area will result in making it impossible for the salt to remove the blood properly (Pri Megadim).

Case in point:

Once, when I was inspecting a butcher shop, I observed that after the meat was completely soaked, the mashgiach noticed that one piece had not been properly butchered – the butcher had failed to remove a vein that one is required to remove. The mashgiach took out his knife and sliced away the offending vein. But, is one now required to soak the meat for an additional half hour or to rinse it before kashering it?

The answer is that one must rinse the newly sliced area well to remove any blood, but one is not required to soak the meat for an additional half an hour, since the meat is now nice and soft and its blood will drain out freely.

(3) The Blood will Absorb into the Meat

A third opinion why the meat must be rinsed well before salting contends that salting meat when there is blood on its surface will cause the blood to absorb into the meat, thus prohibiting it. This approach also believes that the purpose for rinsing the meat before salting is to remove the blood on the surface. However, this opinion holds that not rinsing blood off the surface entails a more serious concern. If blood remains on the surface of the meat when it is salted, this blood will absorb into the meat and prohibit it. According to this reason, if someone salted the meat without rinsing it off, the meat is now prohibited, and resoaking it and salting it will not make it kosher. According to the other reasons we have mentioned, one who failed to soak or rinse the meat before salting it may rinse off the salt, soak (or rinse) the meat properly and then salt it.

The Shulchan Aruch (69:2) rules that if one salts meat without rinsing it first, he may rinse the salt off the meat and re-salt the meat. The Rama rules that one should not use the meat, unless it is a case of major financial loss.

(4) Moisten the Surface

Another Rishon, the Rosh, contends that the reason why one must rinse the meat before salting it is because the salt does not remove the blood properly unless the meat surface is moist. Although this approach may appear similar to the Ran’s approach that I mentioned first, the Ran contends that the entire piece of meat be soaked in order to soften it so that its blood will readily extract, whereas the Rosh requires only that the surface be moist at the time of the salting. Therefore, the Rosh does not require that the meat be soaked at all, certainly not for half an hour. On the other hand, if the meat soaked for a half-hour, and then was dried or sliced, the Rosh requires one to moisten the dry surface so that the salt will work. In this last case, the Ran does not require re-rinsing the surface, since the meat already soaked for half an hour.

In practical halacha, we, lechatchilah, prepare meat according to all opinions, and for this reason we soak all meat for half an hour before salting, but we drain off some of the water before salting it, so that the meat is moist but not dripping (Rama 69:1). If the meat is too wet, the salt will not do its job.

How thick must I salt the meat?

The Gemara quoted above states that one must salt the meat well, just as it mentions that one must wash it well. What does this mean, that I must salt it well?

Some authorities require that the meat be covered with salt, whereas others rule that it is satisfactory to salt it sufficiently that one would not be able to eat the meat without rinsing it off.

The Rishonim debate whether salting meat well means that it must be salted on all sides, or whether it is sufficient to salt the meat on one side. There are actually three different opinions on the matter:

  • The meat needs to be salted on only one side, and this satisfactorily removes the blood (Tur’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • One should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher (Beis Yosef’s interpretation of Rashba).
  • If the meat is not salted on opposite sides, one will not remove all the blood and the meat is prohibited for consumption (Rama).

The Shulchan Aruch concludes that one should preferably salt the meat on both sides, but if one failed to do so, the meat is kosher. However, the Rama rules that under normal circumstances, one should consider the meat non-kosher. Under extenuating circumstances, or in case of great loss, the meat is kosher (Taz).

Stacking the Meat

According to all opinions, if one stacks two pieces of meat, one atop another, and salts only one of the pieces, the blood was not removed from unsalted piece. Even if one contends that salting meat on one side of a piece will draw out all the blood in that piece, it does not draw out the blood from a different piece that the salted piece is lying on.

Similarly, if one is kashering two organs, such as the heart and the lung, salting one piece does not draw the blood out of the other piece. This is true, even if the two organs are still connected together (see Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav end of 15).

Salting a bird only on the outside is similar to salting a piece of meat on only one side, because there is an open cavity in the middle. For this reason, one is required to salt a bird on the inside of the open cavity, also, and cannot simply salt the outside of the bird.

Splitting a Bird

At this point, we have enough information to address our opening question:

“When I shopped in Israel, I noticed that all the chickens were split open. I like to roast my chicken whole and stuff the inside, but you can’t do this once the chicken is split open. When I asked the butcher for an explanation, he told me that all the mehadrin hechsherim split the chicken open before kashering. What does a split chicken have to do with kashrus?”

How does one kasher a chicken or other bird? If one salts the outside of the chicken, one has salted the bird on only one side, since the inside cavity was not salted. The Shulchan Aruch answers that one places salt on the inside cavity of the chicken.

The Pri Megadim records a dispute among earlier authorities whether one is required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it. The Shulchan Aruch rules that one is not required to cut through the breast bone of a bird before kashering it, but can rely on placing salt inside the cavity. The Beis Hillel adds that cutting through the breast bone of the bird to make the cavity most accessible is not even considered a chumrah that one should try to observe. However, the Beis Lechem Yehudah rules that one is required to cut through the breast bone before kashering. His reasoning is that one who does not cut through the bone must rely on pushing salt into the cavity and that people tend not to push the salt sufficiently deep into the cavity. The Pri Megadim agrees with the Beis Lechem Yehudah, and mentions that he required his family members to cut through the breast bone to open the cavity before salting poultry, because it is impossible to salt properly all the places in the internal cavity without splitting the chicken open. (Although the Pri Megadim uses the term “split in half,” I presume that he means to open the chicken’s cavity. There seems no reason to require one to cut the entire chicken into two pieces.) Furthermore, several of the internal organs – including the lungs, kidneys, and spleen — are often not salted properly without splitting open the cavity. It is for this reason that mehadrin shechitos in Eretz Yisrael all cut through the bone before salting the chickens, although one can note from the Pri Megadim’s own comments that this was not standard practice.

Most hechsherim in the United States follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and the Beis Hillel and do not insist on splitting the chicken open before salting it. One hechsher I know requires that the kidneys be removed and discarded before sale, because of the concern raised by the Pri Megadim that they cannot be salted properly without opening the chicken. (In our large scale manufacturing today, the lungs, heart and spleen are always removed anyway, and usually not sold for food.)

By the way, we can also understand some of the reasons why someone would take on a personal chumrah to eat meat only if it was kashered at home. Among the reasons that he would be makpid is better control of the kashering, guaranteeing that the chickens are split before they are salted, and making certain that the chickens are placed with their cavities down.

Conclusion

At this point, I would like to return to our opening explanation, when I mentioned the mitzvah of salting korbanos that are burnt on the mizbeiach. As I alluded to above, although both items are salted in a similar manner, the purpose is very different. Whereas the salting of our meat is to remove the blood, this blood and salt is washed away. The salted offerings, on the other hand, are burnt completely with their salt. Several commentaries note that salt represents that which exists forever, and can therefore represent the mitzvos of the Torah, which are never changed. In addition, the salt used for the korbanos must be purchased from public funds, from the machatzis hashekel collection, demonstrating that this responsibility to observe the mitzvos forever is communal and collective (Rav Hirsch).

 

Mizmor Lesodah, Parshas Tzav and Erev Pesach

 

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IFQuestion #1: Korban Todah or bensching Goimel?

“Which is the better way to thank Hashem for a personal salvation, by reciting birchas hagomeil, or by making a seudas hodaah?”

Question #2: Bringing home the bread!

“Why is the korban todah accompanied by so many loaves of bread and so much matzoh?”

Question #3: Mizmor Lesodah and Pesach

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Answer:

Although Chapter 100 of Tehillim is known by its opening words as Mizmor Lesodah, there actually are two different chapters of Tehillim, #100 and #107, that devote themselves to the thanksgiving acknowledgement of someone who has survived a major physical challenge. In Psalm 107, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments: traveling through the desert, traveling overseas, illness, and imprisonment, in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. When the person survives the travails and thanks Hashem, the following passage reflects this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, “they acknowledge thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind.” These words are repeated four times, once after each of the situations is described.

The Gemara cites this Psalm as the source for many of the laws of birchas hagomeil, the brocha we recite when surviving these calamities. Actually, someone who survived these predicaments should offer a korban todah, which is described in parshas Tzav. The birchas hagomeil is recited in place of the korban todah that we cannot bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin (Rosh, Brachos 9:3; Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

What are the unusual features of the korban todah?

The korban todah is a specialized variety of shelamim, whose name means, according to the Toras Kohanim, that it creates peace in the world, since the owner, the kohen and the mizbeiach (the altar) all share in consuming it (quoted by Rashi, Vayikra 3:1). A shelamim, which was perhaps the most common korban in the Beis Hamikdash, was offered to express the desire to draw closer to Hashem from a sense that one lacks nothing in his physical life (see Commentary of Rav Hirsch, Vayikra 3:1).

The korban todah is offered following the general procedures and rules of a shelamim; however, it has several unique features. The first is that the korban itself is accompanied by a huge amount of bread, called korbanos mincha (plural, menachos), a total of forty loaves. Thirty of these comprise ten loaves each of three varieties of matzoh. However, the remaining ten loaves are highly unusual: first of all they are chometz, and this is the only instance of a private korban that includes chometz. (There is only one other korban any time that is chometz, and that is the two loaves offered by the community on Shavuos.) As a result, the korban todah could not be offered on Erev Pesach or on Pesach itself.

The chometz loaves are unusual in another way, in that each of them is three times the volume of the matzoh loaves (see Menachos 76b). Thus, the ten chometz loaves were, together, of equal size to the thirty matzohs.

Of the four varieties of mincha that accompany the korban todah, one of each type of loaf is given to the kohen to take home and consume together with his family and friends. The other 36 loaves are given to the offerer of the korban.

There is another unusual facet of the korban todah offering. Whereas a korban shelamim may be eaten until nightfall of the next day after it is offered, the korban todah must be eaten before the morning after it was offered, a much shorter period of time. Chazal further shortened the time it may be eaten — permitting it to be eaten only until halachic midnight — to assure that no one eat the korban when it is forbidden.

Thus, there are two ways in which the korban todah is treated differently from an ordinary shelamim: The todah is accompanied by an absolutely huge amount of bread, made from a total of twenty isronim of flour, which is twenty times the amount of flour that requires one to separate challah. Half of this bread is chometz and half matzoh, and it must be consumed within a very short period of time.

Why would the Torah “impose” these additional requirements on the offerer of the korban? Well, let us figure out what is he going to do. He has a significant amount of holy meat that must be eaten by midnight, and a huge amount of accompanying bread with the same restrictions. What will he do?

Presumably, he invites a large crowd to join him in his feast and thereby explains to them the reason for his repast. Thus, we increase the appreciation of others for the thanksgiving that Hashem has provided him. This now leads us directly into our discussion of the chapter of Tehillim that begins with the words Mizmor Lesodah.

Mizmor Lesodah

Whereas the above-mentioned Chapter 107 of Tehillim describes the background behind korban todah and birchas hagomeil, the 100th chapter of Tehillim, Mizmor Lesodah, represents the actual praise that the saved person recites. Although only five verses long, this psalm, one of the eleven written by Moshe Rabbeinu (see Rashi ad locum), captivates the emotion of a person who has just survived a major ordeal. The first verse expresses the need for everyone on Earth to recognize Hashem, certainly something that conveys the emotions of someone very recently saved from a major tribulation. The second verse shares the same passion, since it calls upon everyone to serve Hashem in gladness and to appear before Him in jubilation. The third sentence continues this idea. In it, the thankful person who has been saved calls on everyone to recognize that Hashem is the personal G-d of every individual, and that we are His people and the sheep of his pasture. He then calls on all to enter into Hashem’s gates and His courts, so that we can thank and bless Him. We should note that the gates of the Beis Hamikdash were meant for all of mankind, not only the Jewish People, as specifically included in Shlomoh Hamelech’s  prayer while inaugurating it (Melachim I 8:41-43).

The closing sentence is also very significant: “For Hashem is good, His kindness is forever, and our trust should be placed in Him in every future generation.” (We should note that the word olam in Tanach means “forever” and never means “world,” which is a meaning given to this word by Chazal. The most common Tanach word for “world” is teiveil; see, for example, Tehillim 19:5; 33:8; and 90:2; all of which are recited during the pesukei dezimra of Shabbos and 96:10, 13; 97:4; 98:7, which are part of kabbalas Shabbos.) The celebrant calls upon those he has assembled to spread the message that Hashem is the only Source of all good, and that we should recognize this at all times, not only in the extraordinary situations where we see the manifestation of His presence!

We can now understand better why the Mizmor Lesodah chapter of Tehillim is structured as it is. It provides the beneficiary of Hashem’s miracle with a drosha to present at the seudas hodaah that he makes with all the bread and meat that he does not want to go to waste — complete with encouragement to others to internalize our thanks to Hashem.

Clearly, then, this psalm was meant to be recited by the thankful person, and this is his invitation to others to join him as he thanks Hashem. The Avudraham notes that Hashem’s name appears four times in the psalm, corresponding to the four people who need to thank Him for their salvation.

Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos

We find a dispute among early authorities whether one should recite Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos (Shibbolei Haleket, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Why should this be?

Since the korban todah is a voluntary offering, it cannot be offered on Shabbos. The Tur mentions that established custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, out of concern that when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, someone may mistakenly offer the korban todah on these days. On Shabbos, of course, it is prohibited to offer any korban other than the required daily tamid and the special Shabbos korbanos, whereas on Yom Tov one may offer only korbanos that are brought because of Yom Tov (Beitzah 19b).

The Tur does not agree that this is a valid reason to omit reciting Mizmor Lesodah on these days, contending that we need not be concerned that people will mistakenly offer a korban todah on Shabbos or Yom Tov (Orach Chayim, Chapter 51 and Chapter 281). Others explain that we recite Mizmor Lesodah to remind us of the korban todah, and since it was not offered on these days, there is no point in reciting it (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 51:11). Perhaps this is done as an aspect of uneshalma parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), “may our lips replace the bulls (of offerings),” which is interpreted to mean that when we have no Beis Hamikdash, we recite passages that commemorate those offerings. For this reason, the custom developed among Ashkenazim to omit Mizmor Lesodah on days that the offering could not be brought in the Beis Hamikdash.

Mizmor Lesodah on Chol Hamoed Pesach

Since the korban todah contained chometz, it could not be offered on Pesach. Therefore,  Ashkenazim refrain from reciting Mizmor Lesodah is omitted on Chol Hamoed Pesach for the same reason that it is omitted on Shabbos.

Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Pesach

Ashkenazic custom is to omit Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur and on Erev Pesach. The korban todah and its breads can usually be eaten until the midnight after the day it was offered. However, were one to offer a korban todah early on Erev Yom Kippur or on Erev Pesach, its chometz may be eaten for only a few hours. Since one may not offer a korban whose time limit is curtailed, one may not offer korban todah on these days, and, following Ashkenazic practice, Mizmor Lesodah is omitted then, also. The common custom among Sefardim is to recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev Yom Kippur, Erev Pesach and Chol Hamoed Pesach (Pri Chodosh 429:2; Kaf Hachayim 51:51-52).

With this background, I can now begin to address the third question raised above.

“I recently assumed a position teaching in a small town day school. Before Pesach, I mentioned that we do not recite Mizmor Lesodah on Erev and Chol Hamoed Pesach. One of the students afterwards told me that this is not his family minhag, but only Ashkenazi practice. Is he correct?”

Indeed, in this instance, the student is correct. Hopefully, the rebbe was not that badly embarrassed.

Mizmor Lesodah and our daily davening

In order to make sure that this thanks to Hashem takes place daily, the chapter of Mizmor Lesodah was introduced into our daily pesukei dezimra. We should remember that miracles happen to us daily, even when we do not realize it (quoted in name of Sefer Nehora; see also Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 281). Although it was not part of the original structure of the daily prayers established by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, long before the time of the Rishonim it was already common practice to include it as part of the daily recital of pesukei dezimra and to say it almost at the beginning. The importance of reciting this psalm should not be underestimated. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 51:9), states: One should recite Mizmor Lesodah with song, since eventually all songs will cease except for Mizmor Lesodah. This statement of Chazal is explained by Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Psalm 100) in the following manner: One day in the future, everything on Earth will be so ideal that there will be no reason to supplicate Hashem for changes. Even then, prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving will still be appropriate.

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