Hagiga 20a-b - Take great care

September 28, 2014



The third perek (chapter) of Massekhet Hagiga, Homer BaKodesh, begins on today's daf (page). Its basic theme deals with a concept that, while unfamiliar to Jews in the contemporary world, is repeated several times in the Torah: the need to take great care when dealing with teruma (tithes) and kodashim (sacrifices), to ensure that they remain ritually pure. Furthermore, the Torah commands that protective enactments be created to assist in this endeavor (see, for example, Vayikra 22:9). Also connected with this concept are the severe punishments meted out by the Torah to someone who eats teruma or kodashim while in a state of ritual defilement.
The first Mishnah in the perek compares and contrasts the care that must be taken to ensure ritual purity in the cases of teruma and kodashim, pointing out that the demands made regarding kodashim are greater than those having to do with teruma. For example, if two vessels are both tameh - ritually impure and must be immersed in a mikveh - for the purposes of teruma they can be immersed even when one is inside the other. For use with kodashim, however, they would have to be immersed separately.

At first glance it would appear that the higher level of care that is required in working with kodashim stems from an intrinsic holiness that is represented in kodashim, which requires greater care, even on a Biblical level. The Talmud Yerushalmi, however, suggests another reason for the differences taught in the Mishnah. While teruma belongs exclusively to kohanim, who are the only ones allowed to eat it, kodashim are eaten by anyone who brings a sacrifice to the Temple. Kohanim are familiar with the rules and regulations of teruma and can be trusted to take the appropriate amount of care that is necessary to guarantee that the teruma will remain pure. Other people, who encounter kodashim only on an occasional basis, need stricter rules to ensure that the items do not become defiled.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.

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