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Pesachim 80a-b

April 07, 2006

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We have learned in the Mishnah (79a) that when the majority of the Jewish people are tameh (ritually defiled by contact with a dead body) then the korban Pesach will be brought and eaten anyway. In such a case there is no need to bring a Pesach sheni (see Bamidbar 9:6-14), which is reserved for an individual who cannot bring the Passover sacrifice in the proper time.
 
We usually think of the Jewish people as a single unit, but according to some we should look at it as divided up into the twelve tribes. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that brings the opinions of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehudah on this matter.
 
Rabbi Shimon says that if the majority of a single shevet ? just one of the tribes ? is tameh, they will be able to bring the korban Pesach at its proper time even though they are tameh, while the rest of the shevatim will bring it at the same time, but separately, keeping the normal rules of tumah and taharah (ritual impurity and purity). The Gemara explains that Rabbi Shimon understands that each one of the shevatim is considered a kahal ? a community ? unto itself.
 
Rabbi Yehudah says that if just one of the shevatim is tameh and the rest of them are tahor, everyone will bring the korban together, since the korban Pesach is a communal sacrifice so it cannot be divided up. The Gemara explains Rabbi Yehudah's position as agreeing with Rabbi Shimon that a single shevet is considered a kahal. He believes, however, that such a community is so important that it balances the entire rest of the Jewish people. Since we perceive the two as being equal in weight we do not split the communal sacrifice, rather we bring it be-tumah.
 
The discussion about the status of a single shevet has its basis in Masechet Horayot and the question of how to deal with a case where "the entire Jewish people" commit a sin (see Vayikra 4:13-21). Should we view a single shevet as a distinct community and that the rules that apply to the community apply to them, or do we perceive the shevet simply as part of the larger community ? merely as a large number of individuals, but not a community unto themselves.









This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.  To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.


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Next: Pesachim 81a-b