Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
THE precepts of the eleventh class are enumerated in the Section on Divine Service (Sefer ‘abodah) and the Section on Sacrifices (Sefer ha-ḳorbanot). We have described their use in general terms (chap. xxxii.). I will now proceed to give the reason of each precept separately.
Scripture tells us, according to the Version of Onkelos, that the Egyptians worshipped Aries, and therefore abstained from killing sheep, and held shepherds in contempt. Comp. "Behold we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians," etc. (Exod. viii. 26); "For every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians" (Gen. xlvi. 34). Some sects among the Sabeans worshipped demons, and imagined that these assumed the form of goats, and called them therefore "goats" [se‘irim]. This worship was widespread. Comp. "And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto demons, after whom they have gone a whoring" (Lev. xvii. 7). For this reason those sects abstained from eating goats' flesh. Most idolaters objected to killing cattle, holding this species of animals in great estimation. Therefore the people of Hodu [Indians] up to this day do not slaughter cattle even in those countries where other animals are slaughtered. In order to eradicate these false principles, the Law commands us to offer sacrifices only of these three kinds: "Ye shall bring your offering of the cattle [viz.], of the herd and of the flock" (Lev. i. 2). Thus the very act which is considered by the heathen as the greatest crime, is the means of approaching God, and obtaining His pardon for our sins. In this manner, evil principles, the diseases of the human soul, are cured by other principles which are diametrically opposite.
This is also the reason why we were commanded to kill a lamb on Passover, and to sprinkle the blood thereof outside on the gates. We had to free ourselves of evil doctrines and to proclaim the opposite, viz., that the very act which was then considered as being the cause of death would be the cause of deliverance from death. Comp. "And the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come unto your houses to suite you" (Exod. xii. 23). Thus they were rewarded for performing openly a service every part of which was objected to by the idolaters.
To the above reason for the exclusive selection of the three kinds of animals for sacrifices, we may add the following, namely, that these species are animals which can be got very easily, contrary to the practice of idolaters that sacrifice lions, bears, and wild beasts, as is stated in the book Tomtom. As, however, many could not afford to offer a beast, the Law commanded that birds also should be sacrificed, but only of those species which are found abundantly in Palestine, are suitable, and can easily be obtained, namely, turtledoves and pigeons. Those who are too poor to offer a bird, may bring bread of any of the kinds then in use: baked in the oven, baked in a pan, or in a
frying-pan. If the baking of the bread is too much trouble for a person, he may bring flour. All this concerns only those who desire to sacrifice; for we are distinctly told that the omission of the sacrificial service on our part will not be reckoned to us a sin: "If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee" (Deut. xxiii. 22). The idolaters did not offer any other bread but leavened, and chose sweet things for their sacrifices, which they seasoned with honey, as is fully described in the books which I named before: but salt is not mentioned in any of their sacrifices. Our Law therefore forbade us to offer leaven or honey, and commanded us to have salt in every sacrifice: "With all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt" (Lev. ii. 13). It is further ordained that the offerings must all be perfect and in the best condition, in order that no one should slight the offering or treat with contempt that which is offered to God's name: "Offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee?" (Mal. i. 8). This is the reason why no animal could be brought that was not yet seven days old (Lev. xxii. 26); it is imperfect and contemptible, like an untimely birth. Because of their degraded character it was prohibited to bring "the hire of a harlot and the price of a dog" (Deut. xxiii. 18) into the Sanctuary. In order to bring the offering in the beat condition, we choose the old of the turtle-doves and the young of the pigeons, the old pigeons being less agreeable. The oblation must likewise be mingled with oil, and must be of fine flour (Lev. ii. 1), for in this condition it is good and pleasant. Frankincense is prescribed (ibid.) because its fumes are good in places filled with the odour of burnt flesh. The burnt-offering was flayed (Lev. i. 16), and its inwards and legs, although they were entirely burnt, had to be previously washed (ibid. ver. 9), in order that due respect should be shown to the sacrifice, and it should not appear despicable and contemptible. This object is constantly kept in view, and is often taught, "Ye say, The table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible" (Mal. i. 12). For the same reason no body uncircumcised, or unclean (Lev. xxii. 4), was allowed to partake of any offering; nor could any offering be eaten that had become unclean (Lev. vii. 19), or was left till after a certain time (ibid. vii. 15-17), or concerning which an illegal intention had been conceived; and it had also to be consumed in a particular place. Of the burnt-offering, which is entirely devoted to God, nothing at all was eaten. Those sacrifices which are brought for a sin, viz., sin-offering and guilt-offering, must be eaten within the court of the Sanctuary (‘azarah), and only on the day of their slaughtering and the night following, whilst peace-offerings, which are next in sanctity, being sacrifices of the second degree, may be eaten in the whole of Jerusalem, on the day they have been offered and on the following day, but not later. After that time the sacrifices would become spoiled, and be unfit for food.
In order that we may respect the sacrifices and all that is devoted to the name of God, we are told that whosoever takes part of a holy thing for common use has committed a trespass, must bring a sin-offering, and restore what he has taken with an addition of the fifth part of its value, although he may have committed the trespass in ignorance. For the same reason animals reserved for holy purposes must not be employed in work; nor is the shearing of such animals permitted (Deut. xv. 19). The law concerning the change of a sacrifice must be considered as a preventive; for if it were permitted to substitute a good animal for a bad one, people would
substitute a bad animal for a good one, and say that it was better than the original; it was therefore the rule that, if any such change had taken place, both the "original sacrifice and the exchange thereof should be holy" (Lev. xxvii. 9). When a person redeems a thing devoted by him to the Sanctuary, he must likewise add one-fifth (Lev. xxvii. 13, 15); the reason for this is plain. Man is usually selfish, and is naturally inclined to keep and save his property. He would therefore not take the necessary trouble in the interest of the Sanctuary: he would not expose his property sufficiently to the sight of the valuer, and its true value would not be fixed. Therefore the owner had to add one-fifth, whilst a stranger paid only the exact value. These rules were laid down in order that people should not despise that with which the name of God is connected, and which serves as a means of approaching God. The oblation of the priest was entirely burnt (Lev. vi. 16), because the priest offered up his oblation by himself, and if he were to offer it, and at the same time to eat it, it would appear as if he had not performed any service. For nothing was offered upon the altar of the ordinary oblations of any person except the frankincense and a handful of the flour or cake; and if, in addition to the fact that the offering was small, he who offered it were himself to eat it, nothing of a sacrificial service would be noticed. It is therefore entirely burnt (Lev. vi. 16).
The reason of the particular laws concerning the Passover lamb is clear. It was eaten roasted by fire (Exod. xii. 8-9) in one house, and without breaking the bones thereof (ibid. ver. 46). In the same way as the Israelites were commanded to eat unleavened bread, because they could prepare it hastily, so they were commanded, for the sake of haste, to roast the lamb, because there was not sufficient time to boil it, or to prepare other food; even the delay caused by breaking the bones and to extract their marrow was prohibited the one principle is laid down for all these rules, "Ye shall eat it in haste" (Exod. xii. 11). But when haste is necessary the bones cannot be broken, nor parts of it sent from house to house; for the company could not wait with their meal till he returned. Such things would lead to laxity and delay, whilst the object of these rules was to make a show of the hurry and haste, in order that none should be too late to leave Egypt with the main body of the people, and be thus exposed to the attacks and the evil [designs of the enemy]. These temporary commandments were then made permanent, in order that we may remember what was done in those days. "And thou shalt keep this ordinance in his season from year to year" (Exod. xiii. 10). Each Passover lamb was only eaten by those who had previously agreed to consume it together, in order that people should be anxious to procure it, and should not rely on friends, relations, or on chance, without themselves taking any trouble about it before Passover. The reason of the prohibition that the uncircumcised should not eat of it (Exod. xii. 48) is explained by our Sages as follows:--The Israelites neglected circumcision during their long stay in Egypt, in order to make themselves appear like the Egyptians. When God gave them the commandment of the Passover, and ordered that no one should kill the Passover lamb unless he, his sons, and all the male persons in his household were circumcised, that only "then he could come near and keep it" (ibid. xii. 48), all performed this commandment, and the number
of the circumcised being large the blood of the Passover and that of the circumcision flowed together. The Prophet Ezekiel (xvi. 6), referring to this event, says, "When I saw thee sprinkled with thine own blood I said unto thee, Live because of thy [two kinds of ] blood, "i.e., because of the blood of the Passover and that of the circumcision.
Although blood was very unclean in the eyes of the Sabeans, they nevertheless partook of it, because they thought it was the food of the spirits; by eating it man has something in common with the spirits, which join him and tell him future events, according to the notion which people generally have of spirits. There were, however, people who objected to eating blood, as a thing naturally disliked by man; they killed a beast, received the blood in a vessel or in a pot, and ate of the flesh of that beast, whilst sitting round the blood. They imagined that in this manner the spirits would come to partake of the blood which was their food, whilst the idolaters were eating the flesh: that love, brotherhood, and friendship with the spirits were established, because they dined with the latter at one place and at the same time; that the spirits would appear to them in dreams, inform them of coming events, and be favourable to them. Such ideas people liked and accepted in those days; they were general, and their correctness was not doubted by any one of the common people. The Law, which is perfect in the eyes of those who know it, and seeks to cure mankind of these lasting diseases, forbade the eating of blood, and emphasized the prohibition exactly in the same terms as it emphasizes idolatry: "I will set my face against that soul that eateth blood" (Lev. xvii. 10). The same language is employed in reference to him "who giveth of his seed unto Molech"; "then I will set my face against that man" (ibid. xx. 5). There is, besides idolatry and eating blood, no other sin in reference to which these words are used. For the eating of blood leads to a kind of idolatry, to the worship of spirits. Our Law declared the blood as pure, and made it the means of purifying other objects by its touch. "And thou shalt take of the blood . . . and sprinkle it upon Aaron, and upon his garments, and upon his sons, and upon the garments of his sons with him. And he shall be hallowed, and his garments, and his sons," etc. (Exod. xxix. 21). Furthermore, the blood was sprinkled upon the altar, and in the whole service it was insisted upon pouring it out, and not upon collecting it. Comp. "And he shall pour out all the blood at the bottom of the altar" (Lev. iv. 18); "And the blood of thy sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the Lord thy God" (Deut. xii. 27). Also the blood of those beasts that were killed for common use, and not for sacrifices, must be poured out, "Thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water" (ibid. ver. 24). We are not allowed to gather and have a meal round the blood, "You shall not eat round the blood" (Lev. xix. 26). As the Israelites were inclined to continue their rebellious conduct, to follow the doctrines in which they had been brought up, and which were then general, and to assemble round the blood in order to eat there and to meet the spirits, God forbade the Israelites to eat ordinary meat during their stay in the wilderness: they could only partake of the meat of peace-offerings. The reason of this precept is distinctly stated, viz., that the blood shall be poured out upon the altar, and the people do not assemble round about. Comp. "To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open
field, even that they may bring them unto the Lord. . . . And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar, . . . and they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto the spirits" (Lev. xvii. 5-7). Now there remained to provide for the slaughtering of the beasts of the field and birds, because those beasts were never sacrificed, and birds did never serve as peace-offerings (Lev. iii.). The commandment was therefore given that whenever a beast or a bird that may be eaten is killed, the blood thereof must be covered with earth (Lev. xvii. 13), in order that the people should not assemble round the blood for the purpose of eating there. The object was thus fully gained to break the connexion between these fools and their spirits. This belief flourished about the time of our Teacher Moses. People were attracted and misled by it. We find it in the Song of Moses (Deut. xxxii.): "They sacrificed unto spirits, not to God" (ibid. 17). According to the explanation of our Sages, the words lo eloha imply the following idea: They have not only not left off worshipping things in existence; they even worship imaginary things. This is expressed in Sifri as follows: "It is not enough for them to worship the sun, the moon, the stars; they even worship their babuah. The word babuah signifies "shadow." Let us now return to our subject. The prohibition of slaughtering cattle for common use applied only to the wilderness, because as regards the "spirits" it was then the general belief that they dwelt in deserts, that there they spoke and were visible, whilst in towns and in cultivated land they did not appear. In accordance with this belief those inhabitants of a town who wanted to perform any of those stupid practices, left the town and went to woods and waste places. The use of cattle for common food was therefore allowed when the Israelites entered Palestine. Besides, there were great hopes that the disease would become weakened, and the followers of the doctrines would decrease. Furthermore, it was almost impossible that every one who wanted to eat meat should come to Jerusalem. For these reasons the above restriction was limited to the stay of the Israelites in the wilderness.
The greater the sin which a person had committed, the lower was the species from which the sin-offering was brought. The offering for worshipping idols in ignorance was only a she-goat, whilst for other sins an ordinary person brought either a ewe-lamb or a she-goat (Lev. iv. 27-35), the females bring, as a rule, in every species, inferior to the males. There is no greater sin than idolatry, and also no inferior species than a she-goat. The offering of a king for sins committed ignorantly was a he-goat (ibid. vers. 22-26), as a mark of distinction. The high priest and the Synhedrion, who only gave a wrong decision in ignorance, but have not actually committed a sin, brought a bull for their sin-offering (ibid. ver. 3-21), or a he-goat, when the decision referred to idolatry (Num. xv. 27-26). The sins for which guilt-offerings were brought were not as bad as transgressions that required a sin-offering. The guilt-offering was therefore a ram, or a lamb, so that the species as well as the sex were superior in this latter case, for the guilt-offering was a male sheep. For the same reason we see the burnt-offering, which was entirely burnt upon the altar, was selected from the superior sex; for only male animals were admitted as burnt-offerings. It is in accordance with the same principle that luxury and incense were absent from the oblations of a sinner (Lev. v.11), and of a sotah, i.e., a woman suspected of
adultery (Num. v. 15). In these cases the oil and the frankincense were not added: this luxury was absent, because the persons that brought the oblation were not good and proper in their deeds, and they are, as it were, to be reminded by their offerings that they ought to repent; as if they were told, "Your offering is without any ornamental addition on account of the wickedness of your deeds." As the sotah acted more disgracefully than any person who sins in ignorance, her offering consisted of the lowest kind, viz., of barley flour (ibid.). Thus the reasons of all these particular laws are well connected, and show that the precepts are wonderful in their significance.
Our Sages say that the offering for the eighth day of dedication was "a calf, a young bullock, for a sin-offering" (Lev. xi. 2), in order to atone for the sin of the Israelites in making a golden calf. The sin-offering, which was brought on the Day of Atonement (ibid. xvi. 3), was likewise explained as being an atonement for that sin. From this argument of our Sages I deduce that he-goats were always brought as sin-offerings, by individual persons and also by the whole congregation, viz., on the Festivals, New-moon, Day of Atonement, and for idolatry, because most of the transgressions and sins of the Israelites were sacrifices to spirits (se‘irim, lit., goats), as is clearly stated, "They shall no more offer their sacrifices unto spirits" (Lev. xvii. 7). Our Sages, however, explained the fact that goats were always the sin-offerings of the congregation, as an allusion to the sin of the whole congregation of Israel: for in the account of the selling of the pious Joseph we read, "And they killed a kid of the goats" (Gen. xxxvii. 31). Do not consider this as a weak argument; for it is the object of all these ceremonies to impress on the mind of every sinner and transgressor the necessity of continually remembering and mentioning his sins. Thus the Psalmist says, "And my sin is ever before me" (Ps. li. 3). The above-mentioned sin-offerings further show us that when we commit a sin, we, our children, and the children of our children, require atonement for that sin by some kind of service analogous to the sin committed. If a person has sinned in respect to property he must liberally spend his property in the service of God; if he indulged in sinful bodily enjoyments he must weary his body and trouble it by a service of privation and fasting, and rising early before daybreak. If he went astray in respect to his moral conduct he must oppose his failings by keeping to the opposite extreme, as we have pointed out in Mishneh-torah Hilkot De‘ot (chap. ii.) et passim. If his intellectual faculties have been concerned in the sin, if he has believed something false on account of the insufficiency of his intellect, and his neglect of research and proper study, he must remedy his fault by turning his thoughts entirely away from worldly affairs, and directing them exclusively to intellectual exercise, and by carefully reflecting on that which ought to form the subject of his belief. Comp. "And my heart hath been secretly enticed, but my hand touched my mouth" (Job xxxi. 27). These words express figuratively the lesson that we should pause and stop at that which appears doubtful, as has been pointed out by us in the beginning of this treatise. The same we notice in the case of Aaron. He had his share in the sin of the golden calf, and therefore a bullock and a calf were brought by him and his successors as an offering. Similarly, the sin connected with a kid of goats was atoned for by a kid of goats. When this theory has been well established in the minds of the people, they must certainly be led
by it to consider disobedience to God as a disgraceful thing. Every one will then be careful that he should not sin, and require a protracted and burdensome atonement; he will be afraid he might not be able to complete it, and will therefore altogether abstain from sinning, and avoid it. This object [of the laws under discussion] is very clear, and note it likewise.
I will here call your attention to a very remarkable thing, although it does not seem at first thought to belong to our subject. It is only the goat brought on New-moon as a sin-offering that the law calls "a sin-offering unto the Lord" (Num. xxviii. 15). The sin-offerings brought on the three festivals (ibid. vers. 22, 30; xxix. 5, 11, etc.) are not called so, nor are any other sin-offerings. The reason thereof is, according to my opinion, undoubtedly this: The additional offerings brought by the congregation at certain periods were all burnt-offerings; only "one kid of goats to make an atonement" was offered on every one of these exceptional days. The latter was eaten [by the priests], whilst the burnt-offerings were entirely consumed by fire, and are called "an offering made by fire unto the Lord." The phrases "a sin-offering unto the Lord" and "a peace-offering unto the Lord" do not occur in the law, because these were eaten by man; but even those sin-offerings that were entirely burnt (Lev. iv. 12, 21) cannot be called "an offering made by fire unto the Lord," as will be explained in the course of this chapter. It is therefore impossible that the goats which are eaten [by the priests], and are not entirely burnt, should be called "sin-offerings unto the Lord." But as it was found that the kid offered on New-moon might be mistaken as an offering brought to the moon, in the manner of the Egyptians, who sacrificed to the moon on the days of New-moon, it was distinctly stated that this goat is offered in obedience to God's command, and not in honour of the moon. This fear did not apply to the sin-offerings on the Festivals, nor to any other sin-offering, because they were not offered on the days of New-moon, or on any other day marked out by Nature, but on such days as were selected by the Divine Will. Not so the days of New-moon: they are not fixed by the Law [but by Nature]. On the New-moon the idolaters sacrificed to the moon, in the same manner as they sacrificed to the sun when it rose and set in certain particular degrees. This is described in the works [mentioned above]. On this account the extraordinary phrase "A sin-offering unto the Lord" is exceptionally introduced in reference to the goat brought on New-moon, in order to remove the idolatrous ideas that were still lingering in the sorely diseased hearts. Note this exception likewise. A sin-offering which is brought in the hope to atone for one or more great sins, as, e.g., the sin-offering [of the Synhedrion or the high-priest] for a sin committed in ignorance, and the like, are not burnt upon the altar, but without the camp; upon the altar only the burnt-offering, and the like, are burnt, wherefore it was called the altar of the burnt-offering. The burning of the holocaust, and of every "memorial," is called "a sweet savour unto the Lord"; and so it undoubtedly is, since it serves to remove idolatrous doctrines from our hearts, as we have shown. But the burning of these sin-offerings is a symbol that the sin [for which the offering is brought] is utterly removed and destroyed, like the body that is being burnt; of the sinful seed no trace shall remain, as no trace is left of the sin-offering, which is entirely destroyed by fire: the smoke thereof is not "a sweet savour unto
the Lord," but, on the contrary, a smoke despised and abhorred. For this reason the burning took place without the camp. Similarly we notice that the oblations of a sotah is called "an offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance" (Num. v. 15); it is not a pleasing thing [to the Lord]. The goat [of the Day of Atonement] that was sent [into the wilderness] (Lev. xvi. 20, seq.) served as an atonement for all serious transgressions more than any other sin-offering of the congregation. As it thus seemed to carry off all sins, it was not accepted as an ordinary sacrifice to be slaughtered, burnt, or even brought near the Sanctuary; it was removed as far as possible, and sent forth into a waste, uncultivated, uninhabited land. There is no doubt that sins cannot be carried like a burden, and taken off the shoulder of one being to be laid on that of another being. But these ceremonies are of a symbolic character, and serve to impress men with a certain idea, and to induce them to repent; as if to say, we have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, have cast them behind our backs, and removed them from us as far as possible.
As regards the offering of wine (Num. xv. 5, seq.), I am at a loss to find a reason why God commanded it, since idolaters brought wine as an offering. But though I am unable to give a reason, another person suggested the following one: Meat is the best nourishment for the appetitive faculty, the source of which is the liver; wine supports best the vital faculty, whose centre is the heart: music is most agreeable to the psychic faculty, the source of which is in the brain. Each one of our faculties approaches God with that which it likes best. Thus the sacrifice consists of meat, wine, and music.
The use of keeping festivals is plain. Man derives benefit from such assemblies: the emotions produced renew the attachment to religion; they lead to friendly and social intercourse among the people. This is especially the object of the commandment to gather the people together on the Feast of Tabernacles, as is plainly stated: "that they may hear, and that they may learn and fear the Lord" (Deut. xxxi. 12). The same is the object of the rule that the money for the second tithe must be spent by all in one place (ibid. xiv. 22-26), as we have explained (chap. xxxix. p. 184). The fruit of trees in their fourth year, and the tithe of the cattle, had to be brought to Jerusalem. There would therefore be in Jerusalem the meat of the tithes, the wine of the fruit of the fourth year, and the money of the second tithe. Plenty of food would always be found there. Nothing of the above things could be sold; nothing could be set aside for another year; the Law orders that they should be brought "year by year" (Deut. xiv. 22); the owner was thus compelled to spend part of them in charity. As regards the Festivals it is especially enjoined: "And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow" (ibid. xvi. 14). We have thus explained the reason of every law belonging to this class, and even many details of the laws.