Eating the Korban Pesach

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur

Eating the Korban Pesach

By Rav Moshe Taragin


Many Rishonim who compiled lists of the 613 mitzvot allot two separate mitzvot for the korban Pesach. They primarily distinguish between the mitzva of sacrificing the animal and the mitzva of eating it.[1] This does not concur with the standard counting system applied to other sacrifices. In all other cases, a sacrifice is counted as ONE of the 613 mitzvot. That mitzva encompasses the ritual service as well as the subsequent eating (when applicable). Yet, in the case of korban Pesach, eating the animal is listed as a separate mitzva. This article will explore the difference between the eating of korban Pesach and the eating of a standard korban.

The Beit Ha-levi addresses this issue on two occasions. In the first instance (I:2), he differentiates between the amount of meat one is required to consume of each korban. When it comes to a standard korban, even less than a ke-zayit may be eaten,[2] while in the case of korban Pesach each person must eat at least a ke-zayit. According to the Beit Ha-levi, each Jew is personally obligated to consume a ke-zayit of korban Pesach since, generally, halakhic eating demands a minimum ingestion of ke-zayit. In the case of a standard korban, however, there is no personal obligation to eat the meat; rather, part of the sacrificial process demands that the meat BE EATEN and not discarded. Even if I relegate the eating to someone else, my korban is complete, since I have assured that the meat will be eaten. Hence, no individual is required to consume a ke-zayit.

The Beit Ha-levi contends that this disparity might also explain the extra mitzva allotted to eating the korban Pesach within the list of 613. Eating any other korban is not a separate mitzva, but part of the entire process; hence, it doesn't warrant its own mitzva. Eating the Pesach, however, transcends the standard role of eating korbanot and hence is counted as a separate mitzva.

The Beit Ha-levi (III:51, part 4) applies this principle in another context. He cites a gemara in Menachot (99) which allows eating meat from a korban which is still raw. Raw meat is generally considered eino ra'ui la-akhila (inedible) and does not classify as a halakhically valid eating. For example, if one were to eat raw meat of neveila (unslaughtered carcass), he would not receive a punishment since this is a non-standard form of eating. Yet in the case of a korban, this form of eating appears to be valid. The Beit Ha-levi uses this gemara to confirm his point that with regard to a standard korban, the eating is not an obligatory act for any specific person; the meat of the korban merely has to be devoured. Just as each person may eat less than a ke-zayit, so too the meat may be eaten raw.[3] These same laws would not apply to korban Pesach, which demands a ma'aseh akhila - a halakhic act of eating, considered as a separate mitzva.[4]

It is possible that the Beit Ha-levi's statement is reflected in the location of the korban Pesach laws in the Torah. The main segment describing these laws is found in parashat Bo – before the concepts of mishkan and korbanot in general were conceived. It would appear that the korban Pesach in general, and specifically the eating thereof, can be understood independently of the standard korban model. Indeed, the Torah repeats the laws of korban Pesach in parashat Re'eh (Devarim 16), but noticeably omits korban Pesach from the list of korbanot in Sefer Vayikra.

In addition, we might assent to the Beit Ha-levi's position regarding a mitzva of akhila independent of the mitzva of shechita (slaughtering) based upon the distinct time frames allotted for each mitzva. The shechita of the korban Pesach must occur during the afternoon of the 14th, but not during the evening. By stark contrast, the eating CAN ONLY BEGIN after sunset. In general, the eating of a korban can commence immediately after the sacrifice. Of course, it may continue during the ensuing evening, but it does not have to be delayed until then.[5]

In fact, the gemara in Berakhot (9a) cites a dispute between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua over whether the Pesach may be eaten until sunrise (like a standard korban) or must be consumed by midnight. Clearly, R. Eliezer's position, which limits the eating until midnight, further indicates the gap which exists between eating a regular korban and eating the Pesach.[6]

Another factor which might highlight the differences between the two eatings is the punishment of karet (excision) for not eating the Pesach. It is well known that korban Pesach is one of only two positive commandments whose lack of observance entails karet (the other is circumcision). It is unclear from the gemara whether karet applies only to someone who does not sacrifice a Pesach, or even to someone who sacrifices but doesn't eat. Rashi (Zevachim 100b) seems to indicate that karet applies even if one did not eat the Pesach. Again, the unique punishment might confirm the independent role which eating the Pesach plays, unlike the secondary one which eating plays in general korbanot.

Though he distinguishes between Pesach and general korbanot, the Beit Ha-levi admits that the Pesach, alongside its unique akhila, still retains the general kodashim element of eating. Basically, there are two different facets to eating the Pesach - the general obligation to assure that the meat of a korban is consumed, and the special Pesach mitzva that each person should eat a ke-zayit of meat.

Support for this view might be generated from a gemara in Zevachim (77), which discusses the rule of "asei docheh lo ta'aseh." In general, if a person can fulfill an obligation only by violating a prohibition, we rule that he nevertheless must fulfill the obligation (assuming there is no way to fulfill without violating). The gemara in Zevachim questions whether this rule applies in the Mikdash as well. Using a rule governing korban Pesach, the gemara attempts to prove that it does not. One is not allowed to break any bones of the Pesach (see Shemot 12:46). The gemara rules that this applies to all bones – even those which contain edible marrow. Evidently, the gemara continues, the mitzva of eating the Pesach does not take precedence over the prohibition of breaking bones. From this fact, the gemara deduces that, regarding Mikdash laws, positive commandments (eating korban Pesach) do not take precedence over prohibitions (breaking bones).

From this gemara we might conclude that not only must a ke-zayit of meat be eaten, but that ALL EDIBLE MEAT must be consumed. If eating one ke-zayit would suffice, the scenario of obligation vs. prohibition (eating bone marrow vs. not breaking bones) would never arise; why not fulfill the mitzva of eating by consuming the meat itself, without getting involved with the bones? Evidently, not only must a ke-zayit be eaten, but, at a certain level, there exists a mitzva to consume all edible flesh. Regarding this mitzva, the gemara probes the issue of breaking bones. This mitzva of eating ALL flesh does seem to reflect the standard mitzva of korbanot. Evidently, Pesach has two facets: a special mitzva for each person to eat a ke-zayit, and the general mitzva of assuring that korban meat is consumed.

Though it makes sense to view Pesach as encompassing the laws of a standard korban and subject to the same guidelines, the text does not necessarily support this position. As mentioned earlier, the laws of korban Pesach described in parashat Bo are clearly stated in a vacuum, since other korbanot were not yet prescribed. Indeed, the Torah repeats the laws in parashat Re'eh after korbanot were mandated. Yet, we still might question the omission of korban Pesach from Sefer Vayikra, in which the korbanot are listed. This question - the relationship between korban Pesach and the general world of kodashim - has ramifications beyond the definition of eating. This broader issue, , lies beyond the scope of this article.


[1] See, for example, the Rambam's Sefer Ha-mitzvot (aseh 55 and 56), the Semag (223 and 225), the Chinukh (5 and 6), and the Yerei'im (90 and 405).

[2] See Pesachim 3b, where a kohen mentioned that he received a portion of lechem ha-panim the size of a bean.

[3] The same distinction between eating a korban Pesach and eating standard korbanot was drawn by the Or Same'ach, Hilkhot Chametz U-matza 6:1.

[4] Based on the Beit Ha-levi's approach, we might view the korban Pesach as a model for all halakhic acts of eating. Anything which is valid for Pesach purposes would be defined as akhila. For example, the gemara in Pesachim (82b) suggests that one may fulfill the mitzva of eating the korban Pesach by eating the nerves of the animal rather than the meat itself. Evidently, the gemara considers eating nerves as equivalent to eating meat. This would appear slightly contradictory to the gemara in Chullin (117b) which maintains that nerves do not contain the tum'a usually associated with neveila. Evidently, we must assume from the gemara in Pesachim that nerves are considered meat, but for some reason do not confer this form of tum'a.

[5] This distinction, which reflects the difference between Pesach and korbanot in general, was first addressed by the Yere'im, mitzva 405.

[6] For further elaboration of this point, see Rav Mordechai Breuer, Pirkei Mo'adot, vol. I, pp. 165-170.


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