כ״ב בכסלו ה׳תשע״ח (December 10, 2017)

Shevuot 12a-b: A Dessert of White Figs

On yesterday’s daf Rabba explained that when animals are purchased for use as sacrifices in the Temple, lev matneh aleihem – “beit din has in its heart” – that they are bought on the condition that if they are needed they will be used as sacrifices on the altar, but if they are not needed then they will be treated like any standard donation to the Temple, and their value will be consecrated but their bodies will not.

Not everyone agrees to the idea that lev beit din matneh aleihem, which would permit the animal to be used for other purposes in the Temple. The Gemara on today’s daf asks how Rabbi Shimon – who does not accept lev beit din matneh aleihem­ – would suggest that the animals be used. Rabbi Yitzḥak quotes Rabbi Yoḥanan as explaining that Rabbi Shimon believes that they must be brought as sacrifices, and are used for ketz ha-mizbe’aḥ, meaning that when there are no sacrifices to be brought, voluntary communal sacrifices would be brought to honor the altar, that is, to ensure that it does not stand empty of sacrifices.

This suggestion is supported by a statement made in a baraita that teaches that unused sacrifices such as these are like a “dessert of white figs” for the altar. In response to this example, the Gemara argues that since neither leaven nor honey can be placed on the altar (see 2:11) it is difficult to understand the suggested parallel. Rav Ḥanina taught that the baraita means to say that the additional sacrifices brought on the altar are similar to a fruity dessert enjoyed by a person.

Rav Ḥanina’s teaching should be understood to mean that just as figs are served as an additional dessert after the main meal is over, similarly these sacrifices are brought only when the main sacrifices are finished, even though there is no obligation to bring them.