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The beginning of masechet Para discusses the age brackets of the animals to be used for various korbanot. The Torah does specify the animals that must be used for each of the korbanot and the term (e.g. cow or calf) is used to determine the required age. The last Mishnah (1:4) lists those korbanot that may consist of young animals. The Torah already states that the minimum age for a korban is eight days old (Yayikra 27:32). For voluntary offerings, a bechor, maaser and korban pesach eight days is indeed the minimum age listed. However, for public chatat and olah offerings, a personal chatat, asham nazair and asham metzora the minimum age is thirty days old. Why is the minimum age for these korbanot later?
The Rosh explains that for korbanot tzibur (public offerings) it is a mitzvah min a muvchar to wait a bit longer till the animal is thirty days old so that the animal is slightly larger. If however it is brought prior to thirty days, the korban is still valid. Since it is preferable to wait to thirty days, why then is the minimum age for the other korbanot listed as eight days?
The Mishnah Achrona explains that it relates to another Mishnah that states that when it comes to sin and guilt offerings, Beit Din does not forcible take a collateral (to coerce the person to bring his korbanot) since these korbanot afford a person an atonement and people will therefore not delay in bringing them. It is clear however that the opposite is true with respect to voluntary offerings. In our case as well, when setting the minimum age to thirty days for personal sacrifices that achieve atonement or public offering, there is no concern that it will be delayed much longer. However, for voluntary personal offerings, it should be brought at the earliest possible time as there is a concern that the person will wait and violate the prohibition of ba’al t’acher – delaying in offering a korban.
The explanation of the Mishnah Achrona appears to s explain why we do not delay bring voluntary offerings. However, the bechor, maaser and korban Pesach are obligatory? Why must they also be brought from eight days old?
The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the common denominator between those korbanot that can be offered from when they are eight days olds is that the owner can engineer it such that he is exempt from bringing the sacrifices all together. The thesis is immediately understood when considering voluntary sacrifices. When it comes to maaser behema, all the animals are permitted prior to maaser being separated. Consequently, all the newly born animals could be slaughtered avoiding maaser. Furthermore, the owner could inflict physical blemishes to the entire herd prior to separating maaser which would mean that none of the animals could be offered as sacrifices.
With respect to a bechor, the owner may give it to any kohen he chooses, who would then bring it as a sacrifice. With other korbanot however, only the kohenim in the mishar, serving that week in the Beit Hamikdash are able to offer the sacrifice. Finally, the korban Pesach is not a pure obligation. One could exempt themselves by being “bederech rechoka”, by being situated far for Yerushalaim.
Consequently, the Tifferet Yisrael understands that it is only the obligatory korbanot that we demand the performance of a mitzvah min ha’muvchar. Regarding these other mitzvot that a person can avoid, we lower the bar.
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