Meilah after Meilah

Meilah (5:3) | Rav Yonatan Rosensweig | 13 years ago

The Mishnah in Meilah (5:3) states the following:

There is no meilah (commission of sacrilege) after a meilah with respect to consecrated objects, except with animals and service vessels… Rabbi says: Whatever cannot be redeemed does allow meilah after a meilah.

Rabbi is actually echoing the words of the first opinion in the Mishnah (and the Gemara discusses what he adds).

Let us try and understand the rule being stated in the Mishnah. Generally, the rule is that meilah in an object that suffers deterioration through its use – such as clothing – does not occur until the deterioration occurred. The usage itself is not enough (see 5:1). However, objects which do not suffer deterioration – such as gold vessels or animals – are desecrated by the mere usage of them. Let us ask: what does meilah mean?

Meilah refers to the use of something consecrated, for a mundane purpose. So long as the object has some holiness in it, sacrilege can occur. Now, let us examine what occurs when one does so. Roughly, we can divide the items consecrated to the Mikdash into two kinds: those which there body is consecrated to the Mikdash, also known as holding kedushat ha’guf; and those whose value only is consecrated to the Mikdash, also known as holding kedushat damim.

In the first case, the item is consecrated because it has a designed purpose within the Mikdash, and it is now an integral and inseparable part of the Mikdash. Its holiness can never be nullified, and only objects which can be used in the Mikdash can achieve such a level. In the second case, the item itself, essentially, is not consecrated at all; rather, it retains a level of holiness simply due to its monetary value belonging to the Mikdash. The object is consecrated because it is currently in holy hands. This is why even rocks can be consecrated, as it is only their value which belongs to the Mikdash, so that even though rocks have no use within the Mikdash their value can be turned into some other object which does have a use within the Mikdash.

Now we are better equipped to understand what the Mishnah is telling us. If one takes an object which is consecrated simply because it belongs to the Mikdash, he commits sacrilege of that object if he uses it for a mundane purpose. However, from that point on the object is no longer consecrated. Since the only reason it retained a level of holiness was its belonging monetarily to the Mikdash, at the moment that a person used that object for his own purposes he effectively stole it from the Mikdash, and by doing so the object changed hands and now belongs to that person, thus losing its level of holiness. In such an object, meilah can only happen once.

However, if the object has an internal-essential quality of holiness which cannot be nullified by a simple change of hands, meilah in such an object can occur repeatedly. This is why the Mishnah states that in animals or vessels of service – which are examples of objects which retain an essential holiness – one can commit sacrilege over and over again.

Let us add one more understanding to the difference between these two different objects. In essence, the difference between the two is that an object consecrated simply as a function of its monetary status draws its holiness from its source, while an object consecrated as a function of its essential status draws its holiness from its goal. An object belonging to the Mikdash is consecrated due to an action in its past, while an object essentially consecrated is so due to an action which it will fulfil in the future. These are two very different kinds of holiness.

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