Power of the Masses

Menachot (3:1) | Alex Tsykin | 12 years ago

Unlike the previous Mishnayot, in our Mishnah we learn about a case where if someone intends to perform an abnormal action with erroneous intent, the sacrifice is still valid as the Mishnah explains:

If one takes a three-fingers-full of the meal offering [with the intention] to eat something which is not usually eaten, [or] to burn something which is not normally burnt – it is fitting [and valid]. R’ Eliezer invalidates [it].

Bartenura in his commentary to our Mishnah refers to a case where one intends to eat from a meal offering after a full day has passed (making it invalid and the person who consumes it liable to spiritual excision), from the portion which is normally burnt, or burn a portion that is normally consumed.

The Gemara explains that R’ Eliezer argument is based on a different understanding of a pasuk. This raises a question of how it is that, as opposed to ordinary inappropriate intent, in this case the Chachamim maintain that it does not invalidate the sacrifice. The question is aggravated by the fact that R’ Eliezer would agree with this logic, yet simply understood the pasuk differently.

Bartenura explains that the reason for this Halacha is that the intention of the person making the sacrifice is “cancelled against the thoughts of all others.” The phrase means that the thought is so unusual that the Halacha cannot take account of it. This would however seem to be unlikely because there are many cases where we do consider his kavanah when making a sacrifice to be capable of invalidating the sacrifice if he intended to do something forbidden even though unusual. Possibly, these thoughts are so unusual that we will not actually consider it a real thought with the halachic force of a da’at. It could be that this explanation posits that because the intention was so incredibly bizarre that such a thought could not be a real thought. This may be so as it would seem to be that it is completely outside the accepted practice in the Beit Ha’Mikdash that no one would think it, as opposed to merely eating something later than it should be eaten. As such, it may not receive the same stringent treatment as a normal incorrect intention.

Another possibility in explaining the Mishnah can be seen in Rav Kook’s writings. It is possible that the thoughts of the person are being influenced by the expectations of others with regard to the sacrifice. To explain this, it is necessary to ask, what is the impact of communal practice on our personal religious observance? Rav Kook discusses this issue in Orot Hakodesh I 27:

There is a personal revelation which accompanies every sentence, every part of logical ideas, with every word and letter, and there is a general revelation, when the complete spirit of a book, of a way of life, of the ways of the soul is revealed. And it occurs that the general overcomes until it dims the personal and afterwards [the general] returns and uncovers [the personal] with greater brightness, and in a picture of a more important life.

These ways of revelation occur in every fact, in every movement, in every action that a man will do in his role as one who worships Hashem...

It is clear that Rav Kook considers that any truly G-d-fearing Jew will be influenced by the general spiritual state and character of Am Yisrael. Because nobody would imagine that such a truly unusual situation could occur, the person’s intentions are not considered, however, people could certainly imagine that the schedule in the Beit Ha’Mikdash might at some point run behind time causing some actions to be undertaken late. A possible difficulty with such an explanation is that in later Mishnayot that exact situation is discussed. Nevertheless, it might be supposed that anything can happen by mistake, but the situation is sufficiently unusual that nobody would expect it to happen.

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