The House of Chonyo

Menachot (13:1) | Alex Tsykin | 14 years ago

Our Mishnah tells us that if one were to make a neder to bring a korban and then bring it in Beit Chonyo, the obligation has not been fulfilled, and (according to Bartenura) the prohibition of bringing a korban outside of the Beit Ha’Mikdash has been violated. Two questions arise from the Mishnah: what is Beit Chonyo and why would we have thought that a korban can be brought there when it seems obvious that it could not?

The first question is easily answered from a Beraita brought in the Gemara (109b). Chonyo was the second son of Shimon Hatzadik, but he knew more of the halachot of the service in the temple than his elder brother Shim’i (according to the Tosfot he had great awe of heaven) and as a result his father passed over Shim’i to be the next kohen gadol in favour of Chonyo. Chonyo nevertheless gave his brother the position; however, he became jealous and sought to have Shim’i killed by the other kohanim by dressing him as a woman. When the other kohanim learned of the plot, they tried to kill Chonyo, so he ran to where he built another temple and offered burnt offerings there to Hashem.

This story however, is extremely problematic in of itself. How is it that someone who was righteous enough that one of the most righteous men of the entire second temple period felt he should be the next kohen gadol, would commit such a grave sin as to try to have his own brother killed out of jealousy? Also, how is it that he did not obey the prohibition against offering sacrifices outside ?

To answer the first question, we could say either that Shimon Hatzadik was blinded by his love for his son, or alternatively that indeed Chonyo was very righteous but momentarily failed to restrain himself (we know from the Gemara in Sukkah 52a that a tzaddik has greater yetzer hara than others). However, the second question about Chonyo is more difficult to answer. One possible answer given by the Tosfot is that he only brought sacrifices made by non-Jews.

The Beit Ha’Mikdash similar status to the Mishkan and Hashem had the Mishkan built so as to dwell among Am Yisrael (see Exodus 25:8). If so, it can be assumed that the sacrifices brought there were also intended to bring God closer to us, to facilitate the closeness, for otherwise there would be no reason to prohibit sacrifices made outside the Beit Ha’Mikdash. The Sefer HaChinnuch states that the reason for the prohibition is to prevent us from making a sacrifice in a place where we will not be suitably humble before Hashem. Because Hashem chose the place for us to bring korbanot, he instilled in that place a spirit which allows us to gain greater repentance there than in other places. To prevent us from losing this benefit, he prohibited us from bringing sacrifices elsewhere. Non-Jews can bring sacrifices as we see in the pasuk: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Yeshayahu 56:7) Nevertheless, they do not have a requirement to do so because their sacrifices are not a necessary part of their connection to Hashem. If so, according to the reason for the prohibition as brought in the Sefer HaChinnuch, because their sacrifices are an extra observance, the Torah was less strict with them with regard to the special humility one must have at the time of bringing a korban. It is also possible that because the Mishkan and Mikdash were built in part to facilitate the relationship of Am Yisrael with Hashem, they do not have the same effect on people not part of that relationship.

This allows us to answer the second question we asked of the Mishnah at the beginning. We might have thought that the neder, a sacrifice which is inherently optional, would also not require the same level of humility as an ordinary sacrifice, and as such would not be covered by the prohibition, however the Torah chose not to differentiate, perhaps because we would still want to reach the highest level of service to Hashem that we can. Non-Jews, on the other hand, who do not have any such imperative to serve Hashem at the highest level possible, and in any case, possibly obtain no benefit from bringing their sacrifices to Jerusalem, have no prohibition on bringing sacrifices elsewhere.

Alternatively, it may be that because Yeshayahu predicted the rise of the temple in (“In that day shall there be an altar to the L-rd in the midst of the , and a pillar at the border thereof to the L-rd.” Yeshayahu ), it might have been assumed that the temple there had divine sanction as a place of worship.


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