This Hyssop?

Parah (3:10) | Yisrael Bankier | 8 days ago

During this week's Mishnayot we learnt about the slaughter and burning of the parah aduma. The Mishnah (3:10) teaches that after the cow cracked open due to the heat, the kohen would take the cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson thread, and place them in the fire. Prior to doing so, the Mishnah explains that the kohen would seek confirmation three times for each of the three items, prior to throwing them in the fire. Why was this necessary?

The Bartenura explains that since there are many species of hyssop and cedar wood, only one of which is valid, and there are many ways to produce the thread, the kohen sought confirmation that these were the ingredients as required by the Torah.

The Tifferet Yisrael (Yachin 84) elaborates further. The kohen asked three times to get permission from Beit Din to use these specific items. He continues that it was necessary to do it in this public manner since the tzedukim accepted all species of hyssop and cedar wood. Consequently, there was a public show that the kohen used only the species that were accepted according to the rabbinic tradition. We have already learnt that there was a heated debate whether the kohen charged with burning the parah could be a tevul yom. The Chachamim would make the kohen tameh on the day of the burning and he would immerse in a mikveh to ensure he was a tevul yom, as a rejection of the tzedukim. According the Tifferet Yisrael the Mishnah is including further details that were debated and needed to be publicly rejected.

The Tifferet Yisrael (Boaz 13) continues that the Tosefta records that he also confirmed three times before throwing the ingredients into the fire. He explains that Chazal understood that when the Torah instructs that they be thrown "inside" (toch) the burning cow, it means that it could only be thrown once the cow cracked open. Consequently, the kohen was also confirming that the time to do so had arrived, again, consistent with the rabbinic tradition. We find that it was only those disputed details that required this public confirmation. The Tifferet Yisrael uses this explanation to answer the Tosfot Yom Tov's question of why the confirmation was not performed during the drawing of the spring water or sprinkling of the ashes. The Tifferet Yisrael answers that it was unnecessary since those details were not the subject of debate. The Tifferet Yisrael adds however that the fact that these details were debated was not reason enough alone, but rather it was because they were performed in public that it necessitated the public display.

The Mishnah Achrona however questions the above reasoning. We have leart that the time of the harvest for the korban omer was also debated between the Chachamim and the tzedukim, with the Chachamim arguing the omer was offered the second day of Pesach and the tzedukim arguing it was only offered on a Sunday. There also, we learnt that the kohen would confirm with the Beit Din three times regarding the various details. However, in that case it was regarding the sickle and basket. There are no rabbinic requirements about which sickle and basket must be used and it was certainly not the subject to debate. Instead, the Mishnah Achrona explains that confirming each detail was to increase the public display. So while the publicity was needed to reject position of the tzedukim regarding the process in general, the confirmation of each details was simply to increase the publicity.

The Rosh explains that the questions were to ask permission and not as confirmation of the detail. Why was that necessary? Perhaps the Rosh understands the confirmation of the rabbinic tradition and rejection of the tzedukim was best expressed not just by announcing the that the details were consistent with the rabbinic tradition. Instead, it is by asking permission from them before acting; by submitting to their authority.

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