This week we began learning masechet Shevuot. While the bulk of the masechet deals with the laws of oaths, much of our attention this week was related to the prohibition of entering the Beit HaMikdash or consuming kodshim in a state of tumah. We learnt that if one was aware of his tumah, then entered the Beit HaMikdash having forgotten his situation and only later remembered, he would be required to bring a korban oleh v’ored. This is a korban whose requirement varies with the financial standing of the person concerned. The Bartenura explains that a wealthy person was required to bring a sin offering from an animal; a poor person brought a pair of birds, one chatat and one olah; and an even poorer person would be able to bring a mincha offering (from flour).
The Tifferet Yisrael notes that this type of korbanis unique and was only offered by one of five people. The first is one that swears falsely, denying knowledge that was required for a testimony (shmiat kol). The second is one who makes a false oath, regarding the past or future (shevuat bitui). The thirds is our case mentioned above regarding tumah. Finally there is a woman who has given birth (yoledet) and a metzorah.1
The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the requirement of a korban oleh ve’yored is an indication of the severity of the situation that obligated it. Normally, if one cannot afford to bring a sin offering they wait until they have the finances. For these people however, there can be no delay and a sin offering must be brought and the flexibility ensures it. Why?
In a shevuat bitui, the act (the oath) in and of itself is not prohibited. It is dependent on the performance of another action. If we look at that act in isolation, there is likely to be nothing wrong with. It is the combination of the two that creates the problem. Similarly, with a shevuat edut, denying knowledge of an incident is not prohibited, unless of course he does know. A similar pattern is found with our case of tumat mikdash. Becoming tameh violates no prohibition and a tahor person is allowed to enter the Beit HaMikdash. Once again it is a combination of two factors that creates the prohibition. Consequently, in the mind of the person concerned the violation is minor. The person is therefore unlikely to contemplate the gravity of the sin and runs the risk of not performing a complete teshuva. The response therefore for such sins must be swift.
The issue with the yoledet and the metzora is however different – it is the frequency. Childbirth, it goes without saying, is not a rare occurrence. Similarly one of the causes of tzaraat is a lashon ha’rah which is a real problem that raises its head on a daily basis. The Torah therefore also treats them seriously requiring a korban as soon as possible.
The Tifferet Yisrael however notes that the difference between these last two is that the option of a mincha offering is not available. Meaning that someone who could not afford the bird offering would be able to wait. He explains that since these two people have already suffered enduring physical pain, the Torah lightened its approach relative to the other three sins.
1 The Tifferet Yisrael provides the acronym שבטים**to remember the five categories: שמיעת קול, בטוי שפתיים, טומאת מקדש וקודשיו, יולדת,
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