The Mishnah (6:5) describes the journey travelled by the person entrusted with guiding the se’ir ha’mishtaleach through the desert to the cliff face. The Mishnah explains that the destination was twelve mil (approximately twelve kilometres) away from Yerushalaim. For the first ten mil there were stations set up for him. As he approached these booths he would be greeted by a person who would offer him both food and water. (These same people would walk with him to the next booth.)
When reading the above quoted Mishnah, one must remember that it refers to Yom Kippur where eating and drinking is strictly forbidden. Why were they then offering the guide food? The Gemara (Yoma 67a) explains that the guide never once accept the offer. So why offer him anything at all? The Gemara explains that “someone who has bread in his basket does not compare to someone who does not have bread in his basket.” The simple understanding is that the mere fact that food was made available to him would have a psychological effect on him, alleviating any hunger.
The Meiri quotes the Yerushalmi (Yoma 6:5) to explain the Gemara’s statement in a slightly different manner (see also the Maharsha). The Yerushalmi explains that the offer itself strengthened the guide as the yetzer ha’rah (evil inclination) only desires that which is forbidden to him. In other words this offer had more than just a psychological effect, but rather completely eliminated the drive of the yetzer ha’rah.
One question worth asking is what if the guide did indeed need to eat? Would he be allowed? Presumably, for the offer to have the above described desired affect, eating and drinking should indeed truly be permitted if required. The Rambam (Avodat Yom HaKippurim 3:7) writes that if the guide became weak and needed to eat he would be allowed (see also the Tosfot Yeshanim).
The Tiferet Yisrael grapples with this ruling raising the following questions. Firstly, the Gemara (Yoma 65a) explains that once the blood from the se’ir le’Hashem has been sprinkled, sending out the se’ir ha’mishtaleach is no longer an essential avodah (i.e., it is not me’akev). Therefore the positive commandment of the se’ir ha’mishtaleach should not override his personal prohibition of eating (which is punishable by karet). Secondly, the Gemara (Yoma 66b) explicitly states that if the guide falls ill, someone else takes his place! (See also Rambam Avodat Yom HaKippurim 5:20.)
The Tiferet Yisrael explains that the rule that someone else should take the place of the ill guide is only if he is completely incapable of completing the task. If however he just needs to eat some food to revive his strength then he would be allowed. Why? The Gemara (Yoma 66b) focus on the following pasuk: “Aharon shall lean his two hands upon the head of the living he-goat and confess upon it all the iniquities of the Bnei Yisrael… and send it with a designated man (ish iti) to the desert” (Vayikra ). The Gemara explain:
“’ish’ – serves to enable a non-kohen [in being the guide]. ‘Iti’ – teaches that the guide should be designated before Yom Kippur; ‘iti’ – [it is always sent out] even on Shabbat [such that if the goat fell ill the guide would carry it]; ‘iti’ – even [if the guide] become tameh [he still enters the azarah, which is ordinarily prohibited for someone who is tameh, to retrieve the se’ir ha’mishtaleach as part of his task]”
In other words the Torah’s description of the guide as an “ish iti” teaches that the prohibitions of Shabbat and entering the Beit Ha’Mikdash while tameh are overridden if they would stand in the way of performing his task. Here too, if the guide becomes so weak that he needs food in order to carry out the task, he would be permitted to eat. He further explains that this is indeed the case that whenever the Torah explicitly directs the performance of a particular activity, there is never a question of whether a positive commandment can override a negative commandment which is punishable by karet. (He cites Yibum and avodah on Shabbat as other such examples.)
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