When Can Our Sages Enforce Restrictions?

On the verse:1 “This is the law of the burnt offering… [It shall remain on] the altar’s hearth throughout the night,” Rashi comments: “This comes to teach that burning the fats and limbs of the sacrifices is permitted throughout the night.” According to Scriptural law, an attempt should be made to burn all the portions of the sacrifice during the day; this is the appropriate time.2 After the fact, however, if the other services associated with the sacrifice were performed during the day, one may burn the fats and limbs at night.

Our Sages3 placed restrictions on several mitzvos fulfilled during the night. Although Scriptural law permits these activities until daybreak, our Sages required that they be performed before midnight in order to “place a distance between a person and sin.”

There is a difference of opinion between the Rambam and Rashi as to whether this decree was applied to the burning of sacrificial fats and limbs. The Rambam maintains4 that the Sages included this in their restriction, while Rashi argues that the Sages left the Scriptural law unchanged.

Rashi’s opinion can be explained on the basis of a distinction between the burning of fats and limbs and the other mitzvos. According to many authorities,5when the Torah explicitly says an activity is permitted, our Sages cannot prohibit it. Since the Torah says the fats and limbs can be burnt “throughout the night,” and states:6 “Do not allow the fat of the festive offering to remain until morning,” the Sages did not institute a prohibition in this regard.

Following this logic, the Rambam’ s ruling becomes difficult to understand. Several acharonim maintain that the Rambam accepts the above principle.7 Why then does he maintain that the Sages restricted the burning of the sacrificial limbs and fats to the hours before midnight?

Two Dimensions of the Consumption of a Sacrifice

On the verse,8 “And if the meat of the peace offering is eaten on the third day,” our Sages9 note that the verb is repeated, האכל יאכל , and comment: “The verse is speaking about two types of eating consumption by man (partaking of the portions of the sacrifice given to the priests and the owners) and consumption by the fire of the altar.” On this basis, the Talmud develops a parallel between partaking of sacrificial meat and burning portions of the sacrifice on the altar.

With regard to consumption of the sacrifices by man, there is also a mitzvah these portions of the offering should be eaten “on the day it was sacrificed.”10 Thus, there are two dimensions to the human consumption of a sacrifice at the appropriate time:

a) The positive mitzvah of partaking of the sacrifice. This is reflected in the blessing recited before eating from an offering.11

b) Eating the sacrifice on the day it was offered precludes the transgression of notar, leaving sacrificial meat until the following morning.

These two dimensions are not entirely matching. Several conditions must be met with regard to the priests’ partaking of the sacrifices: e.g., they must be eaten in a manner which befits people of stature;12 they may not be eaten uncooked.13 If these conditions are not met, one has not performed the mitzvah.

With regard to notar, by contrast, it makes no difference how one partakes of the sacrifice; as long as the meat does not remain, one has not violated the prohibition.

Parallels to these two dimensions of the human consumption of sacrificial meat exist with regard to the consumption of the fats and limbs by the fire of the altar. Thus burning the fats and limbs of the sacrifice on the altar:

a) is one of the services involved in offering the sacrifices, contributing a positive quality;

b) precludes the sin of notar.

Based on the above, it is possible to explain why at the outset, one should burn the fats and limbs during the day, and only after the fact is it acceptable to burn them during the night. {Indeed, it is rare to find instances in which Scriptural law makes a distinction between “at the outset” לכתחילה and “after the fact” בדיעבד.14 } The positive dimension burning the fats and limbs must (like all other services associated with the sacrifices) be performed during the day. The license which the Torah grants to burn the fats and limbs throughout the night is merely to prevent the sin of notar.

Therefore, at the outset, the fat and the limbs must be burnt during the day as part of and during the time set aside for the service of offering the sacrifices. If that was not performed, the fat and the limbs must be burnt at night so that the prohibition against notar will be observed.

This enables us to explain the ruling of the Rambam mentioned previously. The Rambam maintains in contrast to the opinion of the Turei Zahav that the principle which holds that the Sages have no power to forbid something which the Torah permits applies only with regard to the observance of mitzvos. When the Torah explicitly states that a mitzvah should be performed, our Sages do not have the power to rule that it should not.

But when a mitzvah is not involved, (and burning the fats and limbs at night is not considered a mitzvah), the Sages do have the power to enforce a restriction. Although the Torah states that these activities can be performed throughout the night, our Sages restricted their performance to the hours before midnight.

Dedicating Our Pleasure to G‑d

The Ramban15 explains that the sacrifice of an animal atones for a person’s improper conduct because the person offering the sacrifice repents, and realizes that whatever is being done to the animal should have been done to him. It is merely that G‑d, in His kindness, allowed the animal to be offered in his stead. It thus follows that all the elements of sacrificial worship have parallels in our own Divine service.

Fat is an analogy for satisfaction.16 And we are commanded:17 “All the fat [should be offered] to G‑d,” implying that a Jew must anchor his powers of pleasure and satisfaction to G‑dliness.

One might have thought that this refers only to the pleasure derived from material things, for we are taught that one’s involvement in material affairs should be “as if compelled by a demon.”18 But what could be wrong with deriving pleasure from the observance of mitzvos and other holy matters?

We can take a lesson from the burning of fats on the altar. Although partaking of the sacrifices is a mitzvah, we may not eat from them until we have seen to the burning of their fats. This teaches us that we can be sure of having fulfilled a mitzvah in the proper way only after we have given all our satisfaction (including that derived from the mitzvah itself) to G‑d. When a person has not dedicated his satisfaction to G‑d, it is possible that he is fulfilling the mitzvah, not because the Shulchan Aruch orders its observance, but because of the satisfaction it brings.

One must feel energy and vitality in the observance of the mitzvos, observing them not simply out of compulsion, but out of a genuine love for G‑d. The fact that one is able to fulfill G‑d’s will should be the greatest source of pleasure. Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure that one takes pleasure in fulfilling G‑d’s will, and not from ancillary dimensions of the observance of mitzvos.

Spiritual Satisfaction May Also Present Pitfalls

Based on the above, we can appreciate that the mitzvah of burning the sacrificial fats applies only during the day, and the burning of fats at night is only to compensate for not burning them earlier.

With regard to our Divine service, “day” refers to the times when we are occupied with the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvos, as reflected in the analogy:19 “A mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah, light.” Night and darkness, by contrast, represent times when a person is not occupied with the Torah or its mitzvos, but with material concerns.

The lesson about dedicating the fat our potential for pleasure and satisfaction to G‑d applies primarily during the day. When it comes to material things, it is obvious that a person should not seek his own pleasure, but should perform “[all his deeds] for the sake of heaven.”20 When it comes to the Torah and its mitzvos, however, it is possible that a person might feel that his motives are not important; as long as he studies the Torah and performs its mitzvos, it’s okay. And he will rationalize his behavior quoting our Sages:21 “A person should always occupy himself in the Torah and its mitzvos… [even] for a selfish intent.”

Such a person has to be taught: The fats must first be offered on the altar.

For example, when one develops a new concept in Torah thought, one experiences great pleasure. That pleasure, however, has to be dedicated to G‑d. As an expression of this dedication, if the new concept is contradicted by one of the Rishonim or Achronim ,22 one must be willing to sacrifice his “fat,” and rethink his idea. For his objective must be to appreciate the true intent of the law, not to demonstrate his own greatness.

To cite a parallel: Rabbeinu Yonah23 explains that a conditional guilt offering is more expensive than a sin offering because a sin offering is brought when one is certain one has transgressed, while a conditional guilt offering is brought when one is in doubt. Since in the latter case one might err and think that atonement is not necessary, the gravity of the situation must be emphasized. Similarly, in the present instance, it is the satisfaction associated with the Torah and its mitzvos enjoyment which appears harmless to which our attention must be directed.

Day and Night in Our Divine Service

Alternatively, it is possible to explain the analogies of day and night on a deeper plane, enabling us to understand why offering the fats during the day is a positive mitzvah, while offering them at night serves merely to preclude sin.

In addition to the interpretation mentioned above, day and night can be seen as analogies for a person’s spiritual state. Day refers to a time when one feels the G‑dly light in his soul. This applies not only when he is involved in the observance of Torah and mitzvos, G‑d’s will and His wisdom,24 but also when involved in material activities. Even in the worldly sphere, he serves G‑d, following the dictum:25 “Know Him in all your ways.” To cite an example, when tzaddikim partake of food, their eating serves a higher purpose than humanity’s ordinary efforts at refinement; “A tzaddik eats for the satisfaction of his soul.”26

Night, by contrast, refers to a condition in which a person does not feel G‑dliness. Therefore his need to engage in material things generates a constant struggle to serve G‑d27 rather than indulge his desires. Moreover, even when he is involved in studying Torah and observing its mitzvos, he must labor to remain properly motivated. For the law is enclothed in mortal intellect, and the mitzvos involve material entities and the potentials of our animal soul. And so it is necessary to strive that one study lishmah, only for the sake of the Torah. Similarly, our observance of the mitzvos must be for G‑d’s sake, and not for our own.

The concept of burning the fats on the altar dedicating our satisfaction to G‑d applies both day and night. But there is a difference. When a person’s Divine service is that of “day,” all the satisfaction he feels not only that derived from observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, but also that which comes from worldly things is an expression of holiness, “know[ing] G‑d in all His ways.”

In contrast, those whose Divine service are on the plane of night, and whose perception is obscured by their animal souls, cannot transform all the pleasure they feel into an expression of G‑dliness. Instead, their Divine service concentrates on breaking their nature, not indulging in superfluous pleasures and desires. They endeavor never to engage in a material activity for the sake of that activity itself; instead, they seek that their intent be “for the sake of heaven.” Thus their “burning of the fats” is of a preventive nature, holding back from indulgence in permitted matters, because for them indulgence in permitted matters all too often leads to indulgence in forbidden matters.

Similarly, with regard to the study of the Torah, since they cannot summon up a genuine commitment to study lishmah, they must struggle to prevent themselves from relying on their mortal reasoning and instead seek out the true intent of the Law. For mortal reason can lead a person to distort the Torah’s intent. Thus here as well and similarly with regard to the observance of mitzvos one’s efforts are aimed at avoiding negative consequences.

A Catalyst For Redemption

There is an advantage to the Divine service of iscafia, breaking evil, over the Divine service of the righteous.

To cite a parallel: the Divine service involved in refining the body and the animal soul is superior to the devotion of the soul before its descent to this world. Although the soul had a more refined and elevated perception of G‑d in the spiritual plane, its accomplishments in this material world are greater.

Similarly, when considering the Divine service of souls on this plane, there is an advantage to the service performed by benonim over that performed by tzaddikim.28

There is also an allusion to this in the verse “Do not allow the fat of the festive offering to remain until the morning.” The phrase “Do not allow,” i.e., to avoid negative influences by refining material entities, prefigures “the morning” the ultimate dawn, the era when “the sun will no longer serve you for the light of day…. Instead, G‑d will be your eternal light.”29

The refinement of the body and the animal soul in this material world will bring about the Future Redemption led by Mashiach.30 May it come speedily, in our days.

(Adapted from Sichos Yud-Tes Kislev, 5711)