Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III,
Parshas Tzav, p. 948ff.

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 desired time for this activity.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 Rashi4 as to whether this decree was applied to the burning of sacrificial fats and limbs. The Rambam maintains5 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 several authorities,6 when the Torah explicitly states that 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:7 “Do not allow the fat of the festive offering to remain until morning,” the Sages did not have the authority to 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.8 Why then does he maintain that the Sages restricted the burning of the sacrificial limbs and fats to the hours before midnight?

The Rambam’s ruling can be explained as follows: On the verse,9 “And if the meat of the peace offering is eaten on the third day,” our Sages10 note that the verb is repeated, האכל יאכל , and comment: “The verse is speaking about two types of 'eating’ — consumption by man 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 that people should eat their portion of the offering “on the day it was sacrificed.”11 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.12

b) Eating the sacrifice on the day it was offered precludes the transgression of nosar, 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;13 they may not be eaten uncooked.14 If these conditions are not met, one has not performed the mitzvah.

With regard to nosar, 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 nosar.

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).15) 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 nosar.

Therefore, at the outset, the fats 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 fats and the limbs must be burnt at night so that the prohibition against nosar 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 does not have the status of 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.

All the elements of sacrificial worship in the Beis HaMikdash 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 think 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 a person’s greatest source of pleasure. Nevertheless, this satisfaction should be a by-product of one’s commitment to G‑d, and not a goal in its own right.

Based on the above, we can also appreciate why 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 is acceptable. 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. The very foundation of the Torah and its mitzvos is self-transcendence.

May our efforts to “burn the fats” — to rise above selfish forms of pleasure — during the night of exile, lead to the dawn of Redemption. Then the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt and we will again offer all the sacrifices. May this take place in the immediate future.