#Pesachim58: “Is like an ordinary Monday.”
We enter a new chapter today devoted to the sacrifice of the paschal lamb which comes along with a warning from the daily commentary in My Jewish Learning. The warning is that we are in for several weeks of commentary on the roasting of the lamb and the discussion will be very specific and unpleasant at times. I entered the text of this first section of chapter five of the Tractate with a great deal of trepidation. How can I possibly find meaning to my own life with a protracted discussion of a paschal lamb? Should I give up my mission to find one thing of relevance each day and simply read the text for background on what life was like when the temple stood Jerusalem?
What I found today was a discussion on the right time for the twice per day ordinary sacrificial offerings when there is the additional annual offering of the paschal lamb on Passover. There is a difference of opinion between the Rabbis on the timing of the afternoon “business-as-usual” offering on Passover. The Gemara opens the discussion by asking “From where are these matters derived, i.e., that the daily afternoon offering is sacrificed between eight and a half hours of the day and nine and a half hours?”
It should be remembered that there were no clocks or standard methods to tell time when the sacrifices were offered in the temple. The best the Rabbis could do in offering guidance was to look to the stars in the sky or the shadows on the ground or divide the day into even increments. They were attempting to find order in their world and to provide everything with its proper time and place. They provided extremely specific guidance on the afternoon sacrifice depending on what day it was – whether it was an ordinary Monday or the Sabbath or Passover Eve.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi states that the afternoon offering should be during the period that begins at two and a half hours after midday and ends two and a half hours before sunset. Rava offers his opinion: the proper time for the daily afternoon offering is from “when the sun beings to descend westward so that the evening shadows slant eastward, shortly after midday.” It is that time in mid-afternoon when all the sins of the previous night catch up with you and if you did not get enough sleep or ate the wrong food you will be overcome with a wave of exhaustion. It is the moment I reach for an extra cup of coffee.
The disagreement among the Rabbis on timing of offerings vary according to the day and occasion. The Koren Talmud provides a chart that shows the difference of opinion on when the afternoon sacrifice should occur on an ordinary weekday, any standard Shabbat, Passover eve that occurs on Shabbat eve or Shabbat, or when it occurs any other day of the week. The difference of opinion varies by one hour in most instances and given how imperfect timekeeping was at the time, I wonder how material the debate among the Rabbis truly was.
The critical problem they were solving for was how to get all the daily offerings in, including the voluntary ones that were not associated with transgressions, when there was the added duty to sacrifice a lamb on Passover. If Passover eve occurs on Shabbat we are told that it is as if it occurred on an ordinary Monday and that no distinction should be made. The Gemara channels Rava’s opinion that “it is like an ordinary Monday.”
The one thing that resonated with me today is the concept of an “ordinary Monday.” I have been guilty of living my life not for the ordinary Mondays that start each week with the promise of accomplishing something during the days ahead. I do not always appreciate my “ordinary life” and spend too much time dreaming of a future vacation or trip somewhere out there in the world. And since the pandemic hit and I have been spending most of my days in my one-bedroom apartment, my life has been mostly “ordinary Mondays.”
Today’s reading with its very specific discussion from another time and place of sacrifices that have no real meaning to my modern life, is a reminder of the importance of living in the here and now, and not for the special festival days in the Talmud, or trips abroad or even ordinary Sunday afternoons. I do not know when the world will open up again, but I know it eventually will, and if there has been anything gained from this year in quarantine, it has been the appreciation for all the ordinary Mondays.