Another run at intention (Daf Yomi Pesachim 60)

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“For its own purpose and for a different purpose.”

The concept of intention permeates many of the daily Daf Yomi readings. We learned back in the first Tractate that blessings required both intention and attention. There have been clarifications along the way, with passages suggesting that in addition to intention, appearances matter, and one should not present the appearance of a transgression. We recently read in this Tractate that the performing of a mitzvah counted even if it was for commercial gain, although not all the Rabbis agreed on this point.

Today’s convoluted and head-spinning reading deals with the case of the sacrifice of a paschal lamb that is slated for the annual Passover ritual, but is slaughtered for a different purpose such as a peace offering. The sacrifice is comprised of four rites: the slaughter of the lamb, the receiving of the blood, the carrying of the blood to the alter and the sprinkling of it on the alter. And dare I say that the picture in the Koren Talmud of two gentlemen sprinkling blood on the alter from wooden bowls really turned my stomach. What must the temple have smelled like with all this blood covering its inner alters? And was the air inside thick with smoke from the roasting of slaughtered lambs? And how could all this bloodletting and slaughtering actually absolve someone of any transgressions they have committed?

At the heart of the discussion of intention is trust, although I imagine there was a record somewhere of the allocation of paschal lambs for the Passover holiday. Intention behind the four rituals mattered and one must trust that the people who slaughtered the lamb and carried its blood to the temple alter and painted the alter with blood from tipped-over bowls intended all along that the sacrifice be for a Passover offering rather than for some other purpose.

If the original plans changed and the lamb that was slated for Passover was instead offered as peace-offering the entire ritual would be disqualified. But who would know if the person executing the sacrifice said to himself that the lamb was really a peace-offering for a transgression he committed the previous day? If any step along the way during the execution of the four slaughtering rituals was tainted by a lack of proper intention, the offering would be disqualified. It stands to reason that if an improper intention occurs during the first phase – the slaughter — then all the downstream rituals are disqualified.

Things become somewhat more complicated if someone had different intentions during two different sacrifices and the Rabbis examine a series of combinations of slaughtering and receiving, carrying and sprinkling of blood. What if someone slaughtered a Paschal lamb for a different purpose such as a peace-offering but carried out all the duties regarding the poor animal’s blood for its intended purpose (i.e., the Passover offering)? Would the offering be disqualified? The question is not easily resolved and is answered with another question, which seems like a flat-footed legal tactic. But the safest answer despite all the back and forth is that the offering is disqualified and intention matters.

We are introduced to a new concept that I am calling retrospective intention.  The case of slaughtering the paschal lamb for its intended purpose and sprinkling the blood for a different purpose is considered. We are told that “one can intend from one rite to another rite” and “disqualify an offering through an improper intention about an upcoming rite while performing an earlier rite.”  And once again, the sneaky Gemara leaves the question unresolved and answers with yet another one. There are many additional permutations, but if there is a paschal lamb involved that is not used for its intended purpose on Passover, it is disqualified.

I have to be honest about the recent readings in this Tractate. I am struggling with the concept of animal sacrifice but attempting to plough through in order to understand how an ancient culture lived. I am repulsed from imagining what the temple must have smelled and looked like with blood splattered on the alter and rising smoke from roasting animals. In my prior imagination, I had the image of the temple as a golden haven that represented everything pure on earth. But now I have the vision from the Koren Talmud of men swinging bowls of blood on the temple alter.

I struggle with how an animal sacrifice can absolve someone of anything. I know it was a different time, but how can the sacrifice of a glorious animal help redeem one’s transgressions, and how can it clear away any ill intentions in their heart? This is why there are so many skeptics about religious practices. It is hard to rectify the challenges and hardships of living a righteous life with the slaughtering of such beautiful animals with their angelic faces.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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