Today’s discussion turns to whether one can sacrifice the Paschal lamb when the eve of Passover occurs on Shabbat. Rabbi Akiva provides his opinion to Rabbi Eliezer, which falls on the stringent side of the aisle, and states that Passover does not override Shabbat. Rabbi Eliezer questions his friend and says, “Akiva, how can you say this?” He quotes a passage from the Book of Numbers (9:2): “Let the children of Israel offer the Paschal lamb in its appointed time.” The key to Eliezer’s argument is the phrase “at its appointed time” in which he says the “appointed time” must be honored on the fourteen on Nisan, regardless of if it occurs on Shabbat.
We are left pondering, “Akiva, how can you say this?” Rabbi Akiva, ever the one with practical solutions, answered that although the paschal lamb must be slaughtered on the fourteenth of Nisan, there was no fixed time. A resolution could be found with the transport of the animal to the temple before Shabbat. He states that any prohibited labor associated with a sacrifice that can be performed on the eve of Shabbat would not override Shabbat. This holds true for carrying the animal to the temple, but not for the slaughter of the animal, which cannot override Shabbat.
Today’s reading includes a story about another kind, learned, and patient sage, Hillel. The sons of Beteira were confused on whether they could offer the sacrifice of the paschal lamb when Passover collided on the calendar with Shabbat. It so happened that Hillel was visiting Jerusalem at the time, and the Beteira brothers approached him with their dilemma. Hillel, who studied with Shemaya and Avtalyon in Israel, answered their question by analyzing the twice-per day offerings that happen every day of the week, including Shabbat. He said that the key phrase “its appointed time” applies to both the daily offerings and the paschal lamb. He concluded that if the daily and morning offerings are made on Shabbat, for a total of “more than two hundred sacrifices a year that override Shabbat,” then it is permissible to override Shabbat with the offering of the paschal lamb on Passover eve.
There was so much admiration for Hillel’s analysis, that he was anointed to the role of Nasi (head of the highest court in Jerusalem at the time), and continued to preach the laws of Passover to enraptured scholars. But instead of soaking up the admiration, he rebuked the students and asked them why they would appoint a visitor from Babylonia Nasi, when the great scholars, Shemaya and Avtalyon, reside right there in their hometown of Israel. What is interesting about the rebuke is that Hillel accused the students of being “lazy” for seemingly not respecting the two scholars.
The group posed another question to Hillel: what should one do if he forgot to bring a knife on the eve of Shabbat in order to slaughter the paschal lamb? Hillel said that he had forgotten the answer. I imagine a dismissal wave of his hand. This appears to be the way Hillel expressed his exasperation with the students, which was out of character; even the sage who was considered among the more generous with his time and empathy, appeared to have given into a funky mood.
The next day, Hillel observes lambs and goats being led to the slaughter with knives stuck between their wool and horns. He sees the answer to the dilemma of carrying a knife on Shabbat in this scene of ordinary people who have found a clever solution. He tells the students that he remembered the answer to their query from Shemaya and Avtalyon teachings.
This story provides us with a great deal of guidance on the human character. We are told that if someone acts in a haughty manner, “his wisdom departs.” What does this really mean? Someone may be so consumed with emotion, such as annoyance, or frustration or even anger, that he cannot think clearly and loses his perspective when he is in the heat of the moment.
We are told that “anyone who acts haughtily, if he is a Torah scholar, his wisdom departs from him; and if he is a prophet, his prophecy departs from him.” Hillel, who had such deep knowledge about all things Passover, forgot a simple fact because he acted “haughtily” and “was punished for his haughtiness by forgetting the law.” We all know what it is like to be consumed so strongly by one emotion that we lose perspective and see the world through our own narrowed vision.
I like to think that there is another lesson to this story. Hillel was greatly revered for his wisdom, patience and gentle nature. But he was a human being, and he was not immune from human emotions. Perhaps when he lost patience with his students he was exhausted from the trip from Babylonia or had family issues or was facing challenges in his yeshiva back home. We are living through such fraught times and any human being (which is all of us!) would be forgiven if every once in a while we lose ourselves in anger, frustration, or self-indulgence.
We need to tell ourselves that is alright to take a moment, feel our emotions, and then like the great sage Hillel, get over it. Take a deep three-part yoga breath and have faith that everything will be alright in its appointed time.