Owning one’s lamb (Daf Yomi Pesachim 90)

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“A person cannot make forbidden something that is not his.”

Celebrating Passover at the time of the temple must have been as expensive an affair as our American Thanksgiving and not for the faint of heart. There would have been the lamb, wood, and accompanying side dishes to secure. Some families might have had the time to do all this work but were strapped for cash, while others could afford to pay someone to assist with the preparations in order to ease the burden of getting it all done. Although there is a difference of opinion in the use of the proceeds, we learn in today’s Daf Yomi portion that one could use his Paschal lamb as a source of funding for the celebration.

Central to today’s discussion is the assertion that someone owns his lamb, with some major qualifications. It’s always complicated when money is involved. I am not sure why the Rabbis further complicated the matter by introducing the idea of payment to a prostitute, because we are told that such an arrangement can be funded through offering a portion of the lamb for such services. And the animal that was given as payment to a prostitute is permitted to be sacrificed under certain conditions. We are told that “although generally, animals given to a prostitute as payment are disqualified for use as offerings, this disqualification does not apply to an animal that was consecrated beforehand.”

We are introduced to the idea of the Paschal lamb as a money maker for an industrious soul, although there is some Rabbinic dispute concerning the use of the proceeds. We are told that according to the opinion of Rabbi HaNasi, the Paschal lamb is considered one’s personal properly, which he can in turn allow additional people to register for it. This includes a prostitute whom he owes payment to, although I suspect hard currency would have been better appreciated because it is difficult to pay one’s rent with a portion of roasted lamb meat.

We are told that Rabbi HaNasi taught that “if the household be too little for the lamb, then he and his neighbor next to his house take one.” This is interpreted to mean that a small household might not be able to afford the basic necessities of the holiday, as all that unleavened bread is expensive, and it is a double sadness to also not be able to afford the bitter herbs.

A person in this situation can sell off portions of the Paschal lamb to his neighbors as a means of financing the expenses of the holiday. There is a difference of opinion, with one stating that the middleman can only sell off portions of his lamb if he lacks the funds to properly feed his family. Rabbi HaNasi, who appears very generous in this passage, says that someone can sell off portions of the lamb to purchase other necessary items. He is even amenable to using the proceeds from the lamb to take care of “all one’s needs”, including the purchase of a shirt.

We received a glimpse today into what a small business venture might have been like at the time of the temple. An industrious person might have acquired a Paschal lamb in hopes of financing the expensive holiday through the selling off of small portions of its meat. And if there was a little extra left after the holiday, maybe he could buy a new shirt.

We are a year into the devastation brought by the pandemic to so many small businesses. After a year of seeing so many disappear, I fear I have become inured to all the boarded-up buildings in my neighborhood that was once flooded with wine bars, restaurants and shops. So many are gone. But there are a few brave restaurants that have recently opened up.

It takes great boldness to open a new business in a pandemic. And I am hoping that like the families that sold off portions of their lambs, these brave souls that are founding businesses today are harbingers of the revival I believe will come soon.


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 https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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