Keritot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Nine

 

Introduction

The final mishnah of our tractate deals with the question of why some things are usually mentioned before others in the Torah.

 

Mishnah Nine

1)      Rabbi Shimon says: lambs are mentioned before goats in all places. You might think that it is because they are choicer, therefore Scripture states, “And if he brings a lamb as his offering,” (Leviticus 4:32) to teach that both are equal.

2)      Turtle-doves are mentioned before young pigeons in all places. You might think that it is because they are choicer, therefore Scripture states, “A young pigeon or a turtle-dove for a hatat,” (Leviticus 12:6) to teach that both are equal.

3)      The father comes before the mother in all places. You might think that it is because the honor due a father is greater than the honor due a mother, therefore Scripture states, “A man shall fear his mother and his father,” (Leviticus 19:3) to teach that both are equal.

a)      But the sages have said: the father comes before the mother in all places, because both a son and his mother are obligated to honor the father.

4)      And so it is also with the study of Torah; if the son has been worthy [to sit] before the teacher, the teacher comes before the father in all places, because both a man and his father are obligated to honor the teacher.

 

Explanation

Section one: In the Torah “lambs” are always mentioned before “goats,” when the two come in one verse. See for instance Exodus 12:5, or Leviticus 5:6. This is not because there is any preference to offer a lamb. The proof of this is Leviticus 4:32, which mentions the lamb, whereas in vs. 28 of the same chapter the goat is mentioned. The Torah switches the order to let us know that the two are equal.

Section two: The same is true with regard to turtle doves and pigeons—see Leviticus 1:14, 5:7; 12:8; 14:22 and others. To teach that they are the same, the Torah switches the order in Leviticus 12:6.

Section three: Generally, a father is mentioned before the mother, for instance Exodus 20:12; 21:15, 17; Leviticus 20:9 and others. To teach that both are equal in terms of honor, the Torah switches the order once in Leviticus 19.

The other rabbis, however, hold that the father does take precedence over the mother. This is because a wife is obligated to honor her husband. Personally, I will admit that this is one of those times that one could say that the Mishnah is best explained when we remember that it was written by men.

Section four: Finally, at the top of the ladder of respect come those who teach Torah. Both the father and son are obligated to honor the teacher of Torah.

 

Congratulations!  We have finished Tractate Keritot!

It is a tradition at this point to thank God for helping us finish learning the tractate and to commit ourselves to going back and relearning it, so that we may not forget it and so that its lessons will stay with us for all of our lives.

The main topic of Keritot was sacrifices brought in cases of doubt, whether the hatat or the asham talui. I think that this subject helps get us into the mindset of Temple worship. A sacrifice is not a penalty but rather an opportunity for atonement. Indeed, one who transgresses intentionally is not allowed to offer a sacrifice to achieve atonement. But one who is not sure whether he transgressed or not may actually be afraid that without the ability to bring a sacrifice, he will never be able to achieve atonement. Tractate Keritot taught us that there were two ways for one to receive atonement for an uncertain sin: the asham talui and Yom Kippur. Both of these institutions remind us that we need and can fix not just the things that we know we did wrong, but those that we might have done wrong as well.

I hope you have enjoyed Keritot. Tomorrow we begin Tractate Meilah.

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