Torah Sparks

United Synagogue (USCJ) is proud and delighted to bring you Torah Sparks, with insights and learning materials on the Parasha (Torah portion) of the week. Torah Sparks is produced by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Each week there will be a Dvar Torah - a discussion on some aspect of the reading, by CY faculty, alumni and friends; a Vort - a short thought from Chasidic rebbes or other thinkers about some point in the text; and Table Talk - questions to stimulate discussion on the Parsha around the Shabbat table. Torah Sparks is available here on the Conservative Yeshiva's Shiurim Online Beit Midrash website, as well as by subscription to weekly graphical emails. Please select the Parasha you would like to see - it will display articles from each year. A printable PDF is linked at the end of each week's presentation.


Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah One   Introduction Our mishnah teaches that donkeys owned, or even partially owned, by non-Jews are exempt from the obligation to have their first-born redeemed.   Mishnah One 1)      [An Israelite] who buys a fetus of a donkey belonging to a non-Jew or who sells one to him, although this is […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah deals with cases where the offspring of an animal is not the same species as the mother.   Mishnah Two 1)      If a cow gave birth to a species of donkey, or a donkey gave birth to a species of horse, it is exempt from [the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah introduces the complication of a donkey that gives birth to twins and it is unknown which came out first—the male donkey, in which case the owner would be liable to redeem the donkey, or a female donkey, in which case the owner would not be liable. […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah Four   Introduction The first part of this mishnah is a continuation of yesterday’s mishnah. In these cases two animals give birth, one which had previously given birth and one which had not. The second half of the mishnah begins to discuss the lamb used to redeem the donkey. Mishnah Three 1)      […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah Five   Introduction This mishnah provides limits as to what type of animal can be used to redeem the first-born of a donkey.   Mishnah Five 1)      We do not redeem with a calf, a wild animal, an animal slaughtered, a terefah, kilayim (a mixed breed) or a koy.   2)      […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 6

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah Six   Mishnah Six 1)      If one sets aside [a lamb] for the redemption of the first-birth of a donkey and it died: a)      Rabbi Eliezer says: he is responsible as is the case with the five selas for the redemption of the first-born. b)      But the sages say: he is […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 1, Mishnah 7

Bekhorot, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Our mishnah begins by discussing a person who does not wish to redeem his first-born donkey by giving a lamb to the priest. It continues by dealing with a variety of other issues in which one way of performing a mitzvah takes priority over another way.   Mishnah […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah One   Introduction Chapter two begins to discuss the first-born of a pure animal, such as a cow. This first-born is holy and must be sacrificed and the meat is eaten by the priests. If it is blemished, it must still be given to the priest, but it need not be […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two     Introduction This mishnah and tomorrow’s mishnah are an exact replica of Hullin 10:2. They are brought here in Tractate Bekhorot because they have some rules concerning bekhorot. My commentary, including the following introduction, is the same as that found in Hullin. An animal that has a permanent physical […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Three   Mishnah Three All [consecrated animals] whose consecration preceded their permanent, or their impermanent blemish [preceded] their consecration and subsequently they contracted a permanent blemish, and they were redeemed: 1)      Are exempt from the law of the firstling, and from priestly gifts; 2)      And they are not like unconsecrated animals […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Four   Introduction Our mishnah discusses a Jew who receives a flock of sheep or goats from a non-Jew under “iron terms.” What this means is that all responsibility for the flock lies with the Jew, and he pays the non-Jew a fixed sum per year in return for use of […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 5

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Five   Mishnah Five 1)      If a ewe gave birth to what looked like a kid, or a [female] goat gave birth to what looked like a lamb, it is exempt from [the law of] the first born. 2)      But if it some of the signs of [its mother] it is […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 6

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah discusses cases where the ewe seems to give birth to two first-borns at the same time.   Mishnah Six 1)      If a ewe which never before had given birth bore two males and both heads came forth simultaneously: a)      Rabbi Yose the Galilean says: both belong […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 7

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Our mishnah is similar to yesterday’s mishnah except that today’s mishnah deals with two sheep that had never given birth before, whereas yesterday’s mishnah dealt with one ewe that had twins. Most of this mishnah is the same as that which we learned yesterday, so I refer the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 8

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Eight   Introduction This mishnah is a continuation of yesterday and the previous day’s mishnah. Much of the explanation for the mishnah can be found there.   Mishnah Eight 1)      If one [of the ewes] had given birth and the other had never previously given birth and they bore two males, […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 2, Mishnah 9

Bekhorot, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine   Introduction Our mishnah deals with an animal born through what is today called a cesarean section. The term the Mishnah uses is “one who came out through the wall” because this animal was taken out through the wall of its mother’s stomach.   Mishnah Nine With regard to [an […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Three, Mishnah One   Introduction Today’s mishnah deals with a person who bought an animal from a non-Jew and doesn’t know whether it had yet given birth. If it had not, then the first animal born in Jewish possession would be considered a first born and would have to be treated accordingly.   […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Two   Introduction In this mishnah Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel teaches that when one sees an animal nursing, he can assume that it is nursing its own offspring. As we shall see, this has certain halakhic ramifications for determining which animal is a first born.   Mishnah Two 1)      Rabban Shimon […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Three   Introduction It is prohibited to shear a first born (this is based on a midrash on Deuteronomy 15:22). Our mishnah discusses how one can remove some of the hair of the first born without transgressing this prohibition.   Mishnah Three 1)      Rabbi Yose ben Meshullam says: one who slaughters […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Three, Mishnah Four   Introduction Our mishnah continues to deal with the prohibition of shearing a first born, even a blemished first born that may be slaughtered and eaten. We should note that not only is it forbidden to shear the animal, but if it is sheared, it is forbidden to derive benefit […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah One   Introduction When a first born is born into an Israelite’s herd, the Israelite is not allowed to immediately give it to the priest. Rather, he must take care of it for a period of time and then transfer the animal to the priest. Our mishnah discusses how long he […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 10

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Ten   Mishnah Ten 1)      One who is suspected of ignoring the sabbatical year is not suspected of ignoring [also] the tithes.   2)      One who is suspected of ignoring tithes is not suspected of ignoring [also] the sabbatical year. 3)      One who is suspected of ignoring both is suspected of […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Two   Introduction Our mishnah is a direct continuation of yesterday’s mishnah, where we learned that a priest is supposed to eat the first-born within its first year.   Mishnah Two 1)      If a blemish appeared on it in its first year, he is permitted to keep it all the twelve […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Three     Mishnah Three If one slaughtered the first born and then showed its blemish [to an expert]: 1)      Rabbi Judah permits,    2)      But Rabbi Meir says: since it was not slaughtered by the instructions of the expert, it is forbidden.      Explanation One of the main functions […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Four   Introduction Our mishnah deals with the consequences of a judge who issues an errant ruling.   Mishnah Four 1)      If one who is not an expert sees a first born and it was slaughtered by his instructions, in such a case it shall be buried and he shall make […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 5

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Five   Mishnah Five If one takes payment for seeing first borns, they must not be slaughtered by his instructions unless he was an expert like Ila in Yavneh whom the sages permitted to accept four isars for small cattle and six as for large cattle, whether unblemished or blemished.   […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 6

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with a judge or other official who takes payment for performing his work.   Mishnah Six 1)      If one takes payment to act as a judge, his judgments are void; to give evidence, his evidence is void; to sprinkle or to sanctify, the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 7

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Our mishnah deals with a person who is suspected of not treating his first born animals as holy. For instance, he slaughters an unblemished first born, or he intentionally blemishes it. The problem with such a person is that we must be concerned that many of the products […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 8

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Since yesterday’s mishnah dealt with a person suspected of selling first borns, today’s mishnah deals with a person suspected of transgressing the laws of the sabbatical year. This would include one suspected of planting on the sabbatical year, or of selling sabbatical year produce as merchandise.   Mishnah […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 4, Mishnah 9

Bekhorot, Chapter Four, Mishnah Nine   Mishnah Nine 1)      If one is suspected of selling terumah as hullin, one may not buy even water and salt from him, the words of Rabbi Judah. 2)      Rabbi Shimon says: [one may not buy from him] whatever is connected to terumah and tithes.   Explanation Section one: Rabbi […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Five, Mishnah One   Introduction Animals that have been dedicated to the Temple and then became blemished can be sold, the profit going to the Temple. Our mishnah teaches that this works a bit differently for blemished first borns.   Mishnah Five 1)      All dedicated animals which became unfit [for the altar] are […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Two   Introduction There are two topics in our mishnah. The first section deals with a Jew sharing a blemished first born with a priest. The second section deals with blood letting a first born in order to heal it.     Mishnah Two 1)      Bet Shammai says: An Israelite must […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Three   Introduction Today’s mishnah deals with the status of first borns who were intentionally blemished by their owners. It contains two very interesting stories.   Mishnah Three 1)      If one makes a slit in the ear of a firstborn animal, he may never slaughter it, the words of Rabbi Eliezer. […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Four   Mishnah Four 1)      If a first born was running after him and he kicked it and thereby blemished it, he may slaughter it on account of this. 2)      Any blemish which might have been made by a person, Israelite shepherds are trustworthy whereas shepherds who are priests are not […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 5

Bekhorot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Five   Mishnah Five 1)      A priest is trusted to say, “I have shown this first born [to an expert] and it is blemished.”     2)      All are trust worthy with regard to the blemishes of a tithed animal. 3)      A first born whose eye was blinded or whose fore-foot was […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 6

Bekhorot, Chapter Five, Mishnah Six   Introduction Today’s mishnah deals with a butcher who sells meat that comes from an animal that should not have been slaughtered.   Mishnah Six 1)      If one slaughtered a first born and it became known that he had not shown it [to an expert]: a)      That which [the purchasers] […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah One   Introduction Chapter six delineates the types of blemishes that disqualify a first born animal from being sacrificed. The Torah lists only two types of blemishes “lame and blind” (see Deuteronomy 15:21). However, the same verse also states, “any serious blemish.” From this verse the rabbis derive that any blemish […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 10

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Ten   Introduction In the first section of this mishnah, Rabbi Hanina ben Antigonus adds several more defects to the list. In the second section, Rabbi Judah adds another defect, but the other sages disagree with him. Since the mishnah is quite clear on its own, there is no commentary below. […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 11

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Eleven   Introduction This is the final mishnah that lists blemishes that disqualify an animal.   Mishnah Eleven 1)      If the tail of a calf does not reach the joint, [it is a blemish]. a)      The sages said: the growth of all calves is in this manner, as long as [the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 12

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Twelve   Introduction The blemishes listed in this mishnah disqualify an animal from being valid as a sacrifice. However, they are not permanent blemishes and therefore if the animal is a first born, it may not be slaughtered. Basically, all the owner can do is wait until either the blemish goes […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Two   Introduction This mishnah deals with blemishes of the eye. Leviticus 21:20 states that a priest that has a blemish in his eye cannot serve on the altar. Our mishnah explains what that means, at least with regard to the blemished animal.    Mishnah Two 1)      One whose eyelid is […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Three   Introduction Our mishnah continues to deal with blemishes of the eye.   Mishnah Three 1)      Havarvar [white spots] on the cornea and water constantly dripping from the eye, [are disqualifying blemishes]. 2)      What do we mean by a permanent hawarwar? If it remained for a period of eighty days.  […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Four   Introduction Today’s mishnah deals with defects of the nose and mouth.   Mishnah Four 1)      If its nose is perforated, defective, or slit, or its upper lip perforated, defective, or slit [these are disqualifying blemishes]. 2)      If the outer incisors are defective or leveled [to the gum] or the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 5

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Five   Today’s mishnah deals with defects in an animal’s genitalia.   Mishnah Five 1)      If the sheath [of the penis] is defective or the genitals of a female animal in the case of sacrificial offerings [it is defective.] 2)      If the tail is mutilated from the bone but not from […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 6

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Six   Introduction This mishnah continues to deal with blemishes to an animal’s genitalia.   Mishnah Six 1)      If [a first born] has no testicles or if it only has one testicle, [it is a blemish]. 2)      Rabbi Ishmael says: if it has two pouches, then it has two testicles, but […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 7

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Seven   Introduction This mishnah deals with defects in the legs and feet.   Mishnah Seven 1)      If [a first born] has five legs or if it has only three legs, or if its feet are uncloven like that of a donkey, or if it is a shahul or a kasul […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 8

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Eight   Introduction Today’s mishnah begins by continuing to discuss blemishes of the leg. It then continues with a discussion of some additional blemishes that were added by a sage named Ila.    Mishnah Eight 1)      If the bone of the fore-leg or of its hind-leg is broken, even though it […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 6, Mishnah 9

Bekhorot, Chapter Six, Mishnah Nine   Introduction This mishnah lists a few additional blemishes which disqualify the first born.   Mishnah Nine 1)      It happened that the lower jaw [of a first born] was larger than the upper jaw. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel asked the sages [for a ruling] and they said: this is a […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah One   Introduction Since chapter six dealt with blemishes that render an animal unfit to be a sacrifice, this chapter lists blemishes that disqualify a priest from serving in the Temple.   Mishnah One 1)      These blemishes [named above], whether permanent or transitory, make human beings unfit [to serve in the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Two   Introduction Our mishnah deals with various defects concerning the hair on one’s head.   Mishnah One 1)      A bald-headed person is unfit [for the priesthood]. a)      What is considered bald-headed? One who does not have a line of hair from ear to ear. b)      If he has one, then he […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Three   Introduction Our mishnah continues to deal with defects of the eyes.   Mishnah Three 1)      A harum is unfit [for the priesthood]. a)      What is a harum? One who can paint both of his eyes with one movement.   2)      If both of his eyes were above or both of […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Four   Introduction If some of a person’s limbs, nose or ears are either too large or too small, the person cannot serve as a priest. Basically, we can summarize that the rabbis thought the priest should look normal and have normal proportions. I might want to add at this point, […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 5

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Five   Introduction More blemishes! The first two sections are straightforward so there is no explanation below.   Mishnah Five 1)      If the upper lip overlaps the lower or the lower lip overlaps the upper, behold this is a blemish. 2)      One whose teeth have fallen out is unfit [for the […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 6

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Six   Mishnah Six 1)      If one knocks his ankles [against each other, in walking] or rubs his legs [against each other]; a ba’al pikah and an ikkel. a)      What is an ikkel? One whose knees do not touch each other when he puts his feet together. 2)      If he has […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 7, Mishnah 7

Bekhorot, Chapter Seven, Mishnah Seven   Introduction Today’s mishnah deals with blemishes that do not disqualify human beings, even though they do disqualify animals from being sacrifices.   Mishnah Seven The following are fit in the case of human beings, but unfit in the case of animals: 1)      A father with his son,    2)      […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 1

Bekhorot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah One   Introduction Our mishnah deals with the laws concerning the human firstborn. There are two special rules with regard to the human first born: 1) he gets a double portion of his father’s inheritance (see Deuteronomy 21:17); 2) he must be redeemed from the priest for five shekels (see Numbers […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 10

Bekhorot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Ten   Introduction According to Leviticus 25, if a person grows poor and sells his ancestral lands, the lands return to him during the Jubilee year. From here we can learn that if a person receives land as an inheritance and then he sells that land, the land is returned to […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 2

Bekhorot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Two   Introduction Our mishnah deals with matters relating to a child born of a caesarean section, called in Hebrew—one who goes out from the wall.   Mishnah Two 1)      A fetus extracted by means of a caesarean section and one that follows—neither is a first-born for inheritance or a first-born […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 3

Bekhorot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Three   Introduction This mishnah deals with a case where twins are born, but it is unclear which child came out first.   Mishnah Three 1)      If a man’s wife had never before given birth and she gave birth to two males, he gives five sela’s to the priest.   2)      […]

Bekhorot, Chapter 8, Mishnah 4

Bekhorot, Chapter Eight, Mishnah Four   Introduction This mishnah deals with a case where two different women gave birth for the first time and their children got mixed up. Note that this mishnah is very similar to the mishnah concerning animals whose first borns are mixed up (see 2:7).   Mishnah Four 1)      Two women […]

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