Not Size That Counts
When Ezra succeeded in rebuilding Yerushalayim together with the Jews whom he had brought back with him from exile in Babylon, he sanctified the citys precincts with a ceremony which included the parading around its wall with two large thanksgiving offerings (Nechemia 12:31).
What exactly were these two large offerings?
By a process of elimination, Rabbi Chisda arrived at the conclusion that they were two loaves of leavened bread which accompanied the korban todah a thanksgiving sacrifice which was voluntarily offered by one who enjoyed Providential release from a critical situation. Since flat, unleavened matzot were offered together with the risen breads which accompanied the animal sacrifices as a korban todah, the latter are referred to as the large thanksgiving offerings because of their greater size.
But why do we not interpret the term thanksgiving offerings literally as a reference to two animals sacrificed and the description large as a reference to the size of those animals?
Rabbi Chisda rules this out because it is unthinkable that Ezra would have called attention to the size of the sacrifice, since quantity is insignificant in the eyes of G-d. The basis for this is a mishna (Mesechta Menachot 110a) which points out that the Torah states that an offering brings pleasure to G-d regardless of whether it is in the form of an animal (Vayikra 1:9, 13), a fowl (ibid. 1:17) or flour (ibid. 2:2), in order to teach us that it matters not whether one offers more or less so long as he dedicates his heart to Heaven.
Lest this approach of Rabbi Chisda gives the impression that there is no merit in selecting the best available in matters of sacrifice, Tosefot reminds us that the gemara (Mesechta Yoma 34b) states that both in regard to communal and individual sacrifices there is a priority to offer the best animal available. The point made by Rabbi Chisda is that while offering a larger animal may certainly be considered meritorious, it would have been improper for Ezra to proudly call attention to the size of the animals he offered as if this were the only way of achieving his purpose of sanctifying the city, when the truth is that G-d would have been pleased with a more modest offering as well.
A Backward Look
One who enters that house while it is quarantined shall be in a state of impurity until the evening. (Vayikra 14:46)
The dwelling which has been quarantined because a leprosy-like stain has been detected by a kohen on one of its walls contaminates one who enters it with a state of tumah ritual impurity. Rabbi Oshiya called attention to the Torahs use of the term enter which he sees as ruling out the same contraction of impurity if one comes into the house backwards, since this is not considered a normal form of entry.
Rabbi Oshiya expressed a reluctance to publicly state the tradition he had received that one who entered backwards with only his nose remaining outside remained pure. He anticipated a challenge from his colleagues as to why that same backward-entering individual would even become impure of he thus entered in his totality. The Sage Rava, however, solved this problem by comparing the presence of the entire body in the contaminated house to that of vessels which were already in the house when it became contaminated, as is evident from an earlier passage (ibid. 14:36). If his nose remained outside he can only become impure because of the entry of the majority of his body, and entering backwards is not considered entry.
The only problem remaining is the one raised by Tosefot who cites a gemara (Mesechta Chullin 10b), which states that exiting backwards is considered a normal exit. The proof of this is the manner in which the Kohen Gadol exited the Kodshei Kodshim Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur after performing is service there. His departure is described (Mesechta Yoma 52b) as being executed by walking backwards with his face towards this holiest of places. If a backward exit is considered normal why is a backward entry not considered so?
Tosefot resolves this by differentiating between backward entry which is never normal and a backward exit which is perfectly in order when a disciple takes leave of his master and demonstrates his respect by not turning his back on him.