A Change for the Worse
“Everyone can effect temura, whether the person is male or female. This doesn’t mean that a person is permitted to do temura, but if the person does it, it is done. And the person receives a punishment of lashes by Beit Din.”
This is what we learn at the beginning of the first mishna in Masechet Temura. This Tractate elaborates on the laws of the consequences of one who has a korban to be offered in the Beit Hamikdash, and says that he wants to exchange it with a different animal of his that is currently chullin (i.e. not sanctified). His intention is that the korban should become chullin, and that the chullin animal should become kodesh (sanctified) to be his korban instead.
An expression of this intent is called an act of temura, meaning “exchange.” The way in which a person with a kodesh animal would express this intent is by taking a chullin animal and saying, “This (chullin animal) is temurat this (kodesh animal).” Or by saying, “This is tachat (in place of) this.” Unlike the permitted process of redeeming a kodesh animal under certain circumstances to cause it to become chullin, temura is always prohibited and results in quite unintended and undesired — and painful — consequences for the person. As we see at the beginning of our mishna, the kodesh animal remains kodesh, the chullin animal becomes kodesh with the same kedusha as the kodesh animal, and the person receives a corporal punishment of lashes.
This mitzvah and process is taught in the Torah in Sefer Vayikra 27:10 where it states: “He shall not exchange it and he will not replace it (with a chullin animal that he wants to become kodesh and offer instead), not a good one for a bad one, and not a bad one for a good one; and if he does (try to) exchange it, an animal for an animal, it will be that (both) it and its exchange will be kodesh.”
What is meant by “a good one for a bad one” or a “bad one for a good one”? Rashi explains, based on Chazal’s teachings, that a “good one” is an unblemished korban, that is fit to bring as an offering, whereas a “bad one” is a blemished animal that is not suitable to be offered in the Beit Hamikdash. It can also refer to the inferior and superior quality/cost of the two animals involved in the temura process.
One may wonder why the Torah prohibits not only an attempt at “downgrading” by doing temura of an inferior animal instead of a superior one, but also prohibits “upgrading” when attempting temura in order to bring in its place a better korban than the one he presently has. And why do both animals end up with the status of being kodesh?
A reason given for this seemingly unusual prohibition is that the Torah wants to discourage a person from trying to skimp and save money by means of exchanging his superior korban with an inferior animal that he would bring as an offering in its place. But why prohibit an exchange in the opposite direction as well? The Torah imposed an across-the-board ban in order to prevent him from exchanging for an inferior animal, while rationalizing that it is actually a superior one. And not only is an attempted exchange prohibited by the Torah, but the Torah further discourages a person from attempting any exchange by decreeing that his attempt boomerangs, and as a result both animals end up as kodesh.(Rambam, Laws of Temura 4:13; and see there that he offers a similar rationale for the need for a person to add a fifth of the value when redeeming an object that he had previously made kodesh.)
Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch comments on the verse of temura in great and beautiful detail. He writes that an important lesson which we learn from this mitzvah is the inviolable nature of a korban with kedusha that was dedicated to be offered in the Beit Hamikdash. Any attempt to interfere with this kedusha is unthinkable. Therefore, any attempted exchange — whether it be a downgrade or even an upgrade — is in truth a downgrade according to the Torah. Just as one would not imagine violating the air space over the White House, similarly one should understand that it is absolutely wrong and prohibited to “bring chullin into the existing space already occupied by kodesh.” Rav Hirsch emphasizes the eminently important nature of kedusha. He adds that we also see this idea manifested in another halacha of temura: even a person who transgresses temura b’shogeg (unintentionally) is punished with lashes — a phenomenon that we do not otherwise find throughout the entire Torah!
- Temura 2a