Bechorot 15 - 21
Too Tough for Warmth
There is often an interesting background to a passage from Tanach which the Talmud cites as support for a halachic ruling. A case in point is the ruling of the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael concerning the mitzvah of giving the kohen a share of the wool a Jew shears from his sheep.
Although the Torah passage (Devarim 18:4) containing this command does not distinguish between the quality of one sort of wool and another, the above-mentioned Sages ruled that wool which is uniquely tough in its texture does not have to be shared with the kohen. Such wool, they explain, does not properly warm the body when transformed into clothes and therefore does not come under the heading of "the shearing of your sheep" mentioned in the above-mentioned Torah passage.
As proof that only wool which warms its wearer is considered "shearing", a passage in Iyov is cited which is part of a long protestation by this suffering tzaddik regarding his righteousness. In describing how much he has always cared for the needy, he mentions how he provided for the poor, the widow and the orphan. His generosity also extended to providing clothes for one who could not afford any, and he rhetorically asks, "Did not his loins bless me for warming them with the clothes made from the shearing of my sheep?" (Iyov 31:20).
The linking of "sheep shearing" with "warming" in the statement of Iyov serves as proof that the ability to provide warmth for the wearer determines what the Torah refers to as the shearing of sheep. Unusually tough wool fails to provide such warmth and therefore is exempt from the obligation to share it with the kohen.
- Bechorot 17a
The chut hasikra red-colored stripe ran around the middle of the altar in the Beit Hamikdash. The blood of certain sacrifices was applied right above this stripe while the blood of others right below.
A question is raised by our Sages as to whether it is possible to be perfectly exact in measurements made by man. An effort is made to prove that this is possible for otherwise there would be a problem in regard to this stripe separating the upper and lower halves of the altar. If it is impossible to be perfectly exact how could the builders of the altar be absolutely certain that the blood intended for application above the dividing line was not actually below half the altar or that the blood intended for application below the line was not actually being applied above the real middle?
This proof is rejected because there was an explicit Divine command to create that stripe so that whatever the altar architects would paint as a dividing line would determine what is properly above and below. In connection with this Divine command, a passage is cited from the instructions which King David gave to his son Shlomo for building the Beit Hamikdash and creating all of its vessels.
"All of this is written," he told the son who had been designated by G-d to build the Beit Hamikdash, "from the Hand of G-d which came to give me understanding of all that had to be done in regard to the building" (Divrei Hayamim I 28:19).
This passage is quoted in other parts of the Talmud as a provision that nothing could be added or subtracted from the exact blueprints given to David through the Prophet Shmuel. In his commentary Malbim sees in this passage two components. "From the Hand of G-d", he explains, refers to the prophecy which David received from Shmuel regarding the construction of the Beit Hamikdash, while the "understanding" refers to what David received through Divine inspiration (ruach hakodesh) regarding the sacred secrets and significances behind them.
- Bechorot 17b