Bechorot 36 - 42
Two Meanings of Impurity
If an animal dedicated as a sacrifice developed a flaw that disqualified it, the Torah enabled the owner or another to redeem the animal by donating money to the Sanctuary equivalent to its value. The fifth perek of Mesechta Bechorot we are now learning is focused on the type of flaw that makes such redemption possible, a procedure not permitted as long as the animal is flawless.
There is no explicit mention in the Torah of this ability to redeem a flawed sacrificial animal. Our Sages deduced this rule from an analysis of two passages that appear to be redundant. In one place the Torah speaks of redeeming "an impure animal which cannot be offered as a sacrifice" (Vayikra 27:11). In another it also speaks of an "impure animal that will be redeemed according to its value" (ibid. 27:27).
These two passages, concluded our Sages, refer to two different categories of animals belonging to the Sanctuary that can be redeemed. The second one deals with a non-kosher animal donated to the Sanctuary that has no use for it and is empowered to acquire its monetary value through offering it for redemption. The first passage, therefore, must be referring to another category of animal that cannot be sacrificed, and this can only mean a kosher animal that has been disqualified because of a flaw.
The wording of this first passage serves as a hint to the nature of the subject. It identifies the animal in question as one which is "impure which cannot be offered as a sacrifice". Its impurity lies not in the species to which it belongs as in the second passage but rather in the fact that "it cannot be offered as a sacrifice", a description fitting a kosher animal disqualified for sacrifice because of a flaw.
- Bechorot 37b
The Lame and the Spoils
What a treasure of wisdom lies behind even a seemingly casual remark of a Talmudic Sage!
When the Sage Shmuel was asked a question by his brother Pinchas to which he had no answer, he responded by quoting the words of the Prophet Yeshayahu "the lame shall take the spoils" (Yeshayahu 33:23).
Rashi explains this as a reference to the improbability of those who can hardly walk collecting spoils from the battlefield. Shmuel thus expressed his amazement at being stumped by a question from one whose mediocre skills made it so improbable for him to do so.
The phrase he cited is the climax of a prophecy dealing with the danger to Jerusalem posed by an invading enemy of great might, followed by the Heavenly salvation of the city. This prophecy dealt with a situation of that time but also served as a promise for a future one.
The danger at hand in the time of the Prophet was posed by the Assyrian army of Sancherib who had conquered the entire known world, including most of Eretz Yisrael, and only Jerusalem resisted him. The Jews of Jerusalem, led by their righteous King Chizkiyahu, prayed to Heaven and Yeshayahus prophecy was an assurance that their prayers would be answered. The Heavenly destruction of Sancherib would be so complete and so near to Jerusalem, he concluded, that even the lame would be capable of reaching the spoils of the battlefield.
This prophecy was indeed fulfilled as a Heavenly angel slew the entire Assyrian army the very night before an assault on the besieged city was to take place.
But the prophecy also deals with the threat to Jerusalem that will be posed at the end of days by the armies of Gog UMagog. Then too will G-d destroy Israels enemies so completely and so near to Jerusalem that even the improbable scenario of the lame collecting spoils will become a reality.
- Bechorot 39a