Four Days and Two Animals
On four days of the year, one who sells an animal to another must inform him: “Its mother I sold for shechita (today),” or alternatively, “Its offspring I sold for shechita (today).”
This statement in the mishna teaches a Rabbinical decree that was enacted to help ensure that people will not inadvertently transgress the Torah prohibition banning the shechita of a mother animal and its offspring on the same day. The Torah states, “An ox or sheep you shall not slaughter, it and its offspring in one day”. (Vayikra 22:28) Rashi, in his commentary on Chumash (based on the gemara above), notes that the second person transgresses by shechting either the mother or the offspring, and also that this mitzvah applies only to a mother and its offspring but not to the father (even if we could know the identity of the father).
Is there a “logical” reason for this mitzvah? Of course, all mitzvot are decrees we accept as the Will of
The Sefer HaChinuch (attributed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi, 13th century Spain) explains that the rationale for this mitzvah is “to train ourselves in the trait of mercy, and to distance ourselves from the trait of cruelty. And although we are permitted to slaughter animals for eating, we must do so in a merciful manner. Killing both the mother and its child on the same day is merciless and will train us in brutality. Therefore, the Torah forbids it.”
Back to the Rabbinical decree in our mishna. According to the law of the Torah before this decree it was permitted to sell a mother and its offspring to two people on the same day throughout the year without concern that the second person would shecht his animal on that same day. Presumably, the buyer and seller would discuss this issue on their own initiative. But, with time, our Sages saw a need to decree that on four specific days of the year the seller of a mother animal and its offspring on the same day must inform the second buyer about the first sale that he made that day so that the second “buyer beware” not to shecht his animal on the day of the sale.
The mishna lists these four days as: 1) The day preceding Shemini Atzeret (i.e., on Hoshana Rabbah); 2) The day preceding the first day of Pesach; 3) The day preceding Shavuot; 4) The day preceding Rosh Hashana.
It is the custom and practice of the Jewish People to celebrate the four festive days that occur immediately afterwards with special festive meals, thus requiring especially large quantities of meat. Therefore, a seller of animals can assume that any animal he sells on the day prior to these festive days will be shechted on that very same day in preparation for festive meals. By the seller’s informing the buyer of the second animal that its mother or offspring was sold that very day (and presumably already shechted), the second buyer will know to wait to schecht his animal on a later day.
However, there are at least two other days in the year that we would likely expect to be part of this decree: The day preceding the seventh day of Pesach (also a Yom Tov), and the day before Succot. Answers for these “omissions” are taught by the classical commentaries.
Shemini Atzeret is a Festival that has its own identity and is “separate” from the preceding days of the Festival of Succot. It is therefore an occasion that is especially dear and precious, and celebrated with an abundance of meat. (Rashi) The seventh day of Pesach, however, as dear and precious as it is, continues and concludes the already ongoing Festival of Pesach. (Our Sages did not want to extend the decree to include more days than they deemed absolutely necessary.) An additional reason, found in the Midrash, is that the bullock sacrifices during Succot represented the 70 nations of the world, whereas the sacrifices on Shemini Atzeret were for the Jewish People alone.
And why was no decree made for the first day of Succot as there was for the first day of the other Festivals? Rabbeinu Tam in Tosefot in our masechta answers this by stating that on erev Succot people are very busy preparing succot, lulavs and etrogs, and do not have time to shecht all that much. One might think that this reason should also apply to erev Pesach since it is also a very busy day — a time to ensure that all chametz is destroyed and to bake fresh matzahs for that night’s Seder. Perhaps due to this question Tosefot elsewhere (Avoda Zara 5b) cites another reason from the Midrash: Pesach is the time of our geula and freedom, and a special decree was enacted to increase in our festive meals to enhance the celebration of this splendorous day!
§ Chullin 83a