Me'ilah 2 - 8
Another Sort of Meilah
The mesechta we now begin deals with laws of meilah, a term describing the sin of taking for private purposes an animal, funds or any other property which has been consecrated for the use of the Beit Hamidkash.
As long as an animal consecrated for sacrificial purpose is alive the ban on deriving any personal benefit from it obviously applies, as does the atonement required for such a sin. But what happens if such a sacrificial animal dies? Does the Torahs rule about the one "who is guilty of meilah by unintentionally sinning in regard to what is sanctified to G-d" (Vayikra 5:15) still apply when that animal is no longer capable of being offered as a sacrifice?
The answer given by the Sage Ulla in the name of Rabbi Yochanan is that there is no longer any meilah in such a case as far as Torah law is concerned. The Sages, however, were afraid that deriving personal benefit from a sacrificial animal which perished might lead people to take the same liberty in regard to those which had been duly slaughtered as sacrifices. They, therefore, instituted a rabbinical ban on doing so.
If there is a concept of meilah of rabbinical as well as Torah law, asks the gemara, what difference is there in the manner of atonement? The answer given is that when one is guilty of meilah by Torah law he must compensate the Sanctuary not only for what he benefited but must also add a chomesh (literally translated as a fifth but actually a 25 percent penalty which is a fifth of the principle sum plus the penalty). When the meilah is only of rabbinical nature this penalty is not required.
Tosefot explains why the gemara did not mention the obvious difference between the two is that the asham sacrifice which is required for atonement of this sin applies only when the meilah is of Torah law. This difference is too obvious because offering an animal as a sacrifice which is not required by the Torah constitutes the forbidden act of bringing non-sacred animals upon the altar of the Sanctuary.
- Meilah 2b
Indispensable for Atonement
What serves as a sacrifice to achieve atonement for certain sins depends on economic ability. If the sinner cannot afford a sheep or goat for his chatat sacrifice he can offer instead two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one as an olah sacrifice and the other as a chatat.
In detailing the manner of sacrificing the fowl used for the chatat the Torah instructs the kohen who slaughters it to then "sprinkle of its blood upon the side of the altar and the rest of the blood shall be wrung out at the bottom it is a chatat." (Vayikra 5:9)
Although both sprinkling the blood and wringing out the remainder are mentioned in this passage, there is a difference of opinion among the Sages as to whether the latter is absolutely essential for achieving atonement or whether it is merely proper to wring out any blood if there should remain any after the sprinkling, but not that this process is indispensable for achieving atonement.
These two views are based on contrasting interpretations of what the Torah meant to convey with the closing words of the above-mentioned passage: "it is a chatat." Rabbi Ada bar Ahaba viewed its proximity to the instruction regarding the wringing out of the blood as an indication that the blood which is to be thus removed from the fowl is still considered chatat. Failure to execute this process would therefore render the sacrifice service incomplete. Rabbi Huna, on the other hand, sees this closing phrase as a reference only to the processes leading up to this climax the slaughtering and sprinkling but not to the wringing out of blood, which is only proper to do but is not indispensable to achieving atonement.
- Meilah 8b