By Rabbi Shmuel Wise

A review of some of this week’s daf yomi key concepts (Parashas Vayeitzei – Menachos)

  1. Can agents, women, or friends perform semichah on a sacrifice?
  2. We discussed these issues on Sunday’s daf (93) this week. On 93b, the Gemara derives from the pasuk that only the owner himself may perform the semichah (by placing both hands on the head of the animal offering and leaning on it just before it is offered), as opposed to having an agent do so.

The Olas Shlomo asks on this Gemara: It would appear that semichah is a semichah that is similar to the semichah to wear tefillin or shake a lulav, which definitely cannot be accomplished through an agent. Isn’t it obvious then that one cannot use an agent to fulfill the mitzvah of semichah?

The Olas Shlomo gives an answer which makes a fundamental point about the mitzvah of semichah. Semichah is not strictly an obligation on the person; rather, semichah should also be understood as focused on the object. In other words, separate and distinct from the owner’s personal obligation to lean, the halachah is also saying that the animal must be leaned upon. Thus, it is indeed conceivable that semichah can be accomplished through an agent.

This point presents a possible resolution to a question posed by Tosfos (93b heading “ידו”). Tosfos wonders why we need the pasuk to teach us that women do not perform semichah, when we already have an established rule that women are exempt from all time-dependent mitzvos (and since semichah can only be performed by day, it is a time-dependent mitzvah). Based on the Olas Shlomo’s point, we can answer that the rule Tosfos cites isn’t necessarily relevant here. For if semichah is simply what must happen to this animal before it is offered, there’s a good case to make that women are required to fulfill this for their animal offerings. Thus, the pasuk is needed to teach us that, in fact, women do not perform semichah.

One more interesting point to consider is the fact that the Gemara presents a separate derivation to establish that a “friend” (who isn’t an owner of the korban) cannot perform semichah. The Keren Orah asks: Since we’ve already derived that an agent cannot perform the semichah, why isn’t this teaching redundant (especially since an agent had the superior quality of being legally considered like the owner himself—so all the more so by this “friend” who wasn’t even formally appointed an agent!)?

The Keren Orah answers by invoking the concept that we’ve been discussing: the idea that in one sense semichah is animal-oriented rather than owner-oriented. Because of this concept, we might have said the following. By teaching that an agent cannot fulfill the semichah obligation, the Torah is saying that the primary obligation—i.e., the owner-oriented idea that the owner himself has a personal obligation to perform semichah—cannot be fulfilled through an agent. However, if in the absence of the owner someone comes along and does the semichah, we might have said that that still accomplishes something—i.e., that it fulfills the secondary element of the obligation that the halachah wants the animal to be leaned on. The Torah teaches us that, in fact, no one other than the owner achieves anything whatsoever by leaning on the sacrifice.

Rabbi Wise is maggid shiur of Real Clear Daf (realcleardaf.com), a website and mobile app that offers free audio shiurim and other resources to assist your journey through Shas. He is also the director of Tehillim Together (tehillimtogether.com), a mobile app (for iOS and Android) that offers a translated sefer Tehillim and facilitates Tehillim groups. To be a sponsor or to reach Rabbi Wise, please write to rabbiwise@realcleardaf.com or call 855-ASK-RCD-1 (275-7231). Read more of Rabbi Wise’s articles here.

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