Today’s daf (Chagigah 6a-b) explores a dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai referenced in the first daf of Massechet Chagigah (2a) about the value of the עלת ראייה (the pilgrimage olah offering) and the שלמי חגיגה (the festive peace offerings – see Shemot 23:14, Devarim 16:14,17). And though there are those who often side-step the topic of קרבנות (sacrifices) when learning Daf Yomi, it is clear that unless we attempt to understand each of these offerings, we cannot truly understand this debate. With this in mind, I would like to explain what each of these offerings are about and consider the basis of the above-mentioned dispute.
In terms of the עולת ראייה, we were previously taught about the obligation to make a thrice yearly ascent to Jerusalem. We call this mitzvah ראייה, meaning ‘appearing’ before God, and we are instructed (see Shemot 23:15-17, Devarim 16:16-17) that all those who are obliged to fulfil the mitzvah of ראייה are obligated to bring an ‘olah’ offering (nb. the word ‘olah’ refers to something that you ‘bring up’ – in this case, to the Temple), and that a pilgrim may not arrive to the Temple empty-handed. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains (in his commentary to Shemot 23:14-15), ‘the three pilgrim festivals occur precisely at the seasons when agricultural work is at its height’, and as such, by requiring pilgrims to bring some of their material possessions at this time, it not only invites them to consider their material demands within the wider scope of their spiritual loyalties, but it also creates a mental connection between the spiritual and the physical, so that when the pilgrim returns home, they see their material possessions has having spiritual significance rather than being disconnected from the sanctuary. Significantly, the עולת ראייה was entirely ‘gifted’ to God, in as much as it was fully consumed in the fire of the altar.
Regarding the שלמי חגיגה, this too must be brought to the Temple by those who make a thrice yearly ascent to Jerusalem (see Shemot 23:14, Devarim 16:10). However, in contrast to the עולת ראייה, only the fat of the שלמי חגיגה was offered on the altar. In terms of the rest, it was given in part to the Kohanim, while the majority of it was eaten by the pilgrim with their family and friends, while they were also urged to invite the poor and the hungry to eat with them.
Having explained all this, it should be clear that the עולת ראייה is about the contribution of an individual who, while serving as an ambassador of their household, demonstrates their complete devotion to God. As such, it emphasizes the bond and identification between the private home and family with God.
Paralleling this, the שלמי חגיגה emphasises national identity and identification, as well as the connection that we have – a connection that we must constantly strengthen – between ourselves and the rest of the Jewish people.
Having now explained the differences between these two offerings, we can now turn to the debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, where Beit Hillel argues that the minimum value of the שלמי חגיגה should be twice that of the עולת ראייה, while Beit Shammai argues that the minimum value of the עולת ראייה should be twice that of the שלמי חגיגה.
As we know, many commentaries have attempted to frame the various debates between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai as reflecting different worldviews held by each of these academies, and in this spirit I believe that it would be valid to say that one way for us to understand this debate is to see it as a difference of opinion about the emphasis we place on our private identity versus our national identity, and what we have versus what we can give, when we come to the Beit HaMikdash.
In almost every instance, we follow the view of Beit Hillel, and as such the Rambam (Hilchot Chagigah 1:2) rules that ‘one should not bring an עולת ראייה marking one’s appearance with a contribution worth less that a silver me’ah, nor should one bring a שלמי חגיגה with a contribution worth less than two silver me’ah’.
Reflecting on all the above, what I believe this comes to teach us is that while, when we come to the Beit HaMikdash, we do so both as individuals and as members of a people, we have a duty to emphasise the latter more than the former, and this is because, to quote Rabbi Sacks, ‘to be a Jew… is not just a matter of believing or behaving, but also of belonging…Judaism is less about the I-and-thou than about the we-and-thou. It is constructed in the first-person plural of togetherness… All-of-us is greater than any-of-us.’ (Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas p. 116)