Yesterday, we noted the exceptional halakha requiring that the korban pesach – the special sacrifice offered by all Benei Yisrael on the 14th of Nissan – be offered after the daily afternoon sacrifice in the Beit Ha-mikdash. Whereas all other sacrifices need to be offered before the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim (the daily afternoon offering), the korban pesach is unique in that it is to be sacrificed specifically following the afternoon tamid.
The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (59a) infers this halakha from the fact that the Torah in Sefer Devarim (16:6) speaks of the pesach sacrifice as being offered “ba-arev” – literally, “in the evening.” Earlier, in Sefer Shemot (12:6), the Torah requires slaughtering the sacrifice “bein ha-arbayim” – in the afternoon, the same expression used in reference to the afternoon tamid offering (Bamidbar 28:4). The fact that the Torah speaks of the timing of the pesach sacrifice with both these terms indicates that it is offered later than the tamid, the timing of which is referred to only with the term “bein ha-arbayim.” This inference is made also by the Sifrei, in Parashat Pinchas (Bamidbar 28:4).
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 5:1) brings a different source for this halakha, noting that in the aforementioned verse in Sefer Devarim, the Torah requires slaughtering the pesach sacrifice “ke-vo ha-shemesh” – at sundown. As this term does not appear in the context of the afternoon tamid, the Yerushalmi deduced that the korban pesach is to be sacrificed after the tamid, closer to sunset than the offering of the tamid.
The Rambam, surprisingly, explains this halakha differently, offering a logical reason that seemingly has no textual basis. In Hilkhot Temidin U-musafin (1:3), the Rambam writes that as the afternoon tamid is sacrificed eight-and-a-half hours into the day (Pesachim 58a), it must precede the korban pesach for a simple practical reason. The korban pesach may not be offered before midday, and there simply would not be enough time between midday and the slaughtering of the tamid to sacrifice the multitudes of pesach offerings brought by the people. According to the Rambam, it appears, this halakha is not inferred from a nuance in the text of the Torah, but is rather based on purely pragmatic considerations. Numerous Acharonim addressed the question of why the Rambam resorted to this logical explanation rather than simply accept the Talmud’s textual inference.
Rav Menachem Kasher, in his Torah Sheleima (Shemot 12:6, note 158), speculates that the Rambam presented this explanation in response to the claim of the heretical Karaite sect, who rejected the traditional halakhic interpretations of the Torah. The Karaites contended, based on their reading of the Torah’s command, that the korban pesach is to be offered only in the final hour and one-third before sundown. Rav Saadia Gaon, as cited by Ibn Ezra (Shemot 12:6), argued against this view by noting that it would be impractical to offer all the nation’s pesach sacrifices in such a short time span. Conceivably, then, the Rambam felt it worthwhile to add this argument as compelling proof to the traditional halakhic view, as part of his effort to refute the heretical theories espoused by the Karaites. The Rambam may have likely accepted the Gemara’s inference from the text, but noted this practical consideration to provide logical support for the Gemara’s conclusion, in opposition to the Karaites’ reading.