The Torah in Parashat Pinchas presents the command of the korban tamid, the daily sacrifice that was offered twice each day, with one sheep sacrificed in the morning and a second in the afternoon. This sacrifice was accompanied by a nesekh – a libation of wine which was poured on the altar (28:7).
The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (34a-b) cites and discusses a debate among the Tanna’im regarding the relationship between the morning and afternoon libations. The majority view among the Tanna’im interprets the verse here in Parashat Pinchas as requiring a libation to accompany the afternoon tamid sacrifice, whereas the requirement of a libation accompanying the morning tamid flows from the association between the two sacrifices. Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nasi, however, held that to the contrary, the Torah speaks of a nesekh accompanying the morning tamid, and the association between the two sacrifices instructs that we apply this requirement even to the afternoon sacrifice.
Tosefot (34b) explain that the significance of this debate involves a situation where there is a shortage of wine, such that the kohanim in the Beit Ha-mikdash can perform only one of the two libations. If there is only enough wine for one nesekh (namely, the amount of one revi’it) on any given day, should the kohanim use the wine with the morning tamid, or with the afternoon tamid? The answer, Tosefot write, hinges on this debate between Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nasi and the other Sages. If the primary nesekh obligation applies in the morning, and the afternoon libation is derived only secondarily, by virtue of the halakhic parity that exists between the two tamid sacrifices, then the wine should be used in the morning. According to the majority view, however, that the primary nesekh is that which accompanies the afternoon tamid, then the kohanim should perform the morning tamid without the accompanying libation, and save their limited supply of wine for the afternoon tamid.
Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, in Chashukei Chemed (Yoma, pp. 245-246), notes the latent assumption underlying Tosefot’s discussion, namely, that a future, higher-level mitzva takes precedence over a lower-level mitzva that applies at the present moment. According to Tosefot, the majority view would require the kohanim to forego on the morning nesekh in favor of the afternoon nesekh, which is the primary mitzva, because fulfilling the primary mitzva takes precedence over the secondary mitzva, even though the secondary mitzva is relevant earlier. Normally, Halakha forbids unnecessarily delaying a mitzva opportunity, and requires performing a given mitzva at the first chance we can. It appears, however, that at least in Tosefot’s view, one should forego on an immediate mitzva opportunity if this is necessary to facilitate a higher-level mitzva in the future.
In discussing Tosefot’s assumption, Rav Zilberstein warns against confusing this question with the well-known controversy surrounding the issue of delaying a mitzva to perform it at a higher standard. Rav Yaakov Reischer (Shevut Yaakov, 34), for example, maintained that a person who, on Sukkot, anticipates receiving a high-quality etrog later in the day should wait until that etrog arrives before performing the mitzva. Others, however, disagree, and maintain that the value of prompt performance overrides the value of performance at a higher standard. (See Rav Asher Weiss’ “Zerizin Makdimin Le-mitzvot,” section 7.) Rav Zilberstein clarifies that this issue stands separate and apart from the assumption made by Tosefot regarding the nesakhim accompanying the tamid sacrifices. The question dealt with by Rav Reischer involves a single mitzva which can be observed at an average standard immediately, or at a higher standard in the future, and the question then becomes which of these two important values – promptness and high standards – takes precedence. The situation addressed by Tosefot, however, involves two separate mitzvot, one of which is known to be a higher-level mitzva than the other, and circumstances allow for observing either one, but not both. Here, the question is not whether a mitzva should be delayed so it can be performed at a higher standard, but rather whether one should neglect a current obligation for the sake of a higher-level future obligation, and Tosefot appear to have unhesitatingly maintained that one should.
Tomorrow we will iy”H explore possible practical applications of Tosefot’s assumption.