Pigul: Defining the Essence of Korbanos1
It’s a strange word. We find ourselves even more confused when we first
encounter the dizzying complexity of its laws. If we persevere in our
study, the details will fall into place, yielding an elegantly crafted
statement about the nature of korbanos.
We could look for other appearances of the word “pigul” in Tanach, but we
would not learn much. Only a handful exist, however, and all of them deal
with a deficiency in an offering in the Beis ha-Mikdosh. We have no choice
but to plunge into its halachic requirements. As is almost always the case,
studying the details of a topic as laid down by Torah she-b’al-peh
illuminates like nothing else can.
The first thing we learn is that our tradition dismisses what appears to be
the simple meaning of the text. The pasuk seems to say that a korban
shelamim becomes disqualified as pigul if someone eats of its flesh beyond
its statutory expiration date. The Talmud tell us that this is not true.
The essence of pigul is in thought, not action. Intention to eat of the
korban at the wrong time disqualifies as pigul, not the actual eating! (This
should not be surprising to anyone familiar with the general rules governing
korbanos. Zerikah, throwing the blood on the altar, is the make-or-break
activity. Zerikah occurs before any parts of the korban can be eaten. A
valid zerikah fixes a korban as having done its job. Eating of its flesh may
sometimes be called for, but if that eating goes wrong, the korban remains
We soon learn that the “eating” of the korban that can be disqualified in
advance by an improper intention is broadly constructed. It includes eating
by people, as well as the consumption of parts of the korban on the altar.
We also learn that the intention to eat past the time limit must be linked
to specific procedures – essentially, any of the activities that are the
significant precursors to the consumption of the korban by people or by the
mizbeach, e.g. slaughter of the animal, receiving its blood in a vessel, and
carrying it to the mizbeach where it will be applied.
We also encounter a bit of a paradox. It the mere intention of completing
the avodah of a korban improperly disqualifies it from the outset, we would
expect that intention to eat it in the wrong place – i.e. outside the Beis
ha-Mikdosh – would certainly invalidate the korban. Eating in the wrong
location is more visible and blatant than eating at an improper time, which
cannot be discerned by the observer. If a plan to do the latter somehow
ruins a korban, all the more so should a plan to eat of the korban in the
wrong place. Halachically, this is indeed true. Enigmatically, it
invalidates – but it does not carry with it the punishment of kareis, and is
never technically referred to as pigul!
We may have to take a guess that פגל is related to פלג, to divide and
separate. Pigul, then, would mean that the slaughter of the animal is
separated from its proper consumption. Separating shechitah from
consumption invalidates a korban, even in thought. Moreover, a separation in
time is dealt with more severely than a separation in place! Detach
shechitah from “eating” – whether the eating by people of by the altar – and
the korban comes apart. In fact, such a separation creates a counterfeit
offering, a monstrous counter-korban that is punishable by kareis.
In the bigger picture, the procedures of all korbanos revolve around two
axes: shechitah and achilah. (In flour offerings, the kemitzah/ careful
removing of a handful of the offering is the equivalent of the slaughter of
an animal, and the haktarah on the altar is the corresponding achilah.) In
animal offerings, zerikas ha-dam, the throwing of the blood on the altar,
begins the transition from the former to the latter.
The first axis is negative and educative; the second is positive and
uplifting. Shechitah represents the negation of the life previously lived by
the one who brings the offering. He declares that he yields that life to
Hashem, that he sets aside his preoccupation with the physical and material
and gladly offers them to his Creator.
This might seem like a healthy statement; in fact, the lesson of pigul is
that the Torah finds it repulsive. Hashem will never ask us to sacrifice the
material save for the purpose of turning it into something greater. We give
up the past, lesser life if and only if it can be improved upon. We do it
only if it can be elevated, joined to a higher order of existence. This
higher place is symbolized by the mizbeach – or by human consumption in the
spiritual precincts of the Mikdosh.
This idea evaded other cultures and religions, which did separate between
slaughter and consumption. This separation allowed for slaughter without
eating, and eating without slaughter. Each of these two motifs is despised
by the Torah.
Slaughter without eating celebrates destruction for its own sake. Pagan gods
delighted in blood, carnage, destruction. Victorious armies would sacrifice
thousands of vanquished troops to satisfy the blood-lust of primitive gods.
On the other hand, consumption decoupled from slaughter plays into a
different moral lie. Some pagan societies saw physical license as honoring
the gods (especially the gods in charge of those pleasure-objects). Giving
oneself up to unbridled sensory satisfaction pleased the gods. Dissolute
behavior in their name became elevated to ritual; orgiastic release became a
The Torah scoffs at both positions, and demands that no room be left for
them to creep into the mission of the Mikdosh. Slaughter and consumption are
a matched set. The first is justified only by the second. Separating them
even in mind alone – especially separating them in time! – not only
invalidates an offering, but mocks its very purpose. It is punishable,
therefore, by kareis. (We encounter a different kind of separation later
on in the prohibition of nosar. The Torah sets down an end point, by
which time the flesh of a korban must be consumed, either by altar, by
people, or both. If the flesh is left beyond this time, it must be burnt.
Eating that which has been earmarked as holy beyond the time period assigned
by the Torah, repudiates the lessons that the Mikdosh seeks to convey to us.
It is a desecration of its ideals and purpose.)
We have mentioned before that there are two forms of the second axis:
consumption by people, and consumption by the altar. Halachically, they are
bound by the same time limit. Every korban must be slaughtered only during
the daylight portion of the day. Whatever portions are designated for the
mizbeach or even for human consumption may be eaten that day, as well as the
night that follows.
Todah and shelamim are exceptions. Their period of allowable consumption by
people extends one additional period, to the following day – but not the
night that follows it.
This makes perfect sense. The “day” of the Mikdosh begins with the daylight
period, and is followed by night. All eating that must be done within its
precincts should follow its schedule. Shelamim, however, can be eaten
outside the Mikdosh. They proclaim that at times the table of the Jewish
family can become the equivalent of Hashem’s Temple. Its period of allowable
eating should follow Man’s calendar – in which day follows night! The Torah
thus allows a full Man-day (rather than Mikdosh-day) after the initial
The focus of shelamim and todah is on Man’s individual happiness, and its
dependence upon G-d. Pigul applies to many korbanos, but it is in
contemplating his own well-being that Man finds himself most vulnerable to
the siren call of the false ideologies that the Torah wishes to battle. What
better place to anchor its lessons than our pasuk!
1. Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Vayikra 7:18
2. While such gods have disappeared, their teaching has not. Many people
still believe – consciously or otherwise – that the essence of devotion to
G-d involves “sacrificing” through suffering and self-denial.
3. Vayikra 19:8