Parshat Tzav: The Meaning of Pigul


A korban shelamim ( a type of sacrifice of an animal) becomes disqualified if someone eats it at the wrong time. The Gemarra says this is not true: the essence of this avera (sin), called pigul, is in thought not action. To separate, in the mind, the slaughter of the animal from its offering and consumption is pigul. The consumption can be by human beings or on the altar, where it is “consumed” by God.

R’ Hirsch explains this by relating “pigul” to”peleg”, to seperate or divide. To seperate shechita (slaughter) from achila (consumption). The Torah says this is punishable by karet, a serious punishment (understood by the Rabbis as death at the hands of heaven). Why is this so serious?

Pigul is the seperation of sacrifice and consumption. The inseparability of the two in Jewish law teaches two lessons: 1) Sacrifice is not a value in and of itself. Self-negation, martyrdom, yielding, giving up, getting out of the way, are not in themselves positive values. Sacrifice must be for the sake of nourishment: it must become positive energy. It must feed God or human beings. 2) Consumption is not a value in and of itself either. Life, when consumed, should be offered on the altar of our values: our acts of consumption must mean something.

– based on teachings of Rav Adlerstein on Rav Hirsch’s Chumash commentary.

Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

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