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yesh omrim

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Know your sheep

9 May 2004

In today’s parsha, in the middle of a variety of other rules for how the cohanim and their sacrifices need to be fit their respective roles, we have this commandment: “Do not slaughter a steer or sheep and its child on the same day” (Leviticus 22:28). The Mishnah (Chullin 8:3) goes on to say that during certain times of the year, when it can be assumed that anyone who buys an animal is going to slaughter it immediately, the seller has to tell the buyer, “I sold its dam to be slaughtered”, or “I sold its young to be slaughtered.”

This mitzvah has a significant consequence for any Jewish farmer or meatpacker: the responsibility to know the family relationships of the flock. If all your cattle look alike to you, then on any day that you slaughter two of them, you are at risk of violating this commandment.

For most of the commandments in this parsha, kedushah is achieved by separation of categories. For the purpose of marriage, divorcées are separate from cohanim. Blemished animals are separate from the category of “animals fit for sacrifice.” Shabbat and the holidays are separate from the ordinary days of the week. But for this one commandment, we achieve kedushah by distinguishing each animal as an individual, with its own heritage.

Happy Mother’s Day!