‘Two Verses That Come As One’ and Halachic State Change
The mishnah that opens the second chapter of Pesachim provides the timeframe during which one can derive benefit from chametz before Passover begins. As a corollary to this discussion, the gemara discusses the topic of me’ilah, which occurs when a person derives benefit from an object that has been set aside for sacred use. The prohibition on me’ilah is outlined in Leviticus 5:15-16, along with the requisite sacrifices after a violation. On Pesachim 26a, the gemara considers three cases in which me’ilah does not apply: the sound of instruments heard in the Temple; appearances at the Temple; and the aroma from the incense burned on the altar. A dispute ensues about the last of these three as there is a baraita claiming that smelling the incense is me’ilah. How can these two positions be reconciled?
Rav Pappa adds a clarification: after the column of smoke rises from the incense, the aroma is no longer me’ilah because the mitzvah is now complete (אֵין בּוֹ מִשּׁוּם מְעִילָה, הוֹאִיל וְנַעֲשֵׂית מִצְוָתוֹ). But is this always true? The gemara in response brings the case of the ashes generated by the burnt offering (תְּרוּמַת הַדֶּשֶׁן). Leviticus 6:3 states that ‘[the priest] shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place the ashes beside the altar’. The gemara understands ‘place the ashes beside the altar’ to teach two requirements. First, the ashes may not be scattered, as they need to be placed carefully. Second, one is not permitted to derive benefit from them since they must remain beside the altar and cannot be used for another purpose. Here, then, is an example where there are limitations concerning an object that has already been used for a mitzvah. Is the case of the ashes of the burnt offering broadly applicable? Or is it more narrow?
Before making that determination, the gemara brings a second scenario in which objects used in a ritual are designated for a specific purpose afterward: the clothes of the High Priest after he has released the goats during the Yom Kippur service. In Leviticus 16:23, Aaron is commanded to ‘take off the linen vestments that he put on when he entered the Shrine, and leave them there.’ The gemara understands this to mean that the clothes need to be put away and never worn again after the High Priest has fulfilled this part of the ritual. Presumably, they retain residual sanctity even though they are no longer needed and therefore, one cannot derive benefit from them. In both the case of the ashes from the burnt offering and the clothes of the High Priest, there is a prohibition on deriving benefit from objects that were designated as sacred even if they have already been used for their original purpose.
However, the gemara is, in fact, bringing these two examples to make the exact opposite claim due to the principle of ‘two verses that come as one’ (שְׁנֵי כְתוּבִין הַבָּאִין כְּאֶחָד). Because two verses teach the same concept–sacred objects retain their sanctity after their original use and therefore have restrictions as to how they are handled afterward–they are instead understood to be limited to these situations and should not be extended more generally. If the Torah intended to teach that one cannot derive benefit from an object after its usage for a sacred ritual as a broad principle, it would only need to state it once: either in the case of the burnt offering ashes or in the case of the High Priest’s garments.
This claim might feel counterintuitive. Surely if there are numerous situations in which the same principle holds, it should be applicable on a broad scale. Yet by invoking the principle of ‘two verses that come as one’, the gemara teaches instead that these cases are not indicative of a more general rule. In fact, by narrowing the scope of these restrictions, there is greater room for leniency. Sacred objects generally lose their sanctity after they are used instead of retaining it because it is no longer subject to the restrictions of me’ilah. That means that it is permitted to smell after the column of smoke has risen, since it is no longer categorized as a sacred object.
This question of how to categorize items is one that lurks behind much of the discussion in this chapter of Pesachim. Chametz is a highly unusual category within halachah: during the time of Passover, some foods are forbidden because they acquire a different status based on their ingredients. Yet during the rest of the year, they are permitted. Why is chametz regulated so carefully? Precisely because there is no perceptible change of state that shows whether it is permitted or forbidden. Perhaps this backdrop of chametz’s unchanging appearance helps to explain why so much emphasis is placed on the precision of the Torah’s words for the burnt offering ashes and the High Priest’s clothing. These are items whose function within rituals is complete, as evinced by visual cues: we perceive ashes instead of a burnt offering; we see where the High Priest placed these garments after removing them. However, the Torah is coming to caution us that appearances are not indicative of a complete change of state. Instead, these items retain some residual sanctity, which requires us to treat them with care.