I'm looking at Leviticus 27:9-10, and it contains two commandments that are seemingly contradictory. Here's the text:

And if it be a beast, whereof men bring an offering unto the LORD, all that any man giveth of such unto the LORD shall be holy.

He shall not alter it, nor change it, a good for a bad, or a bad for a good; and if he shall at all change beast for beast, then both it and that for which it is changed shall be holy.

(Emphasis mine.)

Here appears two seemingly contradictory commandments: not to substitute an animal for the animal set apart for sacrifice, but also to consecrate the substituted animal. Is there a traditional explanation for this seeming contradiction?

Looking at Maimonides' famous 613 commandments list, he also sees two commandments present in the passage, and indeed interprets them in such a way that seems like the two commandments are at odds with one another:

-440. Not to substitute another beast for one set apart for sacrifice.
-441. The new animal, in addition to the substituted one, retains consecration.

Is there a traditional interpretation of this verse outside of Maimonides' above? Alternately, is there an explanation by the sages regarding this passage?

It seems the most harmonious way to interpret this would be "The first commandment is to refrain from substitution. The second commandment is, if you failed the first commandment, at least make both holy." Are there other explanations?

  • 2
    Do not murder. But if you do, you get sentenced to death. I don't understand the contradiction here.
    – avi
    Sep 16, 2011 at 12:45
  • The difference, Avi, would "do not commit murder" being a commandment directed to the person potentially carrying out the action, while "put the murderer to death" would be a commandment for others to carry out on the person. Contrast this with Lev 27:9-10, where both commandments are directed at the same person, with the second being a kind of fail-over. That's odd. Sep 16, 2011 at 14:26
  • The murderer is "chayev misa" - obligated to die.
    – yoel
    Sep 16, 2011 at 17:16
  • 3
    Do not steal, but if you do, pay back. Oct 12, 2011 at 4:53

1 Answer 1


It's not a contradiction. The second part is a clause which comes in to effect should the first law be violated.

It's like the Rambam says: You're not allowed to substitute an animal for one which has already been consecrated. If you do, the original animal is consecrated, and the animal which was substituted is also regarded as consecrated. As the Rambam goes on to state, there are cases where this consecration does occur, cases where it does not occur, and cases where there is disagreement over whether or not it occurs. The ramifications of an animal having consecrated status are many, which is why the question of whether or not an animal is consecrated is relevant in the first place.

  • Thanks! That was my first shot at a "harmonious" interpretation, as well. This "Here's commandment X, and if you break it, here's commandment Y." seems a little odd, maybe unique in the Torah. I'm curious to know if there are other instances of this. Sep 16, 2011 at 14:24
  • 3
    Certainly. Do not steal, and if you do, return the stolen object to its owner. Do not leave over any Pesach offering until the morning, and if you do, burn it with fire. And many more.
    – Barry
    Sep 16, 2011 at 14:36
  • I think the shorter list would be "which negative commandments do not have any conditional actions attached to them".
    – yoel
    Sep 16, 2011 at 17:19
  • Good point, Barry. I didn't think of the Pesach offering. Thanks. Sep 16, 2011 at 21:33

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