Someone recently asked me why we keep Shabbat restrictions now if violation of those restrictions was clearly necessary to burn korbanot in the Beit Hamikdash.

My knee-jerk response is: God said so. He said that we have to keep these restrictions, and He said that we have to bring these korbanot, including on Shabbat. This is, of course, the first-order reason why our practices include this apparent contradiction.

However, I think it would be much more edifying - to the asker and also to me, now that my curiosity is piqued - if I could also explain why, to the best of our traditional knowledge, God made the rules that way. (To my surprise, I was unable to find anything directly addressing this point in R' Hirsch's commentary in some parts of the Torah where Shabbat is juxtaposed with the Mishkan and its service, such as Exodus 35:1-2 or Numbers 28:9-10.)

What are traditional conceptual understandings of why we take actions that are normally forbidden on Shabbat in order to bring korbanot?

  • I think the reason of G-d said so is ultimately the only answer you're going to find. His mandated service in the Temple supersedes His restrictions elsewhere. עשה דוחה לא תעשה.
    – Seth J
    Jul 5, 2013 at 20:17
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    @SethJ, why do you suppose that this issue would be less likely to have an explanation in our tradition than other issues for which we seek and find taamei-mitzvot-reasons in our tradition?
    – Isaac Moses
    Jul 5, 2013 at 20:20
  • Well, I'm sure you can come up with a reason. You mean, "why did G-d demand that we burn fires and slaughter animals on Shabbath in the Temple, when He specifically prohibited these tasks for everyone else everywhere else, thus forcing us to explain/realize that עשה דוחה לא תעשה?"
    – Seth J
    Jul 5, 2013 at 20:23
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    @msh210, my question is the one I specify at the end. The one in the first paragraph is what motivated it.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jul 7, 2013 at 3:21
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    This is a general concept in Torah of אחת דבר אלק'ים שתים זו שמעתי (Tehilim 62:12) (G-d spoke one thing, I heard two) referring to "contradicting" Mitzvos. Like marrying a sister-in-law is forbidden, but if his brother died childless he has a Mitzvah (Yibum) to marry his SIL! Wool and linen are Kilayim, yet for the Tzitzis it's allowed and he's performing a Mitzvah! See Rashi on Shmos 20:8. The Mechilta (Yizro Parshas Bachodesh Parsha 7) adds your case: one Possuk says one who is Mechalel Shabbos is to be put to death yet the Possuk says on the day of Shabbos you must bring 2 sheep! Jul 8, 2013 at 4:49

4 Answers 4


In his book "The Temple" Joshua Berman deals with this question around page 13-17.

Shabbat and the Temple/Mishkan are directly interconnected with each other. While we do things which are not allowed on Shabbat outside of the Temple, the construction of the Temple itself can not be done on Shabbat. One of the purposes of Shabbat is the Temple, and one of the purposes of the Temple is Shabbat. (One name for the Temple is the Beit Menucha)

By violating Shabbat for the activities of the Mikdash , and by defining Shabbat by the activities of the Mikdash, this connection and purpose can be felt directly.

And what is the connection between Shabbat and the Temple that is so important? Both are the pinnacle of the world's creation, and the defining thing which teaches us about the concept of Kodesh.

Shabbat is the first thing that is called Kodesh in the Torah. The Temple is the only thing called Kodesh Kodeshim. It is argued, that the completion of the creation of the world was not completed until the Mishkan was built. This is reflected in the psukim:

Bereshit 1-2                                                            Shemot 39-40
 1:31 And Gd saw all that he had made and it was very good              39:43 Moses saw all of the skilled work
 2:1 The Heavens and the Earth and all of their array was completed     39:32 All the work of the Mishkan and the Ohel moed was completed
 2:2 And Gd completed all of the work                                   40:33 And Moshe completed the work. 
 2:3 And Gd blessed                                                     40:33 And Moshe Blessed
 2:3 And sanctified it.                                                 40:9 and you shall sanctify it.

This is continued in the book of Kings, where the number 7 is used for the construction of the Temple. It took 7 years to complete, It was dedicated on Sukkoth the 7 day holiday on the 7th month of the year, and the dedication is composed of 7 petitions.

The idea that the Temple is the completion of the creation of the world, is also explicit in a Midrash on the Book of Kings: Pesiktah Rabbatai 6.

"All the work the Sholomo did was complete. The Midrash says that it does not say All work, but rather all THE work, just as it says in Bereshit regarding Shabbat and the creation of the world. When Shlomo finished the construction of the Temple, Gd said, "Now the work of the heavens and earth are complete (shlema), and this is why Shlomo, was tasked with it's construction. (Shlomo comes from the same root word.)

Another contrast. While Gd alone created the world, only man can build the Temple. When a perfect and just society is built, with the Temple at its center, then the work of the world is complete.

R. Ovadiah Seforno, says that the word Menucha does not just mean stopping vigorous activity, but also means that you feel a sense of completion. It is for this reason that when King David moved the Ark to Jerusalem, he called out in Psalms, 132:8, that he has brought Gd to his resting place (li-mnuchatekha) In Chronicles 2 6:41, Shlomo says the same thing, "Advance, O Lord Gd, to your resting place", Shabbat is also called a day of Menucha. Since they serve the same purpose, you must violate Shabbat to bring a Korbon, in the place of rest, and to bring Menucha to your soul.

And lastly, When Betzalel builds the Mishkan, it talks about his Melakhah, and so too on Shabbat, we are told to stop doing Melakhah. No Melkhah can be done to create the Temple on Shabbat, but on Shabbat you may do Melkah in the Temple. As a reminder of the Brit between Gd and the Jewish people, towards the creation of the world and a perfect society.

  • That looks like a valuable book! I am tempted to buy a copy. There's a more extensive description of it and an endorsement by CR Sacks at the publisher's website.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 19, 2013 at 15:45
  • It's a great book. I bought it recently and read it over two shabatot.
    – avi
    Dec 20, 2013 at 12:48

I generally understood holiness in the following descending order:

  • Holiness of person
  • Holiness of time
  • Holiness of space

The holiest is "person", which is why we can violate Shabbos to save a life.

Next comes "time", then "space." Note that the Jews were not allowed to break Shabbos (time) to construct the Mishkan (space). Also, the punishment for a korban processed with intent for the wrong time (kares) is worse than that for the wrong place (regular lav).

A daily/weekly/yearly routine of sacrifices, however, is considered a holiness of time as well, so Shabbos doesn't override it.

It's a start, hopefully.


Attempting to answer the larger question of: Why, to the best of our traditional knowledge, God made the rules that way?

I can think of 2 ways to approach this:

1. The Torah is not a book of rules that are to be followed mindlessly. 

The prophet ישעיה complains about this (29:13):

יַעַן כִּי נִגַּשׁ הָעָם הַזֶּה, בְּפִיו וּבִשְׂפָתָיו כִּבְּדוּנִי, וְלִבּוֹ רִחַק מִמֶּנִּי--וַתְּהִי יִרְאָתָם אֹתִי, מִצְוַת אֲנָשִׁים מְלֻמָּדָה

Because this nation approaches (Me - says Hashem), with their mouths and lips they honour me yet their hearts are far from me -- and they fear me by rote.

To prevent Judaism by rote there's a collection of Gotchas! - forcing the person to exit auto pilot mode.

An example of this can be seen in the Amida. Though we pray the same Amida thrice daily, there are all sorts of variation to keep us on our toes. Mashiv Haruach or nor, V'ten Bracha/Tal Umatar, Yaale Veyavo, Ata Chanontanu - as well as a mix of those. Then comes Shabbat and you get 3 different ones - each with seasonal variations.

Other examples:

  • Count the Omer nightly for 7 weeks every year.
  • Don't eat anything today; it's Yom Kipour.
  • Stop doing 39 types of creative activity for 25 hours every week: Shabbat!
  • An Onen - until the burial - has to force himself to eat without making a Bracha, mustn't pray, etc. - he has to stop doing his Judaism by habit. This forces him to stop & think why he's doing it; hopefully giving him a renewed perspective on Mitzvot.


2. Their is nothing intrinsically evil.

A variation on the first theme: Actions aren't forbidden because they are intrinsically evil. (Which would explain why not all of mankind is expected to obey all but 7 of the Mitzvoth.)

The Torah's rules are their for a purpose - for example to refine our characters, souls or interpersonal interactions, for example.

Thus it's not surprising to find seemingly contradictory Mitzvot. Different circumstances will create different rules.


  • Do not light fire on Shabbat. It's a day when we don't create anything new - or whatever the reason is behind Shabbat's 39 Melachot.
    • Do bring Korbanot on Shabbat. Korbanot express some special link between us and Hashem - or whatever the reason(s) - and Hashem requested we demonstrate this link daily, despite his Shabbat restrictions.
  • Do not marry your sister-in-law. It's immoral to share your brother's ex-spouse, it'll make him feel bad that she prefers you to him - or whatever the reason is.
    • Do Yibum. Your brother - in heaven - is thrilled that his name is being perpetuated by 2 people he loved - his widow together with his brother. Or whatever the reason is.
  • Don't kill; your life is no better than his life.
    • Execute certain sinners; they has lost their right to be amongst the living.
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    These are really intriguing ideas. Are you aware of any support for them in the sources?
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 18, 2013 at 15:26
  • I would upvote this, except I think that specifically for anything related to Shabbat and the Korbonot, it's more than what you have written.
    – avi
    Dec 18, 2013 at 15:36
  • @IsaacMoses - these are based on years of reading Mussar/Hashkafa books. I'll keep an eye out for sources and report them as I find them - trying to find them actively is very time consuming. Dec 19, 2013 at 10:20
  • @avi - Agreed! This is a "taste" of an idea. I'm on the lookout for something more complete. Dec 19, 2013 at 10:21
  • Hopefully I'll have something for you before Shabbat.
    – avi
    Dec 19, 2013 at 10:40

The answer that I am about to bring may or may not answer the question brought at the end (the main question), but either way, the first question which prompted the second must be addressed, because it presupposes that the mitzvah of bringing certain offerings on Shabbos pushes off the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos. But this is not true according to the Geonim.

Because the שו"ת מהר"ם אל אשקר סימן ק"ב writes that Chazal teach that there are several pairs of words/phrases which were spoken by Hashem simultaneously (the best known example is זכור and שמור), and one of these pairs is the posuk in Shemos 32,14 - מְחַלְלֶיהָ מוֹת יוּמָת (one who profanes Shabbos will surely die) and the posuk in Bamidbar 28,9 - וּבְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת (and on the day of Shabbos certain offerings must be brought). And Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon explain that the reason for this is to teach us that at the same time that Hashem said that doing work on Shabbos is forbidden, He also said that bringing certain offerings was permitted, to teach that bringing these offerings is not a profanation of Shabbos.

Thus it is clear that the command not to do work on Shabbos never included the bringing of these offerings, and thus the first question was based on a fallacy, and hence the second, main question - since it is based on the first question - also falls away.

  • The second question stands. Why did God structure the relationship between these Commandments thus?
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 19, 2013 at 17:47
  • It's not a fallacy if you are allowed to chop wood in the beit hamikdash on shabbat.
    – avi
    Dec 20, 2013 at 14:35

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