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Mishna Yoma 2:1-2:

ב,א בראשונה, כל מי שהוא רוצה לתרום את המזבח, תורם; בזמן שהן מרובין, רצין ועולים בכבש, וכל הקודם את חברו לתוך ארבע אמות זכה. ואם היו שניהם שווין, הממונה אומר להן הצביעו: מה הן מוציאין, אחת או שתיים; אין מוציאין גודל במקדש.

ב,ב מעשה שהיו שניים שווים רצים ועולים בכבש, ודחף אחד מהן את חברו, ונפל ונשברה רגלו; וכשראו בית דין שהן באין לידי סכנה, התקינו שלא יהו תורמין את המזבח אלא בפיס. ארבעה פייסות היו שם. זה הוא הפיס הראשון.

(Read with vowels and translation.)

Basically, for the trumat hadeshen, one of the priestly activities, the kohanim used to run up the mizbei'ach, and whoever won the race by 4 amot got to do it. (In case of a tie, they do a raffle among everyone.) One time, someone was pushed, fell, and broke his leg. The Sages said that we won't do that anymore because it's too dangerous; they would just raffle it off.

But my question is, why did they decide it's too dangerous over one incident? They had clearly been doing this race successfully for a long time. Once, someone broke a leg, so now they can't race??

(As for why the race is better than a raffle, it ensures that the person who merits to do it really wants to. They have to train to earn it, and not just be lucky.)

  • 1
    Someone was pushed off seems a larger reason, it endangered the spiritual sanctity of the kohanim to continue. – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 29 '14 at 20:15
  • See here. – user4523 Oct 29 '14 at 20:27
  • Perhaps if they did nothing, people would think it's okay, leading to more injuries. – Ypnypn Oct 29 '14 at 20:57
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Nice question.

To me it seems that to begin with, the whole concept of having a system wherein people compete to "win" a mitzva opportunity is a tricky matter.

If indeed everyone's intention is pure about it, i.e. all participants genuinely want to fulfill Hashem's mitzvah for it's sake, and competing is but a means to express that desire, then fine. But as soon as it becomes more about the competition itself, then we are dealing with something that borders on being against Hashem's will.

So perhaps when this incident occurred, Beis Din reasoned that when someone actually suffered a major injury from this competitive system (the man didn't slip and fall; he was pushed off) it could only mean that people's intentions were no longer on the high level necessary for this to be a desirable form of competition, and therefore the system had to be changed.

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The Gemoro (Yoma 22a) answers your question:

והא מעיקרא מאי טעמא לא תקינו לה רבנן פייסא? מעיקרא סבור כיון דעבודת לילה היא לא חשיבא להו ולא אתו. כיון דחזו דקאתו ואתו לידי סכנה תקינו לה פייסא. ‏

Asks the Gemoro: So why didn't they do Pias originally (for who would do Trumas Hadeshen)?

Answers the Gemoro:

  • Originally they assumed that since it was a pre-dawn "activity", not many Cohanim would show up, as they wouldn't consider it an important activity. (So the few that showed up could race up the ramp safely).

  • Once they saw that lots of Cohanim showed up - and this posed a danger (when racing up the ramp), they decided to implement the Pias (for it, too).

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