By Rav David Silverberg
The Torah in Parashat Tzav discusses the laws relevant to the consumption of sacrificial meat, including that of the shelamim offering, which was divided between the individual bringing the sacrifice and the kohanim. Most of the meat was consumed by the person offering the sacrifice (or by people with whom he wished to share it), whereas the animal’s chazeh (chest) and shok (thigh) was given to the kohanim (7:31-36). In discussing these halakhot, the Mishna in Masekhet Zevachim (55a) notes that the chazeh and shok may be eaten by “the kohanim, their wives, their children and their servants.”
A number of writers raised the question of why the Mishna needed to specify that the sons of the kohanim were permitted to partake of this portion of the shelamim. After all, they are themselves kohanim, and so it is obvious that once the Torah grants the chazeh and shok to all kohanim, this includes the sons of all kohanim. The Sefat Emet suggests that since kohanim were not eligible to perform the service in the Beit Ha-mikdash until they reached halakhic adulthood, one might have assumed that minors were barred from partaking in the kohanim’s portion of the sacrifices. The Mishna therefore found it necessary to clarify that even the young children of kohanim, who did not serve in the Mikdash, were given these portions.
Another possibility (suggested by Rav Ari Storch in his Tiferet Aryeh commentary to Masekhet Zevachim) is that one might have thought to forbid sharing these portions with young kohanim because this food must be eaten in an honorable manner. The Gemara (Chulin 132b) establishes that sacrificial food must be eaten in a manner of “gedula” (“greatness” or “nobility”), the way dignitaries eat their food. This halakha has several different applications, and one might have extended it to forbid sharing sacrificial food with young children. This would, at first glance, constitute a dishonorable way of consuming the sacrifice, and it should thus be forbidden. The Mishna therefore clarifies that in truth, sharing sacrificial food with young children does not violate the requirement to partake of sacrificial food in a “regal” manner, and it is therefore entirely permissible.
Symbolically, this halakha perhaps expresses the fact that Torah tradition sees absolutely nothing disrespectful about including young children in matters of kedusha. At first glance, one might have assumed that sacred matters such as Torah, prayer and other mitzvot should be shared only with youngsters who have already grown and matured, such that they act in a generally respectable manner. But in truth, Halakha allows sharing “sacrificial food” even with young children. There is nothing at all dishonorable in including youngsters in the realm of sanctity, and to the contrary, children should be exposed to Torah, prayer and mitzvot already from a young age. We in fact give honor to sacred matters by making a point of sharing them with children of every age, as part of our fervent effort to ensure the successful transmission of Torah to the next generation.
Originally appears on VBM