Parshat צו Leviticus 7:34 – What’s in a gift?

Leviticus 7:34 “For the breast of waving and the thigh of heaving have I taken of the children of Israel out of their sacrifices of peace-offerings, and have given them unto Aaron the priest and unto his sons as a due for ever from the children of Israel.”

Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Yevamoth Chapter 8 Halachah 1: and have given them… These priestly gifts (the breast and thigh) never return (to those that gave them) as the verse says “and have given them …”.  Just as a gift never returns to the giver, so too these priestly gifts do not return.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #139:

The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the breast and the thigh differ from other priestly gifts such as terumah and the like because there is no food from which terumah is not given to a Cohen[1], unlike the breast and the thigh, that only apply to edible sacrifices offered in the Temple[2], but do not apply to non-sacrificial meat as explained in the previous commentary[3].  The Jerusalem Talmud explicitly states that, were the Israelites (i.e. not Cohanim) worthy, they would take the breast and thigh for themselves from their sacrifices.  Since the Israelites were not worthy[4], the breast and the thigh were taken from them and given to the Cohanim.  Based on this, the Jerusalem Talmud states: “Just as a gift never returns, so too these priestly gifts do not return.”  One might think since, the main reason the Cohanim merited the breast and the thigh was because the Israelites were not worthy, should the Israelites become worthy, the breast and the thigh should be taken from the Cohanim and given back to the Israelites.  Therefore, the Jerusalem Talmud teaches us that they never return from the Cohanim.[5]

Nonetheless, one must explain the necessity of this nuance in that verse explicitly states “as a due forever” which implies an everlasting right.  Furthermore, the comparison from a gift is not completely accurate because a gift returns in the Jubilee year as explained in Tractate Bechorot 52b[6].

It is possible to say that this nuance of the Jerusalem Talmud teaches us that a gift from G-d is not like a gift from one person to another.  Regarding a gift between people, if there is an estimation that shows that the gift was given on condition, the gift can be returned when the reason or condition, upon which, the gift was given becomes void.  One example of this is how we rule based on the Talmud (Ketuvoth 54a) [7].

For a widow, we deduct the value of her clothing from the value of her ketuvah because we assume that he gave them to her to appear before him.

Tosafot on 54b, proposes a similar idea.

The inheritors of a betrothed woman who died do not inherit from money that the husband added to the minimum value of the ketuvah because we say that he only included the increase in order to marry her.[8]

And in Bava Basra 146b

If a person, upon hearing that his son died, gifted his money to someone else, the gift is returned should the son arrive, for the only reason he gifted the money was because he thought that his son was deceased.

There are many similar ideas in the Talmud.

Yet, things do not work this way with respect to the Holy One Blessed is He.  Even if one could determine the reason why G-d made a person worthy, we could not take away what He gave the person should the reason become void.  Perhaps the reason for what is as stated in Makkot 11a “Everything that the Holy One Blessed is He states for the good, even conditionally stated, never changes for the worse.” [Unless there is an explicitly stated condition, such as, “ If ye walk in My statutes…[9]

From this was can learn the basis for ruling on the basis of estimation.  When a person gives a gift based on a certain condition, one need not explain the condition.  Rather we rule on estimation alone.  See further what is written about this in Leviticus 5:1[10]

Editor’s note: This note also shows his incredible knowledge of the rabbinic sources.  At first glance, one could wonder what the priestly portions have to do with Jewish monetary laws, yet the Torah Temimah clearly shows, based on a difference between gifts from G-d to people and gifts between people that there is a connection.  He brings proof from various monetary cases that show, whenever the court can estimate the intention of the person giving the gift, it is possible to revoke the gift if the intention is no longer valid.  This is not the case by G-d, even if we could possibly determine His intention.  All this from a breast and a thigh!


[1] Except salt and water which are not considered significant.  Tithes: terumah and maaser must be taken from all produce grown in Israel.  This applies to grains, fruits, vegetables, and anything produced from them.  Terumah is given to a Cohen and maaser (a tenth) to a Levite.  The Levite is required to give a tenth of his portion to a Cohen.  Challah, a potion of baked dough given to a Cohen, is also referred to as terumah.  The Torah Temimah may also be including challah when he refers to Terumah.

[2] As opposed to an Olah offering, which was completely burnt on the altar.

[3] In the previous note he shows why different parts of the animal are given to the Cohanim from sacrificial meat and non sacrificial meat.

[4] The firstborn males were originally designated to serve Hashem .  After the sin of the golden calf, this role was taken from the firstborn and given to the Cohen.

[5] There are opinions that when the 3rd Temple is rebuilt (may it be soon and in our lifetime), the firstborn will serve together with the Cohanim.  One could infer that Torah Temimah concurs with the opinion that the firstborn will not serve at all in the 3rd temple or, if they do serve, they will not receive the breast and thigh from the edible sacrifices.

[6] Bechorot chapter 8 mishna 11.  Rabbi Meir says that a gift does not return in the Jubilee year.  The Rabbis that a gift is comparable to sale thus it returns in the Jubilee year.

[7] The halacha is accordance with Rav who hold that the value of her clothes are subtracted from the value of her ketuvah.  Now that that they are no longer married, the value of the clothing given to her by her husband returns to the estate of the husband and is this subtracted from the value of her ketuvah.

[8] The money added to value of the ketuvah is seen as a gift from the husband to the wife in order to marry her.  Since she was only betrothed, this gift returns to the husband.  Thus her inheritors cannot claim it.

[9] Leviticus 26:3.  Good things will happen as the verses state.  Followed by Leviticus 26:14 ” But if ye will not hearken unto Me …”

[10] Note 17

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