Close your eyes and picture yourself in Yerushalayim during the time of the Beis HaMikdash. The city is filled to capacity with pilgrims and residents converging in the Temple courtyard on the eve of Passover. The Yidden are clustered in groups, each group with its own lamb. The scent of roasted lamb permeates the air and the atmosphere is at once both somber and festive. This is the height of the Passover service that recalls the lamb’s blood marking the doorposts of the Jewish homes and our Exodus from Egypt —

The Korbon Pesach At first glance, it seems that a study of Hilchos Korbon Pesach is somewhat impractical for most of us as we prepare for Passover. After all, we have not merited bringing the Korbon Pesach for almost two millennia and many other halachos seem more pertinent. However, the Jewish people are a nation of believers, descendants of believers, and we know with certainty that even as late as Erev Pesach we may merit the instant rebuilding of the Third Beis HaMikdash. Just as we recite the order of korbonos every day in davening, it is very relevant to review the basic laws of this very vital sacrifice and many have the custom to do so after Mincha on Erev Pesach.
The Korbon Pesach was a symbol of the very beginning of the Jewish nation. In fact, it was one of only a handful of mitzvos commanded before the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Throughout our history the Korbon Pesach was used to rally our people to recommit to the ethos of the Torah. Before B’nei Yisroel conquered Eretz Yisroel, Yehoshua performed a mass Korbon Pesach at Gilgal.1 Later, King Hezekiah presided over a Korbon Pesach during a rededication of the Torah.2 When the Jewish people had slipped into a morass of undesirable activity, King Yoshia celebrated the Korbon Pesach as a spiritual reawakening.3 The first Korbon Pesach in the Second Beis HaMikdash is described by Ezra HaSofer as the first significant event of that period which established the return of Temple activity.4 Josephus, a Jewish historian during the Second Temple period, described the Korbon Pesach rites with the participation of millions of pilgrims.5 The Talmud also relates that King Aggripas wanted to count the number of Korbon Pesachim one year, so the Kohanim set aside one kidney from each lamb and they numbered 1.2 million.6 It is clear that this commandment played a very prominent role in our history.

Halachos of Korbon Pesach The mitzvah of Korbon Pesach serves to remind us of the tremendous miracles that occurred during our Exodus from Egypt and the blood of the original Korbon Pesach was used to differentiate between the Jewish homes and those of their persecutors.7 The Jewish firstborns were thus protected from Makkos Bechoros (death of the firstborn), the fate that befell the firstborns of Egypt.
It is a mitzvah to sacrifice a male lamb (or kid) under one year old on the fourteenth of Nissan, after midday, in the Beis HaMikdash as a Korbon Pesach.8 If one separates a female sheep, or one older than one year, it is pastured until it receives a blemish and is then sold; the proceeds are used for a Korbon Pesach. However, if the blemish does not occur until after Pesach, the funds are used for a Korbon Shlamim.9
The mitzvah of Korbon Pesach is required of both men and women. One who intentionally neglects this mitzvah is subject to the punishment of kareis (dying before one’s time).10 Although this mitzvah was given before the Beis HaMikdash (or Mishkan) was erected, the sacrifice could only be offered on a public altar, as opposed to private altars which were sometimes used in the past.11 It is forbidden to own chometz while sacrificing the Korbon Pesach12 and the transgression carries a penalty of malkos (flogging).13 In order for the mitzvah to be valid, all rites performed in connection to the mitzvah must be performed solely for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah of Korbon Pesach.14
All those who came to offer the Korbon Pesach were separated into three groups for the slaughter of the korbonos, based on the posuk, “…the whole community of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it” — community, congregation and Israel.15 A group could not consist of less than ten participants. If there were less than fifty total participants, a Korbon Pesach could not be offered at all.16 It is possible that during bleak periods in the Temple eras this might have been an issue, but based on historical accounts the groups were actually filled to capacity. In fact, after the Temple courtyard was full, the gates were closed and the sacrifices began. After the Korbon Pesach was slaughtered, its blood was poured against the base of the mizbeach.17 The Kohanim stood in rows bearing vessels with pointed bottoms so they could not be put down. The rows alternated between gold and silver vessels as a source of beautification. Even a non-Kohain could slaughter the lamb and the closest Kohain collected the blood and quickly passed it down the row to be poured on the mizbeach. The empty vessel was quickly passed back for the next Korbon Pesach.18 (This may have been one of the first assembly lines, of which we are so familiar today.)
There were hooks placed along the walls and columns for skinning the lamb, but for those who had no access to hooks, smooth wooden rods were available for portable skinning stations.19 The lamb was then skinned, the organs removed and burned, and the owner of the sacrifice took it home to prepare it for the Seder.20 When the first group was done, the process was repeated with the next two groups. During the service, the Levi’im would recite Hallel three times, although they never completed the third round.21 The silver Temple trumpets were sounded during each recitation of Hallel.22
If Erev Pesach occurred on Shabbos, the entire ritual was performed and the participants waited to return home with their slaughtered lamb until after Shabbos.23 Any preparation that could be done before Shabbos, such as bringing the lamb from outside of the t’chum, etc. could not be done on Shabbos.24 However, if no knife was available one could transport the knife on Shabbos by sticking it into the wool of the lamb, provided the lamb was not yet sanctified.25

Preparing and Eating the Korbon Pesach The Korbon Pesach must be consumed on the night of the 15th of Nissan.26 While the Torah commands us to eat it together with the matzah and maror, one still fulfills the mitzvah if the accompanying foods are not available.27 Since it is preferable to eat the Korbon Pesach on a full stomach, a Korbon Chagigah is offered and consumed first until one is satiated.28
The Korbon Pesach must be completely roasted.29 A wooden spit was forced into the mouth of the Korbon Pesach and out through the other end of the lamb and the internal organs were hung above the Korbon Pesach as it was lowered into an oven and roasted. A spit of pomegranate wood was preferable since the wood was dry and did not contain liquid that could leak into the Korbon Pesach and cause it to be cooked, rather than roasted.30
If the korbon is only partially roasted or cooked by another method, it is a transgression deserving of malkos.31 The Korbon Pesach must be roasted directly on fire, not on a metal or stone tray. If the tray has holes then the Korbon Pesach may be roasted above the tray.32

It is clear that this commandment played a very prominent role in our history

A metal spit may not be used since the interior of the Korbon Pesach will be cooked as a result of the hot metal, not directly by the fire. A heated oven that had the fire removed before roasting may not be used.33 The Korbon Pesach could not touch any part of the oven.34 One may not cook the Korbon Pesach, even in liquids other than water (wine or oil), after roasting. After roasting, one may smear the Korbon Pesach with a liquid other than water.35
One may not eat the Korbon Pesach while it is still Erev Pesach.36 Although the Torah permits one to eat the Korbon Pesach until the morning, Chazal shortened the time to midnight to ensure it was eaten within the proper time (as was done with the evening Shema and other mitzvos). Hallel was recited during the consumption of the Korbon Pesach and if one fell asleep before eating the Korbon Pesach one could no longer partake in the korbon.37
The Korbon Pesach must be eaten by the group that designated the particular korbon. Bringing a Korbon Pesach to a different group was a transgression punishable by malkos.38 If the Korbon Pesach is brought to another group, the correct group is also forbidden to eat the korbon.39 One who breaks a bone in the Korbon Pesach, whether on Erev Pesach, Pesach night, or even days after Pesach, is deserving of malkos as long as a kezayis of meat or marrow is on the bone.40 Eating the korbon without breaking any bones was a sign of royalty.41 To prevent such a transgression the bones were burned.42 One may not leave any morsel of the Korbon Pesach uneaten after daybreak or one is guilty of a transgression, though not deserving of flogging.43 This was also a symbol of royalty.44 Only the first Korbon Pesach in Egypt required smearing blood on the doorpost, eating quickly, being girded and wearing shoes, and brandishing sticks.45
One who is further than 15 mil (1 mil = the distance that can be travelled in 22.5-24 minutes) from Yerushalayim on Erev Pesach,46 or not circumcised, or tomei from one of several types of tumah47 could not partake of the Korbon Pesach. If a person transgressed this ruling, he is punished by malkos. However, the person could partake in the Pesach Sheini offering during the month of Iyar.

Korbon Pesach in the Seder During the time of the Beis HaMikdash the Korbon Pesach was the highlight of the festival and this was reflected in the Pesach Seder. The third of the four questions asked in the time of the Beis HaMikdash was, “Why is only roasted meat consumed on Seder night?”48 The phrase “Pesach, matzah, maror” referred to the actual Korbon Pesach, as in the posuk, “You should say, ‘It is a Pesach-offering to G-d, because he passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians, and He spared our households.’ Then the people bowed down and prostrated themselves.”49 (Today, we say, “Pesach – the Paschal lamb that our ancestors ate when the Holy Temple stood – is for what reason?”50)
While we have several reminders of the Korbon Pesach in our Seder, such as the roasted wing or neck on the Seder plate,51 not eating any roasted meat during the Seder52 and, according to some authorities, eating the Afikomen53, the centerpiece of the Seder is glaringly absent. We pray that in this month of Nissan, in which the original redemption occurred, will be the Final Redemption and we will be worthy of bringing and eating the Korbon Pesach during Pesach 5773 in Yerushalayim with the coming of Moshiach.

Zero’a Facts

  • The original source for the zero’a is in the Mishnah. It is the only cooked item in memory of the Korbon Pesach.54
  • Examples of zero’a in the Gemara are beets, rice, fish, egg, and meat.55
  • According to Beis Yosef the zero’a should use meat from the arm, including the bone.56
  • The zero’a should be roasted over coals because a pomegranate spit is too hard to find.57
  • Some hold the zero’a in the hand while roasting.
  • The zero’a should not to be eaten Seder night or lifted during the recitation Haggadah.
  • Try to roast Erev Pesach. If one forgot to roast Erev Pesach, one can only roast if one will eat it on the first day of Pesach.58
  • One should not discard the zero’a because it was used for a mitzvah.59 It should be eaten during the daytime meal on the second day.60
  • The zero’a represents the main mitzvah in the Haggadah so it is placed on the top right of the k’aira because we don’t pass over mitzvos.61
  • There are differing opinions about how to prepare the zero’a: roasted (eaten on the second day), cooked (can be eaten on the first night)62, cooked and then roasted (eaten on the second day)63.
  • One cannot state that the zero’a is the Korbon Pesach.64
  • Some hang the zero’a on the door to remember the blood on doorposts.65

1. Yehoshua 3:10.
2. Divrei HaYamim II 30:15.
3. Melachim Beis 23:21.
4. Ezra 6:19.
5. Josephus, Jewish War, 2.14.3.
6. Gemara, Pesachim 64b.
7. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 5.
8. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 1:1.
9. Ibid 4:4.
10. Ibid 1:2.
11. Ibid 1:3.
12. Shemos 23:18.
13. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 1:5.
14. Mishna, Pesachim 5:2.
15. Mishna, Pesachim 5:5. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 1:9
16. Ibid 1:11.
17. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 1:6.
18. Ibid 1:13.
19. Ibid 1:14.
20. Ibid 1:6.
21. Ibid 1:11.
22. Ibid 1:12.
23. Ibid 1:17.
24. Ibid 1:18.
25. Ibid 1:19.
26. Ibid 8:1.
27. Ibid 8:2.
28. Ibid 8:3.
29. Ibid 8:6.
30. Ibid 8:10.
31. Ibid 8:6.
32. Ibid 8:9.
33. Ibid 8:10.
34. Ibid 8:11.
35. Ibid 8:8.
36. Ibid 8:5.
37. Ibid 8:15.
38. Ibid 9:1.
39. Ibid 9:2.
40. Ibid 10:1.
41. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 16. See also “Soul Nutrition” in this issue for further commentary.
42. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 10:2.
43. Ibid 10:11.
44. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 8. See also “Soul Nutrition” in this issue for further commentary.
45. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 10:15.
46. Rambam, Hilchos Korbon Pesach 5:9.
47. Ibid 9:8.
48. Gemara, Pesachim 116a.
49. Ibid and Shemos 12:27.
50. Haggadah for Pesach.
51. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 473:4.
52. Ibid 476.
53. Rosh, Pesachim, Siman 34.
54. Gemara, Pesachim 114a.
55. Ibid 114b.
56. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 473:4.
57. Mishna Berurah.
58. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 473:32.
59. Ibid.
60. Chayei Adam 130:6.
61. Maharal MiPrague.
62. Maharashal Siman 388.
63. Viyagid Moshe B’Ha’Tosafos.
64. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 469:1.
65. Haggadas Chaim L’Rosh Siddur Ha’Kaira 3.