Makos 022: Rishonim correcting the Lashon and altering meaning of the Gemara?

Kollel Iyun Hadaf daf at dafyomi.co.il
Sun Jul 31 02:33:57 PDT 2011


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Makos 022: Rishonim correcting the Lashon and altering meaning of the Gemara?
 
Harvey Benton asks:
 
My question is, why would Hashem have Moshe write one thing (eg. 40
lashes) if indeed (acc to one opinion) it was really meant to be 39?
 
We are taught that just as Hashem is kind, we are to be kind, and so
on with other midos, that we are taught Hashem commanded us, and that
He (kavayachol) also keeps. 
 
To write something that is confusing, and is not ke-peshuto (e.g., 40
= 39, cutting off hand = monetary compensation, don't steal in aseres
hadibros means kidnapping, reuven moving yaakov's bed was not really
literal, etc ) would, in my opinion, violate the law of lifnei iver,
since those, who natually would interpret a pasuk literally, or who
grew up in a vacuum like the karaites, would violate commandments
that Hashem would (I assume) want us (and them) to keep. E.g., why
make things complicated??
 
thank you for your time again.....
Harvey Benton, Los Angeles
----------------------------------------------
The Kollel replies:
 
Shalom, Harvey! You want to know why the Torah does not say exactly
what it means. Indeed, the words of the Torah sometimes seem
positively misleading, as in the case of our Sugya, "Arba'im Yakenu"
(where the Torah prescribes 40 lashes while the Mishnah tells us that
we only give 39).
 
(a) You must know that the Torah is not a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. It
cannot be read or interpreted as an independent entity, without the
Torah she'Be'al Peh. This is what Hillel meant to teach the would-be
Ger in Shabbos 31a. (As you remember, Hillel prevailed upon the Ger
to accept the Oral Torah by first teaching him the Aleph-Beis in the
correct order and then, on the following day, reversing the order.
When the Ger queried him about it, Hillel replied that he wanted to
demonstrate that even with regard to the Written Torah, the Ger had
no choice but to rely on others for its accurate reading. If so, why
should he not rely on the Oral Torah's interpretation of the Written
Torah as well?) Thus, it is quite impossible for us to establish the
Mitzvos without the assistance and the directions of the Torah she'Be'al Peh.  
 
This point is made forcefully by the Midrash on Shir ha'Shirim 1:2
(on the verse Ki Tovim Dodecha mi'Yayin). The Midrash explains that
"wine" refers to the written Torah (see the explanation for this in
Torah Temimah, note #21). Dodecho (your display of love) represents
the Torah she'Be'al Peh. The verse is saying that the latter are
superior to the former. The Gemara makes a similar point in Avodah
Zarah 35a, where the same verse is interpreted as "Hashem relishes
the words of the Rabbis (Divrei Sofrim) even more than the 'wine' of
the Torah itself."
 
(b) Nonetheless, Chazal always endeavor to justify the
interpretations of Torah she'Be'al Peh and reconcile them with Torah
she'Bichsav either by way of Asmachta, the rules of Dikduk, or some
similar cogent determining factor. Thus, in the case of the 39
lashes, they connected the last words of the previous verse (Devarim
25:2), "Kedei Rish'aso b'Mispar," with the word "Arba'im." The verse
now reads that he should be lashed according to his wickedness by the
number *leading up to* 40.  Here, too, see the note in Torah Teminah
(#19) for a beautiful and logical explanation of why this must be the
true reading of the verse.
 
(c) The reason that the Torah operates in this way could be for a
number of reasons.
 
1. Firstly, through this method, Chazal can derive a number of
distinct Halachos from the brief rendition of the Torah she'Bichsav.
Chazal interpret the verse through the 13 Midos of Tana d'Vei Rebbi
Yishmael and by proximity, juxtaposition, choice of words, Chaser
v'Yeser, Vav Lerabos and all the other multifarious methodologies of
Torah exegesis.  To take just one minor example, see how many
Halachos are derived from the verse in Kedoshim of "Lo Sochlu Al
ha'Dam" (see Sanhedrin 63a).
 
2. A second reason may be to ensure that we take an ethical
perspective. In the case of the 39 lashes, the number 40 that the
Torah uses connotes the entire essence of the Torah, which this
sinner has wantonly desecrated. (The number 40 represents Torah
because it was given in 40 days and 40 nights. In addition, the
Mishnah begins and ends with the letter Mem, which has a numerical
value of 40; Moshe, Hillel, Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai and Rebbi Akiva
all lived 3 times 40 years according to Sifri Devarim 34:7. From
numerous sources it is clear that 40 represents Sheleimus ha'Torah.)
 
A similar point may be made about the issue of "Ayin Tachas Ayin"
(lex talionis), which Chazal re-interpret conclusively as referring
to monetary compensation.  Perhaps the Torah wishes to teach that
although in practice only money can be taken as compensation,
nonetheless, ethically the perpetrator deserves much more serious treatment.
 
3. Thirdly, the Torah wants it to be clear that the final arbiters of
Pesak Halachah are Chazal.  Thus we find in Bava Metzia 59b, in the
famous debate over Tanur Shel Achna'i, Rebbe Yehoshua exclaims, "Lo
ba'Shamayim Hi!", and Hashem smiles in approval and says, "My
children have beaten me, My children have beaten me!"  Some explain
the duplication of this expression to emphasize its comprehensivity;
it is referring to both Torah she'Bichsav and she'Be'al Peh.
 
This, too, is the intention of Rava in Makos 22b when he says, "How
foolish are the majority of people who stand up for a Sefer Torah,
but not for a big Talmid Chacham! The Torah provided for 40 (lashes)
and the Rabbanim reduced it by one."  See also the words of the Ran
in Kidushin 33b (who reconciles an apparent contradiction between the
Gemara here and in Kidushin). Interpreting the above-quoted Gemara,
the Ran makes the important observation that "had it not been for
[the interpretations of] the Rabanan, the Torah would be left closed
and unused."
 
(d) In conclusion, we can readily understand the need for the brevity
of the Torah she'Bichsav and its choice of terminology.  It can only
be learned hand in hand with Torah she'Be'al Peh, for the three
reasons set out above.
 
This is patently obvious in Mitzvos such as Tefilin, Mezuzah,
Shechitah etc., (where the description of the Mitzvah is left
entirely to Torah she'Be'al Peh). But it should be taken as equally
obvious in respect of the other Mitzvos, even those that are
described a little more fully in the Torah. The same applies to the
apparent sins of the Torah leaders described in Tanach. We cannot
simply accept them on an absolutely literal basis - see what Rav
Desler in Michtav me'Eliyahu (vol. I p. 161 and on) and others wrote
about Reuven and Yakov's bed, for example. (The interpretation of
Midrashic material is also not to be taken literally in all cases -
but that is an issue for another occasion.)
 
The Torah is not in any way misleading - provided that one learns it
properly, in the prescribed manner, with the constant and permanent
assistance of our revered Chazal.
 
Rabbi Joseph Pearlman
London, England



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