Sunday, June 08, 2008

Halacha Trumps a Verse

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yishmael (Daf Yomi: Sotah 16a): There are three places that a halacha l’Moshe mi’Sinai trumps the simple meaning of a verse: The Torah states that the blood must be covered with earth, and yet, the halacha is that it may be covered with anything (providing that it is something in which plants can grow). The Torah forbids a nazir from cutting his hair with a razor, and yet, the halacha is that he may not cut it with anything. The Torah says that a get (bill of divorce) must be written on parchment, and yet, the halacha is that it can be written on anything.

The Vilna Gaon in Aderes Eliyahu quotes our Gemora and provides other examples besides those mentioned in our Gemora. It is written with respect to a Jewish slave [Shmos 21:6]: His master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with a tool, and he shall serve him forever. Based upon the textual reading of the verse, the doorpost would be a valid place to bore his ear, but halacha overrides the verse. Rashi states: I might think that the doorpost is a valid place on which to bore the slave’s ear. Therefore, the Torah says [Devarim 15:17]: “And you shall thrust it into his ear and into the door.” This means that it should be “into the door,” but not “into the doorpost.” What then does “or to the doorpost” mean? The Torah is comparing “the door” to “the doorpost.” Just as the doorpost is upright (attached to the house), so too, the door must be upright. [If the door is detached, it may not be used for the ritual of ear boring.]

The Gaon continues by citing the Gemora in Makkos (22b): How foolish are those who rise for a Torah scroll (to honor it), but they do not rise for a Torah scholar.