Friday, April 13, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Shimini 2

Reasons for the Mitzvot - Keeping it all Hidden

Regarding the concept of giving reasons for mitzvot – it is difficult for me to accept the vailidity of any explanation. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b) explains that the Torah chose not to give reasons for the mitzvot for a purpose, because if we knew the reasons we may come to be lenient in their observance. The Talmud there gives examples of this. Who knows the secrets of G-d in all the Torah and mitzvot and their reasons, such that they can give an explanation or a reason. I have explained this objection at length elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the best explanation seems to me to be based on the intention of the Sages in the Yerushalmi (Peah chapter 4; halacha 2): It was taught in the name of Rabbi Shimon, there are five reasons why a person should only leave the peah (crops) for the poor at the edges of his field.
1. because of theft from the poor – so that the owner of the field can’t wait for a time when there are no poor people around and then tell one of his poor relatives to come and take the gifts before anyone else gets a chance. By leaving it at the end of the field, when he has finished harvesting there will be time for other poor people to gather.
2. because of wasting the time of the poor people – so that they don’t have to wait during the entire harvest until the owner decides to give them peah. Since he only gives it at the end of the harvest the poor will be able to gather at the appropriate time.
3. because of the cheats – so that the owner of the field cannot say that he has already given the peah, or chose for himself the best crops and only leave the bad quality grain for the poor. By giving whatever is left at the end of the field he is forced to give whatever is there regardless of quality.
4. because of the way it looks to others – that people passing shouldn’t say that the owner hasn’t left peah at the edge of his field. Since he has to leave it at the end they will see that he is still in the middle of his harvest and has not yet become obligated to leave it for the poor.
5. because the Torah says that you may not harvest the peaot (corners) of the field – and the corners means the edges.
This is incredible. First Rabbi Shimon gives four reasons that are understandable, then he ends with a fifth reason ‘because the Torah said so!’. Obviously all of the other reasons are based on this wording of the Torah, so this is not a separate reason, how can he just say ‘because the Torah said so’?
It must be that what he is saying is that even though there are many reasons why the mitzvah makes sense, nevertheless the primary fundamental reason is only because it says so in the Torah, and that is the sole basis for the obligation for the mitzvah.
In the Talmud Bavli (Shabbat 23a) it only gives four reasons for peah, and leaves out the final reason of ‘because the Torah said so’. This is because the opinion of the Bavli is that you can’t say ‘because’, since this is the foundation and the reason for everything, as we have explained.
Based on this explanation we can also understand the Talmud in Eruvin (21b) on the verse “Shlomo spoke 3000 analogies, and his songs were 1500” (Melachim 1. 5; 12). From here we learn that for every word of Torah there are 3000 analogies, and on each Rabbinic mitzvah there are 1500 reasons.
This requires explanation; why are the reasons for the mitzvot described as analogies, and the reasons for Rabbinic mitzvot as reasons?
Based on what we explained above we understand that it is impossible for us to give definite reasons for the mitzvot of the Torah, to say without a doubt this was the intention and reason of the Torah. It is impossible for a human to fully understand the depths of the reasoning of G-d, the Torah or the mitzvot. Therefore any reason that we give for a mitzvah is only an estimation or assesment based on our knowledge, similar to an analogy that someone gives for something, which is not the actual thing, but something which is similar to it, or leads to a better understanding of it. But this is not to say that the analogy is actually the thing itself. However, with Rabbinic mitzvot, the Sages themselves gave the reasons for their words, and we just have to explain, expand and develop them. But the basis of Rabbinic mitzvot are true and specific reasons. Therefore when describing the reasons for Torah mitzvot it uses the word ‘analogy’, because the reason is only ever an approximation, but with Rabbinic mitzvot the Talmud can use the word ‘reason’ because it could be the actual reason.
This may be the intention of the Rambam in giving reasons for the mitzvot. Perhaps he is only giving analogies and estimates and his opinions. However he should have been more careful to state that was what he was doing.
I also wanted to use this concept to answer a difficult passage of Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) where it says that they only accepted someone as a member of the Sanhedrin (high court) if he was able to give 150 different reasons why a sheretz (an impure animal) should be pure. Tosefot there write that Rabbeinu Tam had difficulty with this. Why should we be interested in spurious logic, to purify something which the Torah has said is impure.
According to what we have said, though, there is a purpose to this logical exercise. Through this brilliance and logic we come to realise with certainty that there is no purpose in investigating the reasoning of the Torah and the reasons or intent of the mitzvot. If it were possible to come to a full understanding of the reasons for the mitzvot it must be that after giving 150 reasons why a sheretz must be pure, that we would reclassify it as such. Since we know that it remains impure because the Torah told us so, therefore we know that any reason or logic that we can give is not the same as the actual reason or logic of the Torah and the mitzvah. This teaches us that we must accept the mitzvot unquestioningly, without investigating or challenging them. Even in a place where human logic seems to dictate something other than what the Torah says.
This concept also explains the statement of the Talmud in Eruvin (13b): It is will known that there was noone to compare to Rabbi Meir in his generation. Why is the Halacha not in accordance with his opinion? Because his contemporaries were unable to fully understand his reasoning. He used ot say that something impure was pure, and would bring proofs, then show that something pure was impure and bring proofs for that as well. Rashi explains that he could show an equally reasoned argument for something that was the correct Halacha as for something that was not the correct Halacha. His contemporaries were unable to understand which opinions of his were in accordance with Halacha and which ones not.
We see from here that it is beyond human logic to give an exact reason for the Halacha, because Rabbi Meir was able to give an equally convincing reason and explanation for the opposite of the Halacha also.
I have also explained more on this topic of reasons for mitzvot in Parshat Acharei (Vayikra 17; 8) and also on Parshat Devarim (1; 16).
Now I will show you where we find that the Sages seem to say that you should look into the reasons for the mitzvot, against what we have just said, and we will give a resolution of the apparent contradiction.
If you look at the end of Pesachim (119a) “And her merchandise and harlot’s wages will one day become holy to G-d; it shall not be sotred nor accumulated, for her merchandise will belong to those who sit before G-d, to eat and be sated and for elegant clothing” (Yishiyahu 23; 18). Regarding this the Sages said: What is elegant clothing (lit. covered ancient)? This refers to someone who covers the things that were kept hidden by the Ancient One (meaning G-d). What are those things? The secrets of the Torah. One should not give them over to anyone but only to those who sit before G-d. Others say this refers to one who reveals the things that the Ancient One kept hidden, and they are the reasons for the mitzvot.
The Rashbam explains that the phrase ‘elegant clothing’ implies the secrets of the Torah that were originally hidden by the Ancient One. He revealed them and gave permisson to reveal them. Someone who reveals them will merit to all the rest of the things in the verse.
This explanation doesn’t come close to explaining all the difficulties in the verse. It is clear that this is a forced explanation. The verse says ‘covered ancient’, how can we take it from this simple reading to mean its opposite, uncovered? This is an extremely difficult explanation.
Apart from this, the Maharsha was right to question this whole piece. This statement blatently contradicts what they clearly said in Sanhedrin (21b) about the value of hiding the reasons of the Torah, as we cited above. In neither place did the Sages point out or deal with this contradiction.
Look at what the Rashash wrote in his commentary, where he asks all these questions. His answers are extremely difficult to accept.
Were I not afraid to offer my opinion I would say that the text of our Talmud is in error. Instead of saying ‘reveal the things…’ it should say ‘cover the things…’. Then there would be no contradiction between the sources, both would be explaining covered in terms of keeping hidden. They would only be arguing about the purpose in keeping these things covered. The first opinion refers to keeping the secrets of the Torah hidden, as the Rashbam explains. This refers to the secrets of kabbalah which may not be taught in public (as explained in the second chapter of Chagiga). The second opinion refers to keeping the reasons for the Torah hidden, because it is not appropriate to reveal them. In this way the Gemara in Pesachim does not contradict that in Sanhedrin. All the contradictions are resolved simply.

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