Sunday, July 22, 2007

Can there be a Halachik consensus on Hashkafah? Part 2 - Goat Sin Offerings

In my last post, we analyzed Rambam’s statement that where there is no practical consequence arising from different opinions, there is no place for a Halachik determination on which is correct, in the context of the Mishna in Sotah. There we were dealing with different ways of interpreting an observation. I will now address the case in Massechet Shevuot 1:4.

The Mishna is dealing with the Korbanei Chatat, the sin offerings that we bring on Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh. Being that they are offerings that are brought from public funds, they must be for forgiveness for the sins of the many. As every person that sins by accident has to bring his own sin offering, these must address those sins that a private person cannot bring one for himself, for whatever reason. The Mishna reports an argument between Tannaim about which specific case of accidental entry into the Beit Hamikdash while unclean or eating and/or touching Kodoshim while unclean is covered by which Korban. Here again, Rambam makes a similar statement with a small variation:

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת שבועות פרק א משנה ד

ומחלוקת זו אין לומר בה הלכה כדברי פלוני, לפי שהוא דבר מסור לה' יתרומם ויתהדר, והם נחלקו בראיות ולמידות מפסוקים שאין מקום זה מתאים להזכיר בו דרכי למודם בהם. וכבר ביארנו שכל סברא מן הסברות שאין בה מעשה מן המעשים שנחלקו בה חכמים לא נאמר בה הלכה כפלוני.

On this argument one cannot say the Halacha is like one of the sides as it is something that is given over to HKBH. The Rabbis were arguing about the interpretation of certain verses, the detail of which do not belong here (i.e. the type of work the Pirush Hamishna is - DG).We already clarified that any concept that does not have an action attached to it and where the sages argue, there was no decision according to whom the Halacha is set. (I am not sure whether to read Ne’emar which is the way I translated or Nomar which would mean “we” would not say. The latter would be Rambam the first would be the Rabbis. I opt for my translation as it fits my thinking. I am curious how the original Arabic reads. Anyone that has R. Kafih’s Arabic/Hebrew edition and reads Arabic please help.)

This case is a variation of the first one. Where the other case was dealing with an explanation of an observation, here we are dealing with interpretation of Pessukim - verses – that deal with reasons why we are our doing a mitzvah. It will not change how we do it other than our understanding of why we do it. Rambam added reasoning in this case which we did not find in the earlier, nor will we find in the third case. He added לפי שהוא דבר מסור לה' יתרומם ויתהדר - as it is something that is given over to HKBH. The simple interpretation of these words would be that God is the One who forgives. It is not an action that we do but is up to Him to forgive. But so was the case of the Sotah. Sickness and death was after all not a natural result of drinking plain water with some ink (words) dissolved in it. So too, is the knowledge whether the husband sinned or the woman had merits something that belongs in the realm of God. Why did Rambam chose to add this here?

I suggest that there is a deeper meaning here. Rambam is referring to the reasons for doing the Mitzvah. The Torah is not explicit about why these offerings are required. It does not give a specific reason for the mitzvah. Although the rabbis find it necessary to find a reason, ultimately, we do not know, nor can we ever know, why we are doing this mitzvah. Only God knows. In other words, the Mishna is teaching us how we should approach Mitzvot that the Torah does not give a reason for doing them. We should go back to the text and try to find a reason in the way it was written. If there is only one possibility, accept it. If there is more than one reason, all may be viable. Chose one that fits with your understanding but do not dismiss the others. That is what the rabbis did. They could not bring it to the Sanhedrin because it had no practical implication but they still put in a lot of effort to find a reason for the mitzvah. All Mitzvot have a rational explanation why they are to be done. It is up to us to find a reason for those that are not explicit. It is a necessary component of how a mitzvah should be performed. We may find more than one reason but as it is something that belongs to HKBH we may not say only one is correct. This approach fits very well with the famous Rambam at the end of Me’ilah.
[ח] ראוי לאדם להתבונן במשפטי התורה הקדושה, ולידע סוף עניינם כפי כוחו.
A person should meditate about the laws of the Holy Torah and try to understand their concepts with all his abilities.
(I plan to get into Ta’amei Hamitzvot soon and deal with this Rambam at length).

Interestingly Rambam does decide this argument in Hilchot Shegagot 11:9. Several commentators note that without giving a good explanation why he does it in view of his statement in Pirush Hamishna. Some want to say he has changed his mind from the time he wrote the Pirush. I personally do not buy this common argument as he kept on editing the Pirush throughout his life changing it with newly developed ideas. This having been repeated three times he would not have missed it had he changed his mind. The puzzle remains to be solved.

So far, we have Rambam applying this rule that where there is no practical consequence, the rabbis did not rule like either party, to arguments about interpretations of observations and interpretation of texts / reason for doing a Mitzvah. In the next post on this subject, we will deal with the Mishna in Sanhedrin. Hopefully at that point we will get a picture of where this rule can be applied and where are its limitations, if any.

To be continued.

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