Talmud Tips

For the week ending 30 June 2018 / 17 Tammuz 5778

Zevachim 65 - 71

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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How Much is Enough?

It is enough to learn from a kal v’chomer that the result derived for the “target case” should be equal to (but not greater than) that which exists in the source case.”

The rule of kal v’chomer reasoning is one of the familiar methods widely used throughout Shas to explain how numerous unstated Torah laws can be derived from the words written in the Torah. Also referred to as “a fortiori” reasoning, this logical methodology is something that “a person may do on his own” (a very wise person, that is, who is highly attuned to Torah logic). Not every other method can be “man-made” — for example, a gezera shavah rule for deriving the halacha in one case from that in another, based on the appearance of the same (or similar) wording in both cases, requires a clear tradition from one’s Torah teacher.

The premise of the kal v’chomer methodology is as follows: If the Torah reveals a certain halachic feature in a case that is kal (relatively less strict), then that same feature should “all the more so” be true in a chomer (stricter) case, despite the Torah not explicitly stating it in that chomer case. This method of kal v’chomer is taught in the beraita of Rabbi Yishmael (also known as “the thirteen rules by which the Torah is interpreted”), which is found in the Siddur as part of the introduction to our daily morning prayers. (This logic not only works to learn a stringency that exists in the kal case to apply in a chomer case, but, by the same logic, can be used to learn that a leniency that exists in a chomer case should also apply to a kal case.)

However, we find in our sugya a limitation to the application of the kal v’chomer rule. This limitation is of Torah origin and is called daiyo, meaning sufficient or enough. What does this mean? Despite the second case being stricter in nature, we can only extend from the kal case to the chomer case the exact feature of the kal case, but we cannot derive that the chomer case should deserve a more serious halacha than that which exists in the kal case.

A beraita in our sugya teaches the source for this concept of daiyo. Miriam, the sister of Moshe and Aharon, spoke negatively about Moshe, and as punishment was afflicted by G-d with tzara’at. When Moshe prayed to G-d to heal her (with the shortest prayer in the Torah, five words in Hebrew), G-d replied, “If her father were to spit in her face, would she not be humiliated for seven days? She shall be confined for seven days outside the camp, and afterwards she may enter.” (Bamidbar 12:14) Rashi in Chumash explains that this statement involves a kal v’chomer and the limitation of daiyo: If her father had shown her an angry face, would she not have been humiliated for seven days? All the more so, when the Divine Presence rebukes her, by the rule of kal v’chomer she should be humiliated for fourteen days. But, due to the rule of daiyo it is enough to learn from the source case (seven days of shame if rebuked by her father) to be like the target case (also seven days but not longer — i.e., daiyo, or enough). Therefore, G-d decreed, even as a result of My reprimand she should be quarantined for only seven days.

The logic is that if a parent’s rebuke should lead to a seven-day punishment, a rebuke from G-d should result in an “all the more so” punishment, one of greater proportions — i.e., fourteen days. And this would indeed be so if not for the limit imposed by the rule of “daiyo,” which teaches that we cannot derive by kal v’chomer any more than the seven day punishment that exists in the source case. But why, you might ask, would we say in the first place that the kal v’chomer should lead us to think that the duration of punishment should be fourteen days, double that which is found in the source case?

Actually, Tosefot asks this question and offers two answers. One answer is that we learn in another gemara (Niddah 31a) that Gd’s share in the formation of a new person is double that of a parent. Therefore, we might think that the affront to the honor of G-d in slandering His prophet Moshe Rabbeinu should deserve double the punishment expected in the case of a child’s affront to a parent. A second answer, offered by Rabbeinu Chaim in Tosefot, is that the kal v’chomer with Miriam should really have resulted in a quarantine that lasted forever, due to the seriousness of the transgression against the Divine Presence. However, we find that the maximum period of hesger prescribed by the Torah for tzara’art is only two hesgerim. Therefore, the duration of two hesgerim — i.e., fourteen days — is the largest amount of quarantine time she could, in theory, receive based on the kal v’chomer. Of course, the rule of daiyo eliminated any quarantine of more than seven days. (See Tosefot, regarding why this number would be fourteen days and not thirteen, since the last day of the first hesger counts also as the first day of the second and final hesger, which should add up to thirteen days and not fourteen.)

  • Zevachim 69b

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