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Friday, May 29, 2015

Parashat Naso 5775

This week’s parashah includes a section about being a nazir by making a vow of nezirut. This vow of Jewish asceticism includes abstaining from grape products, contact with the dead, and hair cutting. The basic period of a nazir vow is thirty days. The Rabbis derive this from gematriyah [גמטריה], a method of adding up the numerical values of letters. Gematriyah is often used among the Talmudic Rabbis, but not often with such legal applications. Here we look at the troubling - at least to me - idea of using numerical values to derive legal facts and its value.
במדבר פרשת נשא פרק ו
Numbers, Chapter 6
(5) All the days of his nazir vow a razor shall not pass over his head until the completion of the days that he consecrated himself to Hashem he will be [יהיה] holy; he shall grow long hair on his head.
(ה) כָּל־יְמֵי נֶדֶר נִזְרוֹ תַּעַר לֹא־יַעֲבֹר עַל־רֹאשׁוֹ עַד־מְלֹאת הַיָּמִם אֲשֶׁר־יַזִּיר לַיקֹוָק קָדֹשׁ יִהְיֶה גַּדֵּל פֶּרַע שְׂעַר רֹאשׁוֹ:

משנה מסכת נזיר פרק א
Mishnah Tractate Nazir, Chapter 1
Basic nezirut is for thirty days.
סתם נזירות שלשים יום

From the following piece we see that thirty days is a commonly found period in Jewish law. Some of the laws below have direct derivations from verses, such as thirty day mourning periods from mourning Moshe. Others are just stated as facts.
מסכתות קטנות מסכת שמחות פרק ז
Minor Tractates, Tractate S’machot, Chapter 7
Thirty days for mourning; thirty days for [not] laundering [in mourning]; thirty days for [not] cutting hair [in mourning]; thirty days for [not] collecting debts; thirty days for a beautiful captive [for her to mourn until you may marry her]; thirty days [after mourning] for engagement festivities; thirty days [after mourning] for marriage festivities; thirty days for making a claim against a woman’s virginity; thirty days for a widow [to prepare for a wedding]; thirty days for a woman engaged in levirate marriage with her dead husband’s brother; one who subjects his wife to a vow it is for thirty days; basic nezirut is thirty days.
שלשים יום לאיבול, שלשים יום לגיהוץ, שלשים יום לתספורת, שלשים יום לגיבוי, שלשים יום ליפת תואר, שלשים יום לאירוסין, שלשים יום לנישואין, שלשים יום לבתולים, שלשים יום לאלמנה, שלשים יום ליבמה, המדיר את אשתו שלשים יום, סתם נזירות שלשים יום.
Nonetheless, the Talmud finds a derivation for the thirty day period of a nazir vow. The first derivation is based on the word יהיה meaning, “He will be.” The letters are (10+5)*2 = 30. The second derivation has to do with how many times a work with the root of נזר (nazir) shows up in the Torah. That it only adds to 29 is beyond the scope of our investigation.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת נזיר דף ה עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nazir, 5a
From where are our words derived? Said Rav Matna, said the Torah, “He will be [יהיה] holy.” “He will be [יהיה]” in gematriyah is thirty.
מנהני מילי? אמר רב מתנא, אמר קרא: קדוש יהיה, יהיה בגמטריא תלתין הוו.
Bar Pada said, “Based on nazir and nizro stated in the Torah which is thirty minus one.”
בר פדא אמר: כנגד נזיר נזרו האמורים בתורה ל' חסר אחת.

The Rosh is not satisfied with our derivation and sees it as coming from some other tradition and merely supported by gematriyah.
פירוש הרא"ש מסכת נזיר דף ה עמוד א
Commentary of the Rosh, Tractate Nazir, 5a
Asher ben Yechiel, 13th Century Spain
“He will be [יהיה]” in gematriyah is thirty. It seems that the Gemara concluded this and found support for it from this gematriyah - for that [gematriyah] is not one of the thirteen principles by which the Torah is expounded.
יהיה בגימטריא תלתין הוו. יראה דגמרא גמירי לה ואסמכוה אהך גימט' דלאו מי"ג מדות היא שהתורה נדרשת בהן:

Maimonides sees the gemtariyah as symbol or sign which supports a received tradition.
פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת נזיר פרק א
Commentary on the Mishnah of the Rambam, Tractate Nazir, Chapter 1
Moses Maimonides, 12th Century Egypt
They agreed on this general principle; that is to say, that basic nezirut is thirty days, per what was stated, “He will be [יהיה] holy,” and the enumeration of “he will be [יהיה]” is thirty. And there is no nezirut of less than thirty days and this matter is received tradition, but they supported it with the as a type of symbol.
הסמיכו כלל זה כלומר שסתם נזירות שלשים יום למה שנ' קדוש יהיה, ומנין יהיה שלשים. ואין נזירות פחות משלשים יום, ודבר זה קבלה אלא שהסמיכוהו לכך כעין סימן.

The Ramban, below, points out the dangers and challenges of gematriyah. To him it is merely a mnemonic, connecting our verses to a received tradition. He compares it with another exegetical principle of learning Torah, one which is among the thirteen accepted ones: g’zeirah shavah [גזירה שוה]. This is when the same word shows up in two verses and we can learn principles of one verse to the next.
ספר הגאולה
Sefer HaGeulah
Moses Nahmanides, 13th Century Spain
For a person is not permitted to make judgements based on the calculation of gematriyah and to extract from them a matter that comes to his mind except for those received traditions through the hand of our Rabbis, the holy Sages of the Talmud of blessed memory.
כי אין אדם רשאי לדון בחשבון גמטריאות ולהוציא מהן ענין עלה בדעתו אבל קבלה ביד רבותינו חכמי התלמוד הקדושים ז״ל
For given to Moshe at Sinai were known gematriyot to be as a mnemonic and sign for matters spoken verbally with the rest of the Oral Torah in matters of narrative, and with them legal matters like they said, “Basic nezirut is thirty days as is written, ‘He will be [יהיה].’”
כי נמסרו למשה בסיני גימטריאות ידועות להיות זכר ואות לענין הנאמר על פה עם שאר התורה שבעל פה בענין אגדה ומהן באסור והתר כמו שאמרו סתם נזירות שלשים יום דכת׳ יהיה
And this matter is like the issue of g’zeirah shavah such that much of the body of the Torah relies on it, and it is a matter through which a person may derive awful things and contradict the fundamentals of the Torah. But they said about it that a person may not determine a g’zeirah shavah on his own.
והענין הזה כענין הגזרה שוה שהרבה גופי תורה תלוין בה והוא ענין שיכול אדם להוציא ממנו דברים רעים וסותרים עקרי התורה אלא שאמרו בה אין אדם דן גזרה שוה מעצמו

Below we see a g’zeirah shavah in the Talmud brought in a place where there is also a logical, a minori argument [קל וחומר]. However, since the later argument has weaknesses, the g’zeirah shavah is brought to shore it up. The Talmud also teaches on cannot make up a g’zeirah shavah, however.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף סו עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate P’Sachim 66a
Our Rabbis taught: This law was hidden from the people of B’teira. One time, the fourteenth [of Nissan] fell on Shabbat. They forgot and did not know if the paschal sacrifice suspends Shabbat or not...
תנו רבנן: הלכה זו נתעלמה מבני בתירא. פעם אחת חל ארבעה עשר להיות בשבת, שכחו ולא ידעו אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו...
The people are unsure if they are permitted to break the laws of Shabbat to offer the paschal sacrifice. There is a nice story about Hillel answering the question for them, but I skip to the part relevant to our discussion.

Said the master, “It is stated ‘in its appointed time’ about the paschal sacrifice and it is stated ‘in its appointed time’ about the daily sacrifice. Just as the ‘in its appointed time’ stated about the daily sacrifice suspends the Shabbat, so too the ‘in its appointed time’ stated about the paschal sacrifice suspends the Shabbat.
אמר מר: נאמר מועדו בפסח ונאמר מועדו בתמיד, מה מועדו האמור בתמיד דוחה את השבת - אף מועדו האמור בפסח דוחה שבת...
Said the master, “And further, from an a minori argument: just as the daily sacrifice which is not punished by karet [some sort of Heavenly cutting off] suspends the Shabbat, should it not be the law for the paschal sacrifice which is punished by karet should suspend the Shabbat?”
אמר מר: ועוד, קל וחומר: ומה תמיד שאין ענוש כרת דוחה את השבת, פסח שענוש כרת - אינו דין שדוחה את השבת.
This is refutable, for the daily sacrifice is frequent and completely burnt.
איכא למיפרך: מה לתמיד - שכן תדיר וכליל!
Therefore, the daily sacrifice has factors making it more weighty than the paschal sacrifice. This breaks down the a minori argument.

Initially he made an a minori argument and they refuted it. He responded and told them the g’zeirah shavah.
קל וחומר אמר להו ברישא ופרכוה, והדר אמר להו גזירה שוה.
But after he derived it from a g’zeirah shavah, why do I have an a minori argument? Rather, he spoke to them in their own [understanding]. “For sure you did not not derive a g’zeirah shavah for a person cannot determine a g’zeirah shavah on his own, but an a minori argument which a person may determine on her own you need to determine.” They said to him, “It is a refutable a minori argument.”
וכי מאחר דגמר גזירה שוה קל וחומר למה לי? אלא לדידהו קאמר להו: בשלמא גזירה שוה לא גמריתו - דאין אדם דן גזירה שוה מעצמו, אלא קל וחומר דאדם דן מעצמו - איבעי לכו למידן! - אמרו ליה: קל וחומר פריכא הוא.

רש"י מסכת פסחים דף סו עמוד א
Rashi, Tractate P’sachim, 66a
Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th Century Rhineland
For we hold that a person may not determine a g’zeirah shavah on his own unless it was received and derived from Sinai. For perhaps the verse comes to teach another matter.
דקיימא לן אין אדם דן גזירה שוה מעצמו אלא אם כן נתקבלה ובאה מסיני, דדילמא קרא למילתא אחריתי אתא

This piece below from the Palestinian Talmud clarifies that a g’zeirah shavah is only to support an argument, not to create something new or contradict that which one knows.
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת פסחים פרק ו, הלכה א
Palestinian Talmud, Tractate P’sachim, Chapter 6, Law 1
Rebbi Yose of the house of Rebbi Bon in the name of Rebbi Ba son of Memel, “A person may determine a g’zeirah shavah to uphold his learning but a person may not determine a g’zeirah shavah to contradict his learning.”
ר' יוסה בי רבי בון בשם רבי בא בר ממל אדם דן גזירה שוה לקיים תלמודו ואין אדם דן גז"ש לבטל תלמודו.

Returning to gematriyah, the Mishnah in Avot tells us the role of gematriyah in Torah. It is a garnish or dessert, but not the main part of legal thinking.
משנה מסכת אבות פרק ג, משנה יח
Mishnah Tractate Avot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 18
Rebbi Eliezer son of Chasma says, “Sacrifices of birds and the beginnings of menstrual cycles are the body of halachah. Astronomical calculations and gematriyot are the dessert of wisdom.”
רבי אליעזר בן חסמא אומר קינין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות תקופות וגמטריאות פרפראות לחכמה:

The Tiferet Yisrael explains that like butter on bread, gematriyah makes Torah sweeter. It is enjoyable, it makes it go down more easily, but on its own it is lacking and not filling. Based on the Mishnah, like astronomy, it is the using of outside wisdom applied too Torah.
תפארת ישראל - יכין מסכת אבות פרק ג
Tiferet Yisrael Yakhin, Tractate Avot, Chapter 3
Yisrael Lipshuetz, 19th Century Prussia
It means to say that they are like the dessert of the meal to the wisdom of the Torah, for Torah is metaphorically the bread of the soul in that it feeds off of it, as it says, “Go and eat from My bread,” (Proverbs 9:5). And when the bread is most engaging for a person is when he mixes it in garnishes, to spread butter on it and the like. And as such, the Torah will be sweeter for him if he engages in other wisdom as spice and meat.  Truly like one who eats butter or garnishes without bread, his soul grows weary and is not satisfied. So too one who performs these other wisdom as the main part of his engagement, his soul will not be full from them. And one should not strive for that as existence, for even though one needs to learn them to sanctify the month… even so it is really the rules of bird sacrifices and the beginnings of menstrual cycles which are the body of halachah, since they have the forbidden and permitted, which is not the case in astronomical calculations and gematriyot which are only secondary to the Torah like garnishes for bread.  
ר"ל הן כקינוח סעודה לחכמת התורה, דהתורה היא דוגמת הלחם לנשמה, שנזונת ממנה, וכמ"ש לכו לחמו בלחמי (משלי ט:ה), וכאשר יערב לאדם הלחם יותר, כשיטפל לו פרפרות, למרוח על הלחם חמאה וכדומה, כן תמתק לו התורה ביותר אם יטפיל לה שאר החכמות לרקחות וטבחות [רמב"ם ספ"ד מיסודי התורה], אמנם כמו שהאוכל חמאה או פרפרות בלי לחם נפשו קצה בו ולא ישבע, כמו כן העושה משאר החכמות האלה עיקר בהתעסקות, לא תשבע נשמתו מהן ולא ישתדלו לה קיום, דאף דחשבון התקופות צריך ללמדם לעניין קידוש החודש… אפ"ה דוקא קינין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות, מדיש בהן עשה ולא תעשה אסור ומותר, משא"כ תקופות וגמטריאות הן רק טפלים להתורה כפרפרות לפת

We see that the Tos’fot Yom Tov thinks gematriyah has Greek origins. This makes sense in its juxtaposition to astronomy, and its use in our Gemara in P’sachim for people who don’t buy the more standard Torah a minori argument.
תוספות יום טוב מסכת אבות פרק ג
Tos’fot Yom Tov, Tractate Avot, Chapter 3
Yom Tov Lipman Heller, 17th Century Prague
And gematriyot - It seems to me that it is a word borrowed and taken from Greek, and they call as such measurement and aspect calculations.
וגמטריאות -נראה לי שהוא שם מושאל ולקוח מלשון יון שקוראים כן לחכמת המדידה והתשבורת

Gematriyah is actually used by major commentaries, including the Tur in his commentary on the Torah. And it is fun and is sometimes a nice way to connect versus to seemingly unconnected principles, thereby preserving Torah even in places where it seems disengaged. Still, be should never use it on its own, only as a supplement.

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