“If it is the whole community of Israel that has erred and the matter escapes the notice of the congregation” (Leviticus 4:13).
“If any person from among the populace unwittingly incurs guilt by doing any of the things which by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done” (Leviticus 4:27).
These two sections (the unwitting guilt of the community and the unwitting guilt of the individual) repeat themselves in Numbers 15, verses 22-31.
We have already explained, in the portion of Pekudei [and we recommend that those interested read again what we wrote there] that the Torah repeated six detailed chapters about the building of the Tabernacle and its vessels, and here again we see duplication on the issue of sacrifices. To explain the puzzlement, see Numbers 15:22-31 and see that the verses are not in their natural place, for before it speaks of separating the challah and afterwards of the incident of the wood gatherer. So why didn’t Moses organize and sew this scroll with the sacrifices in Leviticus? Understand this matter, for this too is a great secret.
And what did our rabbis say about this duplication? Rashi on Numbers 15:22: “And when you shall err–regarding idolatry does the Scripture speak. Or perhaps it is not so, but of al the commandments. Therefore the Scripture states, ‘all these commandments,’ that is, one commandment which is like all the commandments.…And which is this? This is idolatry..” It is written in Tractate Horayot 8a, “About what is the Scripture speaking [Numbers 15:22-31]? It is speaking of idolatry.”
In our portion the Scripture says that they erred and unwittingly disobeyed the rest of the commandments which incur the penalty of karet should one disobey them on purpose.
This is once again proof that the main points of the Torah are not written explicitly in the Torah and we require the interpretation of the sages. Some of our rabbis, the Biblical commentators, even interpreted in a manner different from Chazal–Ibn Ezra on Numbers 15:24: “This is an additional goat [as in Leviticus a goat is not mentioned, only a calf], whether they unwittingly did what they were commanded not to or unwittingly did not do what they were commanded to do.” He also wrote, about the unwitting error of the individual in verse 27: “His sin is that he unwittingly did not do what he was commanded to do, and his sentence is the sentence of one who unwittingly does what he has been commanded not to do.” According to Ibn Ezra the duplicated verses speak not of idolatry, as the sages say, but the Scriptures add that even one who does not fulfill a positive commandment is liable to bring a sacrifice, and this contradicts the explicit halacha which determines that one does not bring a sacrifice unless he’s disobeyed a prohibitory commandment which would incur the penalty of karet. Ramban, on Numbers 15:22 comes out strongly against Ibn Ezra and writes: “And their words are nothing, for if it were so, people would be liable for sacrifices on all the positive commandments in the Torah.”
To uphold the plain meaning of the text, Ramban strays from the words of Chazal (who spoke of unwitting idolatry) and wrote: “The text of the Scripture, which we will not remove from its simple meaning…And it is as its meaning, the sacrifice of one who unwittingly denies the whole Torah, like one who attaches himself to one of the nations of the world and does as they do and does not want to be part of the people of Israel at all, and all this unwittingly. In an individual this can be a child who was taken captive and as a community they may think that the time of the Torah has already passed and it was not meant to be forever…or they forgot the Torah; this has already befallen us in our sinfulness” (the issue of forgetting the Torah by the community has been mentioned in the ninth pamphlet; see there). Not only are we amazed that the possibility exists for a group of religious Jews to think the time of the Torah has passed (and therefore we cannot rely on the Chosen People, either), Ramban innovated a liability for sacrifice which our rabbis had not, just as had Ibn Ezra.
We learn that the Torah which was given by the Divine Glory, which should have instructed us in the correct path to take, details and repeats and reiterates at great length the actions of the forefathers’ servants and the building of the Tabernacle and many other things which have nothing to do with fulfilling the commandments, while things which are the main body of the Torah it does not explain and detail. The Torah could have written: “And if you err and worship other gods, though G-d has spoken to Moses, saying, ‘you shall have no other gods before Me…” and Ibn Ezra and Ramban would not have strayed from the words of Chazal and become liable, like an elder who strayed from the words of the Sanhedrin, as both of them added a requirement for sacrifice which Chazal did not require.
Rambam in the Laws of Sacrifices for an Unwitting Sin, chapter 12, halacha 1: “Any unwitting sin, for which one is liable to bring a sin-offering if the court has made a wrong ruling about it… If the erroneous ruling brought to the sin of idolatry, they should bring a bull…as it is said, ‘if it be done in error by the congregation, it being hid from their eyes’ — tradition says that it is speaking of idolatry.”
We have come to clarify what “tradition” is. First we will cite the Gemara in Horayot 8a: “About idolatry it is written. How do we learn this from the verse? Rava said (some say it was Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi)…the Scripture says ‘and if you unwittingly err and do not do all these commandments’ which commandment is equal to all the others? He says it is idolatry” (the Gemara brings two other ways of learning this verse and rejects one of them). Rambam, who wrote “according to tradition” understood this learning as a general clue — and this is well understood in light of the fact that of many commandments it is said they “equal all other commandments.” The Sabbath is considered equal to all other commandments, tzitzit is considered equal to all other commandments, and so, too, is settling the land considered equal to all other commandments. Therefore, why did the sages specifically choose idolatry? Perhaps the Scripture speaks of one who violates the Sabbath? Unwillingly, you are forced to say it is “tradition.”
Know that sometimes “tradition” is tradition given to Moses at Sinai and sometimes it is from the prophets or from our early rabbis, but one thing is clear: “tradition” means something which does not come from reason or rational inference. The Gemara in Bechorot 58a states, “Rabbi Johanan said, ‘It was said according to tradition, by Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi’,” and the Tosfot ibid. (last reference) explains the Gemara’s words,: “According to Rashi, since prophecy is like halacha without reason, we cannot judge reasonably. So which of them is more important?” (And the Tosfot argued that Rashi “should not have mentioned prophecy, as a prophet is not permitted to innovate anything; he should have said it was a tradition handed down at Sinai.” We have already stated this many times.)
Now we will bring clear proof from the Gemara that we do not determine halacha except according to the sages, to the extent that even a great man who disagrees with their considerations and learning, even if he says his opinion is based on tradition, incurs the death penalty. This is the law of an elder who disagrees with the determination of the Sanhedrin, and it is brought in tractate Sanhedrin 88a: “Rabbi Eliezer says, ‘Even if he [the elder] speaks according to tradition, and they [the sages] say that this is how it seems to them, he is killed, so as not to multiply quarrels in Israel.” You see that to keep from multiplying quarrels in Israel one must do as the sages say seems fit to them, even against the words of a Torah great who speaks what he received through tradition; he must even be killed. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 88a explains why Akavia the son of Mehalalel was not killed, though he disagreed with the sages on four issues, as brought in Eduyot chapter five, Mishnah six: “Akavia the son ofMehalalel testified about four things and they said to him, ‘Akavia, retract the four things you said and we will make you the head of the beit din for all of Israel.’ He said to them, ‘It is better for me to be called a fool my whole life than to be evil even one hour in the eyes of the Lord, that they should not say “he retracted his words to gain power”.’” And this is the Gemara’s explanation: “And if you say ‘Why did they not kill Akavia the son of Mehalalel’–it is because he did not teach practical halacha.” (Ramban and Ibn Ezra also did not teach practical halacha, and therefore they are not liable under the laws of the disagreeing elder, but they should be excommunicated, as they excommunicated Akavia the son of Mehalalel.)
After we have clarified, in many places and at great length, that our sages uproot the plain meaning of the Scripture and even castrate the text as they see fit, we have wondered at the Biblical commentators who try to explain the words of the sages when they determine halacha in those places where they do not follow the Scripture’s plain meaning.
And we will illustrate: one verse (Leviticus 3:9) says, “He shall then present, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the tail-tallow from the sacrifice of well-being,” and another verse (Leviticus 7:23) says, “You shall eat no tallow of ox or sheep or goat.”
From the plain text of the Scripture it should be that the tail-tallow is forbidden, but the sages permit the tail-tallow and, as ruled in the Shulchan Aruch, OrechChaim, section 64, paragraph 5, “The tail is permitted.” The sages reconcile the verses in Hulin 117a: “Rabbi Mari said to Rabbi Zvid, ‘The tail-tallow which is called helev should be forbidden to eat. He said to him, ‘That is why the Scripture says “You shall eat no tallow of ox or sheep or goat”’ [there is no tail-tallow on the ox or goat, and therefore the tail-tallow of the sheep is permitted].” It is clear to any reasonable person that this manner of learning by the sages does not stand up to the test of the text’s plain meaning; it has been elucidated through taking it out of context. Even Rav Saadiah Gaon and Ramban did not find this interpretation by Chazal suitable, because it does not fit the plain meaning of the text. Therefore Rav Saadaiah Gaon added the letter vav [“and”] to the verse of Leviticus 3:9–“the tallow and the tail.”
Ramban, on the other hand, said that there is a difference between tallow (helev) and fat (shuman) and that the tail is fat and not tallow. And where the verse reads “as an offering by fire to the Lord, the tail-tallow,” not the fat of the tail is meant, but “the tallow which is on the inner side of the tail.” We once again find Ramban innovating great things contrary to the opinion of the sages, who said explicitly that all the tail-fat is called tallow (helev), but it is permitted through the analogy with the ox and the goat. And from the words of Ramban even follows a halachic law, that the tail-fat is not subject to the laws regarding misappropriation of holy items, as it is not really tallow, contrary to the opinion of Chazal who found such a situation impossible: “But from now it [the tail-fat] can not be misappropriated?” (Hulin 117a). Thus did Ramban conclude his words: “I was to have gone on about this at length, to shut the mouths of theSaducees, may their names be blotted out, for the Torah says to answer a fool in accord with his folly, and they said to be diligent in learning so you know what to answer an apostate…The interpretation our sages made about the fat of ox and sheep…is a reasonable interpretation, but so as not to give leeway to the opponents to open their mouths, we had to write out the proofs and claims which we brought.”
But our opinion on this matter is like that of the Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 7:23: “Once a Saducee came to me and asked if the tail-fat is forbidden by the Torah. I answered him truthfully, that the tail-fat is called tallow, for it is written, “as an offering by fire to the Lord, the tail-tallow,” but the previous generations permitted it and forbade all the tallow.” (As Rambam wrote: “they learned it from tradition.”)
The sages have always the power to permit what is forbidden by the plain text of the Scripture, and therefore we are amazed at Rav Saadiah Gaon and Ramban who tried to explain and settle the disparate verses, contrary to the sages’ opinion and clung to the plain meaning of the text. For this is exactly the way of the Saducees, who did not believe that the Oral Torah had the power to add to and diminish from the plain text of the Scripture. As is written in Sanhedrin 33b: “If he [a sage] erred on a matter with which even the Saduceesagree, he should go to school and learn to read.” That is, the Saducees are those who determine law based only on what may be read plainly in the Scripture, as opposed to the Pharisees. Rav Saadiah Gaon and Ramban came and explained that they went against the sages’ opinion because of theSaducees, but what they said follows the Saducee methods.
So we find that Ramban and Rav Saadiah Gaon act as Saducees and demand reward as Pharisees.
And since we are dealing with the matter of sacrifices, we ought to end with the words of Radak and the Midrash, from which we learn that the whole issue of sacrifices will, in the future, be abandoned, aside from the thanks-offering. We have already written, on the portion of Tetzave, that the whole issue of sacrifices will be left up to the sages of the Third Temple period.
Radak on Jeremiah 33:11: “‘[They say:] “For G-d is good, His mercy is forever,” as they bring thanks-offerings to the House of the Lord, for I shall return the captives of this land.’ They bring thanks-offerings, but it is not spoken of sin-offerings or guilt-offerings, for at that time they will have no evildoers or sinners, for they all will know the Lord. And our rabbis OBM said that all sacrifices will in the future be abandoned except the thanks-offering.” Similarly, in MidrashPesikta of Rav Kahana, portion nine: “Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi, and RabbiJohanan in the name of Rabbi Menachem said that in the future all sacrifices will be abandoned, but the thanks-offering will not be abandoned.”
Words of True Knowledge