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Parsha and Manuscript: Behar – ‘What exactly was taught at Mount Sinai?’

Friday, 5 June, 2020 - 1:29 pm

MS. Michael 384, fol. 91.pngIn the opening of the Torah portion of Behar it discusses the laws of the Sabbatical year with the unusual detail that this particular law was taught at Mount Sinai. As this detail appears to be unnecessary, as all laws are thought to have been taught at Sinai, we will explore the various ways biblical commentaries explain what the Torah intends to convey with this statement, looking at commentaries from the 4th century through the medieval period until today. We will focus on the Hebrew manuscripts of the medieval commentator Rashi at Oxford’s Bodleian Library to understand exactly how much of the laws were taught to Moses on Mount Sinai itself and how much were taught later in the desert Tabernacle and the Plains of Moav.

 

The Torah states:[1]

 

And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest, and you shall not pick the grapes you had set aside [for yourself], [for] it shall be a year of rest for the land. And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female slaves, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you, and all of its produce may be eaten [also] by your domestic animals and by the beasts that are in your land.

 

Why does the Torah state that the laws of the Sabbatical were taught on Mount Sinai, when all the laws of the Torah were taught on Mount Sinai. This question is posed by the Midrash Torat Kohanim:[2]

 

What special relevance does the subject of Sabbatical (the ‘release’ of fields in the seventh year) have with Mount Sinai? Is it not the case that all the commandments were stated from Sinai?

 

MS Opp. 34 Fol. 73.pngPremise

 

The premise to this question is that we know from two verses that all the laws were taught at Sinai: a. at the end of the curses in Leviticus, it states:[3] ‘These are the statutes, the ordinances, and the laws that the Lord gave between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, by the hand of Moses,’ and b. at the end of the book of Leviticus:[4] ‘These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses to tell the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.’ The Talmud[5] derives from this verse:[6] that all the laws of the Torah were taught at Sinai and a prophet is not permitted to introduce any new element related to the Torah and its mitzvot through prophecy after Sinai. This being the case, why does the Torah mention specifically in the laws of the Sabbatical that it was taught at Sinai?

 

Answer – details of the law are from Sinai

 

The Midrash answers that the reason it states specifically in the laws of Sabbatical that it was taught ‘at Sinai’ is to serve as a case study: just as the laws of Sabbatical, its general principles and its finer details were taught at Sinai, likewise, all of the laws of the Torah were taught - their general principles together with their finer details - at Sinai.’

 

Rashi

 

The commentary of Rashi also presents the Midrashic teaching:

 

On Mount Sinai: What special relevance does the subject of Shemittah have with Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated from Sinai? However, this teaches us that just as with Sabbatical laws, its general principles (klal) and its finer details (prat, dikduk) were all stated from Sinai, likewise, all of them were stated-their general principles (klal) together with their finer details (dikduk) - from Sinai. This is what is taught in Torat Kohanim.[7] It appears to me that its explanation is as follows: At the plains of Moab, Moses reiterated the majority of the laws of the Torah to the Israelites before their entry into the land of Israel, this reiteration comprising most of the Book of Deuteronomy. Now, since we do not find the laws of Sabbatical laws of land reiterated on the plains of Moab in Deuteronomy, we learn that its general principles (klal), finer details (prat) were all stated at Sinai. Scripture states this here to teach us that just as in the case of Sabbatical laws, every statement that was conveyed to Moses came from Sinai, including their general principles (klal) and finer details (dikduk) and that the commandments delineated in Deuteronomy were merely repeated and reviewed on the plains of Moab [not originally given there].

 

MS. Oppenheim 35, Fol. 70.pngCase study – details of Sabbatical laws from Sinai

 

The method how we know that the details, not only the principles, of the Sabbatical laws are from Sinai is from the fact that the Sabbatical land laws are taught three times in the Torah: in general terms in Exodus,[8] in detail in Leviticus,[9] and in Deuteronomy in the Plains of Moav - only regarding the monetary aspects of the Sabbatical laws but not the land Sabbatical laws.[10] Since the Sabbatical land laws are not mentioned[11] in Deuteronomy[12] and only in general term in Exodus, the statement: ‘at Sinai’ in the Sabbatical laws in Leviticus, where the details are recounted, informs that not only its general laws but also the details of the Sabbatical laws were taught at Sinai.[13]

 

Biblical hermeneutics

 

Having established that the details of the Sabbatical laws were taught at Sinai, there are four methods,[14] following the rules of rabbinical hermeneutics, to extrapolate that in fact all the Torah laws with their details were taught at Sinai: a. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi explains that it is derived from the principle:[15] If part of a general statement is singled out (from all the mitzvot), it wasn’t singled out only to teach something about itself (Sabbatical), but rather, it teaches us something about the entire general category (al the mitzvot).[16] b. Rabbi Judah Loew derives it from the rule of ‘comparison’ (hekesh): since the words ‘at Sinai’ is used both, in the Sabbatical laws[17] and in the context of all the laws of the Torah at the end of the Book of Leviticus, this indicates through the method of ‘comparison’ (hekesh) that just as the details of the Sabbatical laws were from Sinai, the details of all the laws were also taught at Sinai.[18] c. Rabbi Avraham ben Shlomo Bakrat Ha- Levi[19] and Rabbi Shabbetai Bass[20] use the rule of precedent (binyan av): we can derive from the precedent of the Sabbatical laws that the same is the case regarding all the laws of the Torah. d. A further method by Rabbi Shmuel Tsarfati (d. c. 1519) is since it is not needed for its own context it can be used for another (im eino inyan l’gufo). [21] In this case, since it’s obvious in the case of the Sabbatical laws the details were taught at Sinai, since it is not mentioned in Deuteronomy, ‘at Sinai’ is superfluous and may be applied to all the laws.[22]

 

Dispute

 

The issue of how much of the laws were taught at Sinai is a matter of dispute in the Talmud[23] between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva:[24] Rabbi Yishmael says: The general statements, i.e., the principles of the Torah, were said at Sinai, and the details of the mitzvot that are explicated in Leviticus were said to Moses in the Tent of Meeting. Rabbi Akiva says: Both general statements and the details of mitzvot were said at Sinai and later taught again in the Tent of Meeting, and taught a third time by Moses to the Jewish people in the plains of Moab, when he taught the Torah to the people.[25] Accordingly, the implication of stating ‘at Sinai’ in the Sabbatical law to serve as a source to the idea that all the laws of the Torah with their details were taught at Sinai, follows the above view of Rabbi Akiva – that both general statements and the details of mitzvot were said at Sinai.[26]

 

Variations between Rashi and Midrash

 

Rashi in his commentary, as mentioned, also presents the above midrashic teaching from Torat Kohanim but with variations from the original midrashic text. In addition, there are variations between different versions of the Rashi commentary, as found in the printed edition and manuscript versions held at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. These variations give further insight how one may understand exactly what was taught at Sinai.

 

Midrash - two terms

 

In the original Midrash it states throughout the comment, pertaining to the Sabbatical laws and all the laws of the Torah, only two terms: Klal (general principle) and dikduk (fine details).

 

Rashi - three terms

 

In the published edition of Rashi, however, it mentions three terms: klal, prat and dikduk, in the context of the Sabbatical laws. Rashi writes:

 

On Mount Sinai: What special relevance does the subject of Shemittah have with Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments stated from Sinai? However, this teaches us that just as with Sabbatical laws, its general principles (klal), its details (prat) and its finer details (dikduk) were all stated from Sinai, likewise, all of them were stated-their general principles (klal) together with their finer details (dikduk) -from Sinai.

 

Variations in manuscripts: two or three terms

 

As there is this discrepancy between the Midrash and the printed edition of Rashi, in the manuscripts at the Bodleian Library there are also two versions. In some of the manuscripts three terms are used in the beginning of the commentary pertaining to how the Sabbatical laws were taught: Klal (general principle), prat (detail) and dikduk (finer detail). This is how it is found in three manuscripts: MS Canon. Or. 35 (1401-1425),[27] MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400)[28] and Michael 384 (1399).[29] In MS. Opp. 34 (1201-1225),[30] MS. Canon. Or. 81[31] and MS. Oppenheim 35,[32] it states however only two terms throughout the commentary: Klal (general principle), dikduk (finer detail). In both versions, the continuation of the commentary only mentions two terms klal (general principle) and dikduk (finer detail) or klal and prat (detail).

 

Different order

 

A second variation: in MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400)[33] and MS Michael 384 (1399)[34] the three terms can be found in the following order: klal (general principle), dikduk (finer detail), prat (detail) - dikduk before prat. In MS Canon. Or. 35, fol. 148 (1401-1425) it however states: klal (general principle), prat (detail), dikduk (finer detail) - dikduk (finer detail)after prat (detail).

 

3 terms for all the laws

 

A third variation: in MS Canon. Or. 35[35] the three terms, klal (general principle), prat (detail), dikduk (finer detail)appear pertaining to all the laws of the Torah, as opposed to the other versions mentioned above where the three terms are mentioned only pertaining to the laws of Sabbatical, as found also in the printed edition of Rashi.[36]

 

Pirush

 

A fourth variation: in CCC 165, MS. Opp. 34 (1201-1225), MS Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS Michael 384 (1499), MS Opp. Add. 4o 188 (1301-1400), MS Canon. Or. 35 (1401-1425) and MS Opp. 35 (1408) it uses the word pirush (explanation), when discussing the omission of details of the Sabbatical laws in the Book of Deuteronomy, instead of prat (detail).

 

Reason for three terms

 

There may be two considerations for the reason for the use of three terms klal, prat, dikduk, instead of just two terms: klal, dikduk, as found in the Midrash and some of the Rashi manuscripts.The first follows the classic view of the commentaries, as presented above, that Rashi is clarifying the teaching of the Midrash that scripture follows the view of Rabbi Akiva that the general and the finer details of the mitzvot were all taught at Sinai. The second consideration follows the view that Rashi is in fact differs from the Midrash: scripture follows the view of Rabbi Yishmael that only the general principles (klal) were taught at Sinai but not the details (prat).

 

Two terms: Dikduk and prat – the same

 

In the Midrash and manuscripts of Rashi that only have two terms, klal and prat or klal and dikduk, they are both saying the same thing: that the general principles and the details were taught at Sinai. This is also the view of Rabbi Hillel, in his commentary on Torat Kohanim, where he translates dikduk as prat. This is also evident from the Talmud that uses the term prat to present the view of Rabbi Akiva: ‘Both general statements (klal) and the details (prat) of mitzvot were said at Sinai.’[37] In this regard there is no difference between prat and dikduk as they are used interchangeably. In the context of the Sabbatical laws the klal (general) is: ‘the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord’[38] and the prat (details) is: ‘you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard.’[39]

 

Three terms: Klal, prat and dikduk

 

The same can be said in the Rashi commentary in the printed edition and manuscripts where three terms are used: klal, prat and dikduk. The reason is because in the Sabbatical laws three concepts can be found: 1. the klal (general principle): ‘the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord,’[40] 2. the prat (details): ‘you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard,’[41] 3. The dikduk (finer details) refers to: ‘You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest’ - to keep it like a regular harvest, but it must be rendered ownerless, and available for everyone to take at will.[42]

 

Dikduk – Oral Torah

 

The term dikduk, as extension of prat, may be also interpreted as referring to the details and explanations of the laws that are articulated in the Oral Torah, i.e. the Talmud. In the case of the Sabbatical laws, they are elaborated in fact in the tractate of Shevi’it.[43]

 

In all the above commentaries there is no fundamental difference between the version that has two terms or three terms. It is merely elaborating the midrashic commentary that we may derive from the Sabbatical laws that just as the principle, their details, finer details, as well all the oral teachings, were taught at Sinai, the same is the case regarding all the laws of the Torah – the principles, their details and all the finer details and explanations were taught to Moses at Sinai - even though the actual text of the Rashi commentary in all the versions mentioned above only have the three terms mentioned pertaining to the Sabbatical laws.

 

Maimonides

 

As mentioned, this view that all the principles, details, finer details and explanations of all the mitzvot were all taught at Sinai is the view of Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud. This is also the view of Maimonides in his introduction to the list of mitzvot in the Mishneh Torah: ‘These 613 mitzvot were given to Moses on Mount Sinai together with their general principles (klal), details (prat), and particular points (dikduk). These general principles, details, particular points and explanations (biurim)[44] of each mitzvah represent the Oral Law, which each court received from the previous court.’[45]

 

Scripture follows Rabbi Yishmael: only principles were taught at Sinai

 

An alternative reason for the mentioning in the commentary of Rashi three terms: klal, prat and dikduk, pertaining to the Sabbatical laws, and only two terms - klal and dikduk - in relation to all the other mitzvot, is to indicate there is in fact a difference between the Sabbatical laws and all the laws: the three categories of klal, prat and dikduk are from Sinai only regarding the Sabbatical laws but not all the laws of the Torah.

 

In this context, prat and dikduk are not just an extension of each other, whereby finer details (dikduk) are an extension of details (prat), but rather dikduk are aspects that explain only the klal (general principle) but not finer details of the prat (details) themselves.[46] An example of this is the case of the law of a grain offering to the Kohen (Terumah): the principle (klal) about an offering to the Kohen,[47] together with the aspects (dikduk) of the principle (klal) – including grain, wine and oil - was taught at Sinai.[48] Additional details of the law (prat), however, regarding for example whether it is applicable only during the Temple period or not,[49] was not taught at Sinai but rather afterwards at the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle.[50]

 

According to this interpretation, the principles (klal) and its aspects (dikduk) were taught on Mount Sinai but not the details (prat), following the above view of Rabbi Yishmael in the Talmud.[51]

 

In conclusion: there are two ways to understand the discrepancy between the printed and manuscript versions of the commentary of Rashi. The inclusion of the third term - prat before dikduk - may be an extension one from another (details and finer details of the details) and there is indeed a complete comparison between the Sabbatical laws and all the laws – their principles, their details and finer details were all taught at Sinai. Alternatively, it is to highlight a difference between the Sabbatical laws and all laws of the Torah: while regarding the laws of Sabbatical its principles, details and finer details were taught at Sinai, all the other laws, only the principles and aspects of the principles (dikduk) were taught at Sinai but not further details (prat).[52]

 

 


 

[1] Leviticus 25:1-7.

[2] Torat Kohanim, Behar 1: https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40721&st=&pgnum=155.

[3] Leviticus: 26:46. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi.

[4] Leviticus 27:34. Rabbi Judah Loew.

[5] Talmud Temurah 16a.

[6] Leviticus 27:34.

[7] Torat Kohanim 25:1.

[8] Exodus 23:10-11: ‘Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce. But in the seventh [year] you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of your people shall eat [it], and what they leave over, the beasts of the field shall eat. So shall you do to your vineyard [and] to your olive tree[s].’

[9] Leviticus 25:1-7: ‘And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce, But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest, and you shall not pick the grapes you had set aside [for yourself], [for] it shall be a year of rest for the land. And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female slaves, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you, And all of its produce may be eaten [also] by your domestic animals and by the beasts that are in your land.’

[10] Deuteronomy 15:1-2: ‘At the end of seven years you will make a release. And this is the manner of the release; to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because time of the release for the Lord has arrived.’

[11] Talmud Moed Kattan 2b. Gittin 36a. Kiddushin 38b. Following the view of the Sages.

[12] Deuteronomy 15:1-2: ‘At the end of seven years you will make a release. Land laws are only hinted to (remez) in the word release (shamot).

[13] Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi on Rashi on Leviticus 25:1. Siftei Chachamim on Leviticus 25:1 explains slightly differently: the fact that the finer details are omitted in Deuteronomy, evidently they were taught at Sinai.

[14] As articulated in the Beraita of Rabbi Yishmael, introduction to Torat Kohanim.

[15] Principle eight of Beraita de’Rabbi Yishmael.

[16] Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi on Leviticus 25:1.

[17] Leviticus 25:1.

[18] Rabbi Judah Loew on Leviticus 25:1.

[19] Sefer Hazikaron, Behar, p. 57 (1845, Livorno): https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=37257&st=&pgnum=130&hilite=.

[20] Siftei Chachamim on Leviticus 25:1.

[21] Nimukei Shmuel (1718, Amsterdam).

[22] This does not answer how we this excludes the possibility that it may have been taught in the Tent of Meeting. Likkutei Sichot 17:277. See footnote 10.

[23] Talmud Zevachim 115b.

[24] Talmud Zevachim 115b.

[25] Deuteronomy 1:1.

[26] This study follows the classic view of the commentaries including Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi, Rabbi Judah Loew and Shabtai Bass that al seem to agree that the view of the Midrash and Rashi’s rendering of the Midrash follow the view of Rabbi Akiva that the general and the fine details of the laws were taught at Sinai. The Raavad disagrees with this view. In addition, in Likkutei Sichot (17:276) the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, argues that the view of Rashi is that scripture in fact follows Rabbi Yishmael that only the general laws were taught at Sinai. The aim of the Midrashic teaching is only to suggest that the fine details of the Sabbatical laws and by extension all the laws of the Torah were not said for the first time in the Plains of Moav but rather in the Tent of Meeting (read ‘at Sinai’ in the Sabbatical laws – near Mount Sinai in the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle).

[27] fol. 148.

[28] fol. 140.

[29] Fol. 91.

[30] fol. 73.

[31] Fol. 119.

[32] Fol. 70.

[33] fol. 140.

[34] Fol. 91.

[35] fol. 148.

[36] A further variation: in MS Canon. Or. 35, fol. 148 is the use of the words Klal, prat in the beginning of the commentary, while the other manuscripts and the printed edition of Rashi mention klal, dikduk.

[37] Talmud Zevachim 115b. See Likutei Sichot 17:276, footnote 2.

[38] Leviticus 25:2.

[39] Leviticus 25:4. Rabeinu Hillel on Torat Kohanim, Behar 1.

[40] Leviticus 25:2.

[41] Leviticus 25:4. Rabeinu Hillel on Torat Kohanim, Behar 1.

[42] Leviticus 25:5 with Rashi commentary. Likutei Sichot 17:276, footnote 2.

[43] Rabbi Judah Loew and Rabbi Avraham ben Shlomo Bakrat Ha-Levi in Sefer Hazikaron, Behar, p. 57 (1845, Livorno).

[44] In the Warsaw – Vilnius edition of the Mishneh Torah it states ‘the explanations’ without the proceeding  ‘and,’ suggesting explanations may be the meaning of dikduk.

[45] Introduction to the Mishneh Torah, at the end of the negative commandments.

[46] Likutei Sichot 8:39, footnote 45 and Likutei Sichot 13:93, footnote 5.

[47] Exodus 22:28.

[48] Deuteronomy 18:4. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Terumot 2:1. There is a dispute regarding the limitations of these items. Maimonides maintains other similar produce is also obligated biblically (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Terumot 2:6), while the Ra’avad (gloss to Laws of Ma’aser 1:9) says only these items are obligated biblically.

[49] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Terumot 1:1.

[50] Sichot Kodesh 1969 vol. 2, p. 183. Mentioned in Likutei Sichot 8:39, footnote 45.

[51] The answer of the Midrash Torat Kohanim that the term ‘At Sinai’ in the Sabbatical laws, is to teach that all the laws and their details were taught at Sinai, according to this interpretation of Rashi, is merely to teach that one should not think that the laws of the Torah written many times in detail for the first time in Deuteronomy in the Pains of Moav was taught for the time only at that point before Moses passed away in the Plains of Moav but rather they were taught first in the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle. In this context the description ‘at Mount Sinai’ refers to the wilderness of Sinai, near Mount Sinai, in the Tabernacle before they travelled to wilderness of Paran, as opposed to on Mount Sinai itself (Likutei Sichot 17:278).

[52] This would explain the version that has three terms in the following order: first klal, then dikduk (aspects of the klal - principle) and then prat (separate details). Alternatively, dikduk after prat may refer to both – klal and prat

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