Friday, June 09, 2006

Siyata D'Shemaya and Psak Halacha

Kesubos 60b (I'm paraphrasing - ayen sham): Abaye was asked by his neighbor whether he may perform eirusin on a nursing mother 15 months after her baby was born. Abaye replied yes. When Abaye came before Rav Yosef, Rav Yosef reminded him that Rav and Shmuel both paskened that the eirusin may not be done until 24 months have elapsed. Abaye ran three parsa after his neighbor to correct his mistake, but could not catch him. Abaye then said, 'The reason one may not rule on halacha in the place of his rebbe is not merely because it is disrespectful, but it is because one will not receive Heavenly help to arrive at the correct psak, for I knew the ruling of Rav and Shmuel, yet I was not guided to say the correct psak."

So according to Abaye, what are the necessary ingredients that lead a posek to the 'correct' answer to a shayla? It's not just information, because Abaye knew the information of Rav and Shmuel's opinion. It is not just intelligence or insight, because Abaye's intelligence could not logically be affected by his rebbe's presence. If halacha is just a matter of processing information and is binding only because of consensus and has nothing to do with being an expression of G-d's will, then what does this gemara mean?
(Disclaimer: I know, I shouldn't discuss these topics. Consider this thinking aloud.)


  1. Now they're going to come here and harass you :-)

  2. Hey, all I'm doing is quoting a gemara.

  3. They can't harass you because it's Toras Emes.

  4. Anonymous6:20 PM

    If the halachic process is supposed to be an expression of Hashem's will, then why did they reject the heavenly voice when it told them explicity what Hashem's will was?

  5. David, if anything, you have strengthened my point. Because BN"Y could not handle the experience of the unmediated word of G-d, they therefore requested to receive His will through an intermediary - Moshe, then later the Prophets, and later through Chazal. See Ramban Baba Basra 12a.

  6. Anonymous10:58 PM

    I read David's comment as referring to the episode of the stove of Akhnai.

    But I suggest a closer attention to the words of Abaye: that one would not receive Heavenly help to arrive at the correct psak. To me this phrasing implies, not that Heaven will show the posek the correct result, but that Heaven will provide assistance to him as he works out what the correct result should be. Abaye said he was not guided to the correct result, but did not say he was not given the correct result. Rather as a parent helps their child to learn a new skill, close by, giving direction and possibly lending a hand to help the child move in the right direction, but the effort and the result are ultimately the child's and not the parent's.

    And on the simple psychological level Abaye's comment is simple enough to explain: being disrespectful to one's rav signifies an intrusion of one's ego that impedes the ability to focus in on Torah.

  7. Jeffrey, sounds to me like you are making a distinction without a difference. I never said Heaven 'showed a posek the correct result' - merely that without that help, the wrong result is inevitable (as I wrote, a necessary ingredient). If you like to use the analogy of a parent helping a child, so be it, but you are still conceding that halacha is more than the consensus of human minds operating independently, which is how many (mistakingly) view halacha.
    I reject your psychological reading as far from the plain meaning of the text - the gemara could very well have said that b'makom rabo one cannot learn properly because of psychological reasons, but it clearly invokes siyata d'shemaya. Unless you reject the notion of siyata d'shemaya, I fail to see why you would not take it to mean what it says.
    Tanur shel achnaei is not a disproof - it simply demonstrates that the voice of Hashem as revealed through the thought of Chazal supercedes a bas kol. The parallel is chacham adif m'navi, meaning the the chacham's giuly of ratzon Hashem is superior - see Rav Kook's explanation along those lines in Orot.

  8. Anonymous12:21 PM

    If the bas kol wasn't trying to inform them of the real ratzon hashem, then why did it call out to them (assuming the event actually happened)?

  9. Your mistake is assuming that there is a single 'ratzon Hashem' which is the bulls eye of truth to which everything must correspond. See my brother-in-law's essay
    Ratzon Hashem is multi-faceted. The bas kol called upon by R"E revealed one level of ratzon Hashem. Chazal revealed a different layer of ratzon Hashem. Because of the rules of psak, we assume that in our daily lives the ratzon Hashem revealed by the rabim is the correct derech for us, but we do not reject the approach of the yachid as lacking truth or validity (eilu v'eilu).

  10. Anonymous7:32 AM

    Your brother in law's essay brings to mind the idea of quantum halacha; in place of Schrodinger's cat, we would have Schrodinger's psak: there, the act of observation crystalizes or collapses the potentials into one real phenomenon, and here the act of pasken collapses the potentials into one reified choice.
    And my psychological reading co-exists with your reading; the one does not nullify the other.