February 20, 2022

Chagigah 10

Having reached Mishna Chagigah 1:8 in today’s daf (Chagigah 10a) which, though it does refer to the laws of the שלמי חגיגה (festive offering), directs its attention to the dynamic between the Written Torah (תורה שבכתב) and the Oral Torah (תורה שבעל פה) especially in terms of considering how there are various laws which only receive brief mention in the former which are then explained with much detail in the latter, I would like to share a profound explanation of this and the following Mishnayot (Chagigah 2:1-2) which discuss the teaching and sharing of the תורה שבעל פה as well as the laws of leaning on a sacrifice (otherwise known as סמיכה).
To begin, it is worthwhile reviewing Mishna Chagigah 1:8 which informs us of that, ‘while the laws of annulling vows ‘hover in the air’ ואין להם על מה שיסמכו – and have nothing to rely upon (i.e. though the Oral Torah discusses these laws in detail, almost no details about these laws are found in the Written Torah), and while the laws of Shabbat, the laws of the Chagigah offerings, and the law of using sacred items for mundane purposes are like ‘mountains hanging by a hair’, meaning that while few details (מעט) about these laws are found in the Written Torah, there is an abundance of detail (מרובות) about these laws in the Oral Torah, the laws concerning civil cases, and of Temple worship, and the laws of purity and impurity, and the laws about forbidden relationships have much to rely upon (יש להם על מה שיסמכו) and they are the bodies of Torah (הן הן גופי תורה).’
As should be clear, our Mishna contrasts laws with scant (מעט) biblical basis and those with significant (מרובה) rabbinic analysis, and considering this, Rabbi Dr. Avraham Walfish explains (in his fascinating Hebrew essay on ‘Wordplays in the Mishna’ – see https://bit.ly/3BzQH11) that this reminds us of the previously discussed law (Mishna Chagigah 1:5, see Chagigah 8b) which contrasts those with many dependents (מרובים) and a more limited budget (מועטים) who are advised to bring more שלמי חגיגה (which are consumed partially by Kohanim and mostly by the person and family who bring the offering) than עולות ראייה (which fully consumed in the fire of the altar) when they ascent to Jerusalem (nb. note the association between Jerusalem which is a mountain, and the phrase ‘mountains hanging by a hair’), while those with a larger budget (מרובים) and few or no dependents (מועטין) are advised to bring more עולות ראייה and fewer שלמי חגיגה. Reflecting on this ‘wordplay’, R’ Walfish explains that just as there are families whose balance of offerings are more for them (i.e. consumed by humans) than for God (i.e. consumed on the altar), while there are other families whose balance of offerings are more for God (i.e. consumed on the altar) than for them (i.e. consumed by humans), so too, we are taught in our daf that there are some laws which have limited discussion in the Written Torah (תורה שבכתב) but which are discussed in far greater detail in the Oral Torah (תורה שבעל פה).
Beyond this, R’ Walfish also notes the connection between the wording in our Mishna about having a source on which to reply (יש להם על מה שיסמכו), and the later Mishnayot discussing the laws of leaning on a sacrifice (otherwise known as סמיכה). As Rav Yakov Nagen יעקב נגן explains (in his wonderful book ‘The Soul of the Mishna’) while summarising the insights of his teacher R’ Walfish: ‘the purpose of our Mishna is to set up a parallel between employing the pilgrimage sacrifices as a means of seeing God, and doing so through Torah study’, and in terms of the later Mishnayot, just as ‘the laying of hands on a sacrificial animal creates a bond between the one bringing the offering to be sacrificed to God and the offering itself which fulfils the commandment to see ‘the face of the Lord’, [so too] the linking of halakha to the written Torah, connects the individual to the revelation at Sinai.’
In light of this explanation, while our Mishna concludes by discussing ‘the (textual) bodies of Torah’ (הן הן גופי תורה) on which we can rely (יש להם על מה שיסמכו), it also makes veiled reference those individuals who have embodied the Torah (גופי תורה) upon whom we rely upon to faithfully interpret the Torah and thereby help us maintain our connection to Sinai.
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