The Mishna (Nazir 1:3) informs us that the standard period of time for being a Nazir is 30 days – which then prompts the Gemara (Nazir 5a) to ask for some biblical evidence for this fact. In response, Rav Matna asserts that this rule is derived from the gematria of the word יִהְיֶה (whose numerical value is 30) as found in the phrase קָדוֹשׁ יִהְיֶה – ‘you shall be holy’ (Bemidbar 6:5). Adopting a different approach, Bar Pada asserts that we find a hint to this from the 29 occasions wherein the words נזר and נדר appear in the Torah portion about the law of the Nazir.
Having informed us of these two opinions, the Gemara strongly implies that the proof used by Bar Pada is more compelling than that of Rav Matna, and it therefore raises the question of why Rav Matna does not employ Bar Pada’s proof. The Gemara answers by offering a technical answer for Rav Matna’s preference. Still, the question we should consider is whether the frequency of a word is a more compelling proof than gematria?
Before answering this, it is important to state that both Rav Matna and Bar Pada would likely concur that we have a tradition (קבלה) that the standard period of time for being a Nazir is 30 days, and that both of their ‘proofs’ merely serve as hints to an already-known Sinaitic tradition. Yet notwithstanding this, our question still stands: why does the Gemara see greater merit in one over the other?
Numerous answers could be offered to this question, but the most basic is that the most compelling proof for a Torah law is a Torah word, and Bar Pada’s ‘proof’ stems from the high density of Torah words directly relating to the Nazir. In contrast, Rav Matna’s ‘proof’ is not particularly interested in the meaning of the word יִהְיֶה (which, in and of itself, has no direct association with the Nazir law). Instead, he is interested in the numerical value of that word. Simply put, the quality of proof is measured by its proximity to the ideal proof, and in this case, Bar Pada’s is closer than that of Rav Matna.
Oftentimes in life our choices are not between good and bad, but rather, between two not quite perfect options. In each case, each have merits and each have faults. And what we need to learn, in a manner that is illustrated in today’s daf, is the art of gauging which is closer, and in so doing, making peace with whichever outcome we choose.