In Bava Metzia 59b, the rabbis are discussing a matter of halacha, and at some point a Voice from Heaven (bat kol) interjects an opinion. The rabbis reply that the Torah is out of God's hands (they say "lo bashamayim hi", quoting the Torah itself) and that they will interpret it among themselves. They then decide against the opinion of the bat kol. God approves the process.

I remember reading that later Sages said that the bat kol's opinion was the logically correct one, and the rabbis' decision was logically incorrect. Is this accurate and what is the reference?

The 12th century sage Nachmanides (the Ramban) commented that Sages will make mistakes, but it is better to let them make mistakes a few times and render decisions applicable to all, rather than have different Jewish communities follow different rules. (His comment may not have been about that episode.)

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    What do you mean by right and wrong? That really the Torah is decided by Heaven? – Alex May 1 '19 at 20:50
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    Your final paragraph seems to answer your own question. – DonielF May 1 '19 at 22:19
  • @DonielF -- I only wanted a reference. I doubt we had to wait for the Ramban to hear that. – Maurice Mizrahi May 1 '19 at 22:29
  • If G-d approved it, it couldn't have been a mistake no? – user9806 May 1 '19 at 22:43
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    @Maurice You should clarify that; as it stands, it looks like you’re asking for a reference and immediately provide one. – DonielF May 1 '19 at 23:01

Sefer HaChinuch §496 cites the Ramban’s understanding and explicitly connects it with the story at hand:

ועל דרך ענין זה שעוררתיך, בני, עליו אפרש לך אגדה אחת שהיא בבבא מציעא בסוף פרק הזהב (בבא מציעא נט, ב) גבי ההוא מעשה דרבי אליעזר הגדול בתנורו של עכנאי, המתמהת כל שומעה. אמרו שם אשכחה רבי נתן לאליהו וכו' אמר לה מאי עביד קדשא בריך הוא בההיא שעתא? אמר לה חיך ואמר נצחוני בני.‏

In the vein of this topic which I have awakened for you, my son, on it will I explain a story in Bava Metzi’a at the end of Perek HaZahav, regarding that incident with R’ Eliezer the Great and the oven of Achnai, which astounds whoever hears it. They said there: “R’ Nassan found Eliyahu, etc. He said to him, ‘What was Hashem doing at that time?’ He said to him, ‘He laughed and said, “My sons have triumphed over me.”’”

כלומר שהיה הקדוש ברוך הוא שמח על שהיו בניו הולכים בדרך התורה ובמצותה להטות אחרי רבים, ומה שאמר נצחוני בני חלילה להיות נצחון לפניו ברוך הוא, אבל פרוש הדבר הוא על ענין זה, שבמחלקת הזה שהיתה לרבי אליעזר עם חבריו האמת היתה כרבי אליעזר וכדברי הבת קול שהכריעה כמותו, ואף על פי שהיה האמת אתו בזה, ביתרון פלפולו על חבריו לא ירדו לסוף דעתו, ולא רצו להודות לדבריו אפילו אחר בת קול, והביאו ראיה מן הדין הקבוע בתורה שצותנו ללכת אחרי הרבים לעולם, בין יאמרו אמת או אפילו טועים.‏

That is to say: Hashem was happy that his children were going in the path of the Torah and its Mitzvah to follow the majority. That which He said, “My children have triumphed over Me,” Chas v’Shalom that there should be triumph before Hashem. But the explanation of this matter is that in the dispute between R’ Eliezer with his friends, the truth was like R’ Eliezer and the Bas Kol which sided with him. Even though the truth was with him, with the extent of his sharpness over his friends, they were unable to understand him. They did not want to accept his words even after the Bas Kol, and they brought a proof from the fixed law in the Torah that we are commanded to follow the majority always, whether they say the truth or even if they are mistaken.

ועל זה השיב הבורא ברוך הוא נצחוני בני, כלומר, אחר שהם נוטים מדרך האמת, שרבי אליעזר הוא היה מכוין בזה את האמת, והם באים עליו מכח מצות התורה שצויתים לשמע אל הרב לעולם, אם כן על כל פנים יש להודות להם בפעם הזאת כדבריהם שתהיה האמת נעדרת, והרי זה כאלו בעל האמת נצוח.

On this Hashem responded, “My children have triumphed over Me.” That is to say, after they tipped away from the path of truth, since R’ Eliezer was the one who perceived the truth in this, and they came upon him from the strength of the Mitzvah of the Torah which commanded them to listen to the majority always — if so, in any event there is to admit to them in this instance like their words, that it is the absolute truth. Behold, this is as if the master of truth triumphed!

(FWIW, the Ramban you cite is on Devarim 17:11, and while he connects this concept to several other Talmudic incidents, he indeed does not connect it to the Gemara at hand.)

  • OK, we are almost there. Now, WHO was the Sefer quoting? I can't believe we had to wait this long for what it said. – Maurice Mizrahi May 2 '19 at 16:36
  • The way it phrased it, it sounds like these are his own thoughts. That doesn’t preclude others before him from saying the same thing, but it doesn’t sound like he’s intentionally quoting them. – DonielF May 2 '19 at 17:51
  • The source I remember didn't just say "Oh, the bat kol must have had it right because Hashem is behind it!" It explained the reasoning. That's what I am looking for. – Maurice Mizrahi May 2 '19 at 19:23

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