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The concept of “Torah lo b’shomayim hi” is usually taken to mean that the halacha is not decided (by G-d) in Heaven, but rather by people here on Earth. However, since nothing happens outside of G-d’s Will, whatever halacha was actually decided by people is clearly the halacha that G-d desired to be established. So, in fact, it was “b’shomayim”, and therefore there’s no such concept as “Torah lo b’shomayim hi” that could be possible.

So what then is the import of the statement that halacha is decided by people down here on Earth? They are just enacting whatever G-d desired in the first place. You can’t say that they have free choice to decide otherwise, because free choice is given only in matters of deciding whether to observe [a certain law of] the Torah or not at a specific time (hakol byidei shamayim chutz meyirat shamayim) - while in this instance it is the establishment of what the law itself should be in the first place, and for all time.

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    What about if G-d tells you the halacha should be X, but you decide that it is actually Y. Is that not exercising your free choice? – Joel K May 26 at 19:19
  • No, because when "you" (as in, the majority of sages) decide it should be Y, then that means G-d wanted it to be Y. That's not "free choice", since you're not deciding between forbidden and permitted alternatives. When you decide Y, you're doing it in good faith (lishmah). It's different when you (as an individual) decide at some particular instant between eating a kosher sandwich or a treif one - that is actually exercising free choice. – user9806 May 26 at 21:04
  • It's impolite to ask "really?" on what the Gemmorah rules. Therefore I allowed myself to change the title into the contradiction you present in your question. – Al Berko May 27 at 13:24
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This paradox is addressed by Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah 5:4:

ואל תתמה ותאמר היאך יהיה האדם עושה כל מה שיחפוץ ויהיו מעשיו מסורים לו וכי יעשה בעולם דבר שלא ברשות קונו ולא חפצו והכתוב אומר כל אשר חפץ ה' עשה בשמים ובארץ דע שהכל כחפצו יעשה ואף על פי שמעשינו מסורין לנו כיצד כשם שהיוצר חפץ להיות האש והרוח עולים למעלה והמים והארץ יורדים למטה והגלגל סובב בעיגול וכן שאר בריות העולם להיות כמנהגן שחפץ בו ככה חפץ להיות האדם רשותו בידו וכל מעשיו מסורין לו ולא יהיה לו לא כופה ולא מושך אלא הוא מעצמו ובדעתו שנתן לו האל עושה כל שהאדם יכול לעשות

A person should not wonder: How is it possible for one to do whatever he wants and be responsible for his own deeds? - Is it possible for anything to happen in this world without the permission and desire of its Creator as [Psalms 135:6] states: "Whatever God wishes, He has done in the heavens and in the earth?"

One must know that everything is done in accord with His will and, nevertheless, we are responsible for our deeds.

How is this [apparent contradiction] resolved? Just as the Creator desired that [the elements of] fire and wind rise upward and [those of] water and earth descend downward, that the heavenly spheres revolve in a circular orbit, and all the other creations of the world follow the nature which He desired for them, so too, He desired that man have free choice and be responsible for his deeds, without being pulled or forced. Rather, he, on his own initiative, with the knowledge which God has granted him, will do anything that man is able to do.

(Touger translation, my emphasis)

Essentially, then, God's will is that humans override what He "wanted" the law to be.

  • So if G-d "wanted" it to be X, but humans override it to be Y, then G-d in fact really wanted it to be Y all along, since it was His will that humans override it to Y. Therefore, what does it mean to say that "G-d wanted it to be X" initially? – user9806 May 26 at 21:20
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    @user9806 No because He doesn’t specifically want them to disagree with Him. What He wants is that if they disagree they should follow their own ruling. – Alex May 26 at 22:53
  • Ok, but being omniscient He always knew what their ruling will be. So if they decided "halacha is like Beis Hillel and not Beis Shammai", then that was de facto G-d's will all along (since He always knew they would decide it that way). He had a plan for history, and His will was that Beis Hillel's view would be followed for that particular law. They didn't have a choice to rule otherwise since that would go against His will of what history should be. Note that this is different from regular "free choice paradox" of "how can G-d know what we'll do and yet we can have a choice anyway". – user9806 May 26 at 23:22
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    @user9806 They did have a choice to rule otherwise, because God's will was that they have such a choice. That God already knew how they would rule is simply a question of omniscience vs free will, a paradox taken up by Rambam in the very next halacha. – Alex May 27 at 1:44
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The question is based on the perception that in Torah Shel Bal Peh we are trying to backwards engineer the Torah in order to figure out what Hashem's intention was. This approach leads to an understanding that when there is a Machlokes, one is right and one is wrong. Even when we say אלו ואלו — and take it to mean that both are somehow equally correct about the original intent — this will still leave the idea of נצחוני בני unexplained.

However, we find in Tana D'Bei Eliyahu Zuta 2 that the Torah Shebiksav is compared to wheat and flax-seeds that are given to us to embelish and make cakes and nice clothing therewith. By learning and expounding on the Torah, whilst being truthful to the rules of derivation, we are actually growing the Torah.

We can therefore find, אביתר בני כך הוא אומר יונתן בני כך הוא אומר and מאיר בני אומר, that Hashem will actually quote the Tanna about the Halachah. Hashem is quoting the author of the idea because it is actually this Chacham who brought this out. As the Torah Shel Bal Peh grows, the Torah becomes a growing and sprouting tree.

Now, while obviously Hashem knew all along what the Chacham will say, it is still the Torah brought about by this Chacham, and Hashem will wait until this person will bring out that Torah (or until He is ready to quote him).

It is for this reason that תורה לאו בשמים היא, that the Torah is not decided in Heaven. For we find that even when there is a discussion in heaven they will call upon earthly deciders to make the call. With this understanding, it becomes clear what is meant by אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים as well. If both sides apply equal intelligence and diligence, both perspectives can be equally valid, although we can only technically follow one ruling.


As for the actual concept of תורה לא בשמים היא, we find Tosafos in Bava Metzia, Pesachim & Chulin that we actually would pay attention to a heavenly call, but it was only in the case of Rebbe Eliezer that we ignored it since it was obvious that the voice was merely in his honor.

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    To be more precise w/r to the Tosafos, "WE" would rule like a Bas Kol, and thus rule like Beis Hillel. R' Yehoshua, who said "Lo Bashamayim Hi" would never do so. Hence he would ignore the Beis Shammai/Hillel Bas Kol as well. – AKA May 28 at 19:26
  • @AKA Absolutely. We accepted R' Yehoshua but not for his reason. Although, in another context we do still say לא בשמים היא, as in the Gemara in Temurah. When I have a chance, I would add to this answer. – HaLeiVi May 28 at 19:39
  • Which raises the question of why acc. the Rambam we rule like Beis Hillel, as he embraces "Lo Bashamayim Hi" pretty enthusiastically. I think the Kesef Mishne says something... – AKA May 28 at 19:41
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Maharsha says (Bava Meztiah 59) there is not a more correct opinion as regards the Truth, rather both opinions are correct, but we follow the majority.

העולה מדבריהם אלו דדברי המטמאין והמטהרין כולם דברי אלהים חיים הם דאיכא צד לטמא וצד לטהר אלא שהתורה נתנה למטה להכריע ע"פ הרוב דכתיב אחרי רבים להטות

A person has the choice to decide which side he wishes to follow, as long as he follows all their opinions (Chulin 43f):

לעולם הלכתא כדברי ב"ה והרוצה לעשות כדברי בית שמאי עושה כדברי בית הלל עושה מקולי בית שמאי ומקולי ב"ה רשע מ״ד א מחומרי בית שמאי ומחומרי בית הלל עליו הכתוב אומר (קהלת ב, יד) הכסיל בחושך הולך אלא אי כבית שמאי כקוליהן וכחומריהן אי כבית הלל כקוליהן וכחומריהן

  • So which one is it - do we "follow the majority" or does "a person has the choice to decide which side he wishes to follow"? – user9806 May 26 at 21:40

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