Rashi's explanation for what Moshe's sin was in Numbers 20 when he hit the rock is

להקדישני. שֶׁאִלּוּ דִּבַּרְתֶּם אֶל הַסֶּלַע וְהוֹצִיא, הָיִיתִי מְקֻדָּשׁ לְעֵינֵי הָעֵדָה, וְאוֹמְרִים מַה סֶּלַע זֶה שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר וְאֵינוֹ שׁוֹמֵעַ וְאֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לְפַרְנָסָה, מְקַיֵּם דִּבּוּרוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם, קַל וָחוׂמֶר אָנוּ:

If you had spoken to the rock and brought out [the water], I would have been sanctified in the eyes of the congregation. They would have said "just like this rock, which doesn't speak and doesn't hear and doesn't need sustenance, listens to the word of the Omnipresent, all the more so should we!"

The problem with this kal vachomar is it has a פירכה, refutation. To use talmudic language: מה לסלע, שאין לה בחירה חפשית, תאמר בבני אדם שיש להם בחירה חפשית. How can we learn from a rock, which doesn't have free will, we have free will! Obviously the rock listens to Hashem, it has no choice. Why should that mean I have to?

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    It's not a talking rock. Rashi even said it cant hear. So it's not choosing to give water...it's beyond its control – robev Jun 29 '17 at 3:46
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    @DanF you misunderstood what I meant by Talmudic language...it means the same style as used by the Talmud. I'm not quoting anything. I don't know what you mean this provides a different angle – robev Jun 29 '17 at 15:44
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    @DanF obviously Rashi doesn't address free will, otherwise I wouldn't have asked my question. I don't see your point – robev Jun 29 '17 at 17:39
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    @DanF I'm not inferring anything from Rashi, the logical argument is flawed. There's no comparison between a rock and a human. The equivalent argument is my computer listens to me and I don't give anything to it, all the more so my kids should listen to me since I give them so much. The computer has no choice but to listen to me! – robev Jun 29 '17 at 19:30
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    OK, I'm beginning to see your point. I have to think it through, though. BTW, if your computer listens to you, you need to let us in on your secret ;-) – DanF Jun 29 '17 at 19:32

It seems to me that several exegetical principles involve more rigor when involved in legal arguments than when used in homily. I will talk about Dayo in connection with the Kal Ve Chomer. It is not exactly your example, but I’m suggesting that your example is comparable to mine, and that counter-arguments (like the one you suggest) are more proper to legal arguments than to the homiletic example in your quotation.

Dayo is the principal limiting a rule (derived Kal Ve Chomer) to its strength in the original case. For some applications of Dayo in legal arguments in Nezikin, see Bava Kamma 24b to 25a; Bava Kamma 37b4 #21; Bava Kamma 63b4 #44; or Bava Basra 111a1 #10. (As I often do, I use ArtScroll citations, so if using a standard edition you should ignore the part of each citation following indication of Amud a or b.)

Now consider Rashi on Gen 4:24. 1) Cain killed intentionally. 2) Lemech killed accidentally. 3) Cain's punishment was suspended for seven generations. 4) So should Lemech’s punishment be suspended, 5) and for many times so long. Compare this with the Mishnah Avos 6:3. 1) Dovid was an extraordinary man and a king of Israel; 2) while we are not; 3) Dovid showed respect to someone who taught him a few matters of Torah; 4) so we should do likewise; 5) and even respect a person who teaches us a single matter of Torah.

It seems that each of these violates the Principle of Dayo. That principal would allow each of the arguments to run to step 4, but not to step 5. But my point is that Rashi and the gemara present these Kal Ve Chomer arguments anyhow, because in homiletic settings the rigor of the argument is lessened.

  • Dayo is learned from a pasuk, and could possibly only apply to halachos, like you said. Kal vachomer is a svara, and if the svara has a flaw you have nothing. – robev Jul 4 '17 at 12:18
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    @robev Dayo is learned from a pasuk, but it is also logical, because if not for Dayo there would be no logical place to limit the Kal Ve Chomer. Take Rashi on Gen 4:24 for example: if we accept that Lemech's punishment should be suspended many times as long as Cain's, then how many times as long? In a halachic application such an unanswerable question would be fatal, but in the actual context of Lemech's argument it is not an important problem. – Chaim Jul 4 '17 at 12:44
  • But you see without a pasuk the gemarra in Bava kamma that you quoted would have been fine without it. I agree it would be hard to define the limits but I see Dayo as too unrelated to my problem with Rashis Kal vachomer. If you bring other examples of flawed Kal vachomers in Aggadata that would be more useful. – robev Jul 4 '17 at 13:12
  • @Chaim , I think you're absolutely right that the rabbis aren't worried about the strict rules of the middot in aggada. But "how many times as long" isn't necessarily unanswerable. The first mention of Dayo in Sifra said that if the principle didn't exist, Miriam should have been punished for 14 days for having been 'spat on' by Hashem, rather than the 7 days that dayo implies. – Josh Jul 4 '17 at 19:00
  • @Josh No unanswerable question arises in the example from Pirkei Avois; there's only 1 number between the 2 things (that Dovid learned from Achisoifel) and no things at all. Still, I think that as a general principal in legal reasoning part of the problem that Dayo averts is the haphazard selection of another number (such as the 14 in the case of Miriam -- why 14?). But I agree with you that the problem is not necessarily unanswerable, only that no consistent system for choosing that next number seems possible. – Chaim Jul 4 '17 at 21:33

To play the game of invented aggadic hermeneutics...

1) I don't think it's a valid pircha. A pircha shows a characteristic that exists in the kal and doesn't exist in the chomer, in a way that we could say that the din (listening to Hashem, in this case) relies on that characteristic alone. You're bringing in something that the kal doesn't have.

2) Let's say this kind of pircha goes. Then לבנה תוכיח! In the aggada in Hullin 60b, the moon, which presumably has as much free will as a rock, challenges and retorts Hashem's commandments. Therefore, free-will doesn't refute Rashi's kal vachomer.

  • First, even though I agree this is an aggadic matter, we're not discussing hermaneutics, or drashos. Kal vachomer is a svara, and thus has to be logical, I don't know why that wouldn't be so in aggadata. I'm pointing out a logical flaw in the argument. Regarding #1 I don't know where you got that rule. A pircha is when something is true in the Kal. What is true in this case? The Rock doesn't have free will, which is not true by humans. Regarding #2, you're essentially suggesting rocks have free will. I feel that that is too bold a claim to make without evidence. – robev Jul 4 '17 at 18:28
  • Just because the moon said something and was punished, I don't see that necessarily indicating free will, and even if it does, why does that teach anything about rocks? Rocks don't speak. – robev Jul 4 '17 at 18:29
  • Regarding #1 it's mostly semantics, but using your definition it's still a pircha. Rocks lacking free will exists by rocks, not by humans. – robev Jul 4 '17 at 18:49
  • @robev 1. kal vachomer, as svara, is hermeneutics. 2. Laws of pircha: see Sefer Hakritut (hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=38442&st=&pgnum=2). 3. Define free will in a way that excludes refusing something! 4. I'm not holding to this moon example, just showing a hochacha in the same spirit as your rock pircha... – Josh Jul 4 '17 at 18:52
  • where did the moon refuse something? As I stated your moon example has no bearing on the nature of rocks – robev Jul 4 '17 at 18:54

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