The Parsha of Beha'aloscha
concludes with the story of Miriam, who spoke lashon
hora (gossip) and was consequently punished. "She
was quarantined for seven days," reads chapter 12,
verse 15. In reasoning the length of her punishment, the
Torah applies the logic of a "Kal Va'Chomer"
(which means something like, if 'a', then all the more so 'b').
In this case, a kal va'chomer is used to say, "were
Miriam's father to spit in her face, would she not be humiliated
for seven days?" Since (a) is true, then all the more
so, (b) she should be quarantined outside the camp for seven days,
for speaking lashon hora.
The Talmud, (Zevachim 69B) acknowledges
this verse as the biblical source for validating the use of a kal
va'chomer in the determination of halacha (Jewish
law). However, if we are assuming that a legitimate
kal va'chomer was used in determining Miriam's punishment,
then this contradicts another Talmudic ruling (in Tractate Makkos
5.b). This ruling states that deliverance
of a punishment cannot rely on the legal power of a kal va'chomer.
The Korban Aharon explains
that this ruling in Makkos is valid only when the kal
va'chomer is a manifestation of the human thought process,
since it is not a direct expression of Hashem's word.
It is very sensible to be suspicious of possible mistakes
and problems due to man's finite comprehension. Therefore,
it would not be right to subject someone to a punishment based on
a method that is woven with threads of skepticism.
On the other hand, if the kal va'chomer is written
explicitly in the Torah, it is reflective of the infinite wisdom
of Hashem, insuring its complete reliability. Thus, the
ruling in Makkos would not apply and it can be used as
a basis of a punishment.
Some commentators are not content
with this explanation. After all, the Tractate Zevachim
gives the kal va'chomer of our Parsha universal significance
as the source from where the Rabbis receive permission to make their
own kal va'chomer.
The Satmar Rav, in his Divrei
Yoel uses an entirely different approach to resolve
this contradiction between the tractates. He bases it on a principle
from the Magid Mishna.
Commandments fall into two categories,
positive (do . . . ) and negative (do not do . . . ).
Normally, when the Torah explicitly
states an issur (prohibition) as "do not
do . . ." the punishment is lashes. The Torah
does not need to write this, as it is implicit in the definition
of a negative commandment. On the other hand, when the
Torah issues a positive commandment with the phrase "do . .
." an actual prohibition is not explicitly stated; it is merely
implied. Unless the Torah clearly delivers a punishment
for the transgression, transgressors contract the sin, but receive
In these situations,according to the
Maggid Mishnah, a kal va'chomer can be used to derive
the punishment. In other words, when the Torah depicts
a prohibition without a corresponding punishment, then a kal
va'chomer, if available, will have the power to define the
punishment. (This principle is not operative with respect
to sentencing one to death. Then an explicit statement is required.)
The Divrei Yoel
explains that refraining from speaking lashon hora is written
as a positive commandment according to the Ramban,
in his comments on the Book of Mitzvahs of the
makes the presumption based on a "Sifra"
which cites the verse "remember that which Hashem
did to Miriam" the Ramban interprets the
word "remember" to connote "do this," a positive
commandant against speaking lashon hora. Since
the Torah already depicts the prohibition of lashon hora
in a way that suggests no punishment,therefore according to the
Maggid Mishnah the kal va'chomer in our Parsha
can be appropriately used for punishment.
May we only commit
Mitzvos and be deserving of reward in this world and the world to
June 24, 1997