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Thought for the Day: Explicitly Expressed in the Torah Includes Halacha l'Moshe Mi'Sinai

I took German in while in graduate school in Salt Lake City.  German was the language used in many seminal articles in physics from about the turn of the century (yike!  I guess I mean the previous century, don't I) till 2nd World War.  (The Nazi's made everyone skittish about using anything German for a while, so the language of science became American.)  Our TAs were usually returned missionaries who had done there stint in Germany, and so I also learned some of the jokes they seasoned missionaries played on the newbies. One was to send the newbie into a bakery to get a yummy "davon" and to be insistent not to accept the vastly inferior "wovon".  This led to great mirth among the seasoned veterans watching the escalating and sometimes heated exchange between newbie and baker.  "Davon", you see, means (colloquially) "that one"; "wovon" mean "which one?"

If you don't know the vocabulary, communication is very difficult no matter how well you can read the words.  While that seems obvious, anyone who wants to claim he accepts the Torah sh'bichtav but not the Torah sh'b'al pe is missing that very obvious fact.  You only know what words mean because you have an oral tradition about their meaning.  As far as I know, everyone is born with no more communication skills than crying and the occasional smile.  During the first few years of life, the skills get augmented with speech; learned, of course, as an oral tradition from their environment.  That's just for normal communication.  For the Torah nation, however, the the time required to master the entire oral tradition of meaning can take a lifetime.

This shows up in a fascination biur halacha in siman 276, which discusses the topic of a what benefit and under what conditions benefit may be derived from candle lit by a non-Jew on Shabbos in particular, and malacha done by a non-Jew in general.  (Run on sentence, you say.  Read it again, I say.)  In general, if a non-Jew does a malacha whose issur is mi'd'rabanan for a particular Jew, then other Jews (not that one) may benefit.  The worry is that if you can benefit from the malacha you'll start asking your non-Jewish friend to do you favors in the future.  If the malacha is assur mi'd'oraisa, however, then no Jew is permitted benefit (on that Shabbos and until after Shabbos for the amount of time it takes to do the malacha).

The biur halacha notes that if the malacha is bringing things from outside the t'chum -- even the t'chum of 12 mil, and even according to those who hold that is d'oraisa -- then benefit may be derived by a Jew who was not the intended recipient.  Why?  Because the issur of t'chum is not explicit in the Torah.  On the other hand, if the malacha is transporting in a r'shus ha'rabim more than four amos, then no benefit may be derived by any Jew.  Why?  Because that issur is a halacha l'moshe mi'sinai and hence d'oraisa.  What about about the fact that it isn't written or even hinted to by any pasuk in the Written Torah?  How, then, can one call it "explicit"?  Explains the biur halacha (based on a Pri M'gadan), a halacha l'moshe mi'sinai has the same status of the simple meaning of the words.  Just at the meaning of the words is not written in the text (obviously), so to many details of exactly what those words mean are also not written in the text.  Meaning, again obviously, that you can't get that information except through an oral tradition.

So there.


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