Authority, Heavenly Voices and the Interpretation of Torah
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #20: Authority, Heavenly Voices and the Interpretation of Torah
By Rav Yitzchak Blau
It was taught there: "If you cut it [an earthenware oven] into sections and place sand between the sections, Rabbi Eliezer says it is pure, and the sages say it is impure. And this is the oven of Akhinai." What is 'Akhinai'? R. Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel: "They surrounded him with words like an akhna (a snake) and made it impure." It was taught: "On that day, R. Eliezer responded to them with all the arguments in the world and they did not accept them from him."
He said to them: "If I am right, this carob tree will prove it." The carob tree was uprooted from its place and moved one hundred cubits; some say, four hundred cubits.
They said to him: "We do not bring proofs from carob trees."
He said to them: "If I am right, this stream of water will prove it." The stream started to flow backwards.
They said to him: "We do not bring proof from streams."
He said to them: "If I am right, the walls of the study hall will prove it." The walls of the study hall inclined to fall.
R. Yehoshua rebuked them [the walls]. He said to them: "If talmudic scholars contest one another in matters of Halakha, why does this concern you?" They did not fall, out of respect for R. Yehoshua, but they did not straighten, out of respect for R. Eliezer, and they are still inclined there.
He said to them: "If the halakha is as I say, let it be proved from the heavens." A heavenly voice came forth and proclaimed: "Why are you contesting R. Eliezer, when Halakha follows him in every area?"
R. Yehoshua arose and said: "'It is not in heaven' (Devarim 30: 12). What does this mean? R. Yirmiyah said: The Torah has already been give at Sinai. We pay no heed to heavenly voices, since it has already been written in the Torah at Sinai, 'follow the majority' (Shemot 23: 2)."
R. Natan came upon Eliyahu. He said to him: "What is the Holy One, Blessed be He, doing at this time?"
Eliyahu said to him: "He is laughing and saying, 'My children have defeated me; My children have defeated me'." (Bava Metzia 59a-59b)
(Next week, we will examine the continuation of this story.)