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Oral Torah

Question:

Hi Rabbi,

This is a serious question I was hoping you could please answer.

We are told the Mishna is the Oral Torah, and that the Oral Torah was taught by Hashem to Moshe on Har Sinai. But when I open a Mishna, all I see is, “Rav Meir says X,” while “Rava disagrees and says Y.” When Hashem taught Moshe what He expected of Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai, he gave him exacts; he didn’t teach “Rav Meir says A but Rava says B.”

Why do we call Mishna the “Oral Torah” if it is just differing opinions of rebbeim and not Hashem’s exact instructions to Moshe?

Thank you

 

Answer:

Hello,

You are asking a very important and fundamental question. Yes, the Mishna is the Oral Torah, in the form that we have it at this point in time, of what Hashem told Moshe on Har Sinai. To explain. The Rambam in his introduction to Mishnayos, (and in his introduction to Yad Hachazaka), explains, how Torah Shebal Pe was given. Hashem told Moshe each mitzva, the basics of the mitzva was written in the Torah and its halachos, i.e. when the mitzva does or doesn’t apply, etc., were told to Moshe orally. The Rambam gives an example of this. It says in the Torah “Bsukos teishvu shivas yomim” “Dwell in a succah for eight days”. That is the written law, however Hashem explained to Moshe that this mitzva only applies to men, not to women, not to people who are sick, and not to travelers. That its roof should be made from thing that grow from the ground, and not something that has been fashioned into a vessel. That the commandment includes eating drinking and sleeping inside it. That it has certain minimal dimensions, and what height it can be. All of this is included in the Oral Torah and was given to Moshe. He then taught it orally, to Aron, his sons, the elders and all of Klal Yisroel.

An additionally part of the Oral law, is that the written Torah has certain rules, (given by Hashem to Moshe) and ways how we can extrapolate the rules of the Oral Torah from the written one. In general, this is done, through what is called the “13 middos (of R’ Yishmael)”, which are 13 ways of extrapolating hints from the written law as to what the Oral law is. (Nowadays we are not capable of understanding the text to such a deep level, therefore we cannot do this on our own.)

Regarding the transmission of the Oral law, this was taught from teacher to student, from generation to generation, with an unbroken chain for over 1000 years, 2448-3510 until the time of Yose ben Yoezer, (from the Exodus until the middle of the Second Temple) when we have the first machlokes, and there were things that got forgotten. This happened due to exiles, decrees against studying Torah, and other difficulties. This caused differences in opinion to develop, and when something wasn’t clear they could refer to extrapolating the halachos from the written law, however differences developed. Additionally, there were various Rabbinic decrees that were instituted over the generation in order to protect us from violating the Torah. These laws and the ensuing differences of opinion, plus the Rabbinic edicts is what became the Mishnayos that we now have.

It is interesting to note that we have a custom to recite the 5th chapter of Tractate Zevachim in the Shacharis service. This chapter we chosen to recite, because it is the only chapter of Mishnayos that still had its clear transmission from Moshe and is “pure” without any differences in opinion. If you look at it, you will notice that it has no machlokes.

Therefore, the Mishnayos contains, all the rules as they were given to Moshe, plus any differences in opinion regarding any rules that were not clear, and the different opinions regarding it.

Best wishes

 

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