The Oral Tradition of the Written Law 05 – Ramban

This series of shiurim is sponsored anonymously and is l’ilui nishmat Michael Yirmiyahu (Jeremy) haCohen Barkan.

In his introduction to Devarim, Ramban discusses the nature of the book. In this shiur we will look at Ramban’s understanding of Devarim, and the orality of the Written Torah.

In his commentary to Devarim 1:1 Ramban mentions the dual function of the book of Devarim:

ואמר עוד כי הואיל משה באר את התורה, וזה רמז במצות שנאמרו כבר שיחזור אותם לבאר אותם ולחדש בהם דברים.

וטעם “הואיל משה”, שרצה לבאר להם את התורה, והזכיר כן להודיע כי מעצמו ראה לעשות כן ולא צוהו השם בזה, מלשון הואל נא ולין (שופטים יט ו), ולו הואלנו ונשב (יהושע ז ז), וכן רבים:

1. It is an explanation of the Torah
2. It introduces Moshe’s novellae
3. Moshe Rabbeinu initiated both of these things

On Devarim 5:11 Ramban explains the difference between the first and second sets of Ten Commandments. He rejects the simple understanding of “Remember” and “Observe” were said at the same time, and instead explains that only “Remember” was written (in both sets of tablets) but that Moshe received an oral tradition of “Observe” at the same time. When he explains the meaning of the Ten Commandments in Devarim, he chose to explain the second meaning which he had received.

Clearly Moshe did not make up anything himself, because as Ramban says, the Shechina was speaking from his throat. Nevertheless, it is presented as if Moshe said these things himself.

The Talmud in Berachot 20b learns from the duality of “Remember” and “Observe” that women are obligated from the Torah to say kiddush. According to Ramban’s reading this limmud is valid because it is implied within the word “Remember” and was given with it, but as an oral tradition as opposed to a written tradition.

Perhaps this also explains Rambam’s halacha (Hilchot Shabbat chapter 30) that the positive mitzvot of Shabbat begin mainly before nightfall. If the positive mitzvot, “Remember” is the same as the negative mitzvot “Observe” then their obligation should both begin at the same time.

The Talmud in Bava Kama 54b55a contains a surprising question and answer:

(Soncino English translation)

R. Hanina b. ‘Agil asked R. Hiyya b. Abba: Why in the first Decalogue is there no mention of wellbeing, whereas in the second Decalogue there is a mention of wellbeing? � He replied: While you are asking me why wellbeing is mentioned there, ask me whether wellbeing is in fact mentioned or not, as I do not know whether wellbeing is mentioned there or not. Go therefore to R. Tanhum b. Hanilai who was intimate with R. Joshua b. Levi, who was an expert in Aggadah. When he came to him he was told by him thus: ‘From R. Joshua b. Levi I have not heard anything on the matter. But R. Samuel b. Nahum the brother of the mother of R. Aha son of R. Hanina, or as others say the father of the mother of R. Aha son of R. Hanina, said to me this: Because the [first tablets containing the] Commandments were destined to be broken.’ But even if they were destined to be broken, how should this affect [the mention of wellbeing]? � R. Ashi thereupon said: God forbid! Wellbeing would then have ceased in Israel.

Look at the Pnei Yehoshua on the gemara, who stresses how shocking it is that Rabbi Hiyya appears to not know the text of the Chumash (and look at his explanation and answer there)

Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky, in Emes le-Yaakov on Devarim 5:12 discusses this gemara, and explains that the differences between the two sets of Tablets is because there was a ‘ketiv’ and a ‘keri’. And that is the basis of Rabbi Hiyya’s doubt.

However Rabbi Triebitz offers a different explanation. He says, based on Ramban, that the differences are Moshe’s explanation. The reason the question is only on the word ‘tov’ and not on any of the many other differences, is because all the other differences are halachic. ‘Tov’ is reward in the world to come and is therefore an aggadic difference.
This is why Ramban says that some things are explanation of what was given at Sinai (halacha) and some things are Moshe’s novellae (based on the Shechina speaking through him) which are aggadic.

Ramban also explains similarly in his commentary to Devarim 7:9 that Moshe alludes to reincarnation in his explanation of the Torah.


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