This week we had two somewhat interesting Torah Temimahs. Neither are bombshells from the Torah Temimah, but they are still worth noting.
I. Science and Chazal
“These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore unto Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty and three.” (Genesis 46:15)
“R. Isaac citing R. Ammi stated: If the woman emits her semen first she bears a male child; if the man emits his semen first she bears a female child; for it is said, If a woman emits semen and bear a man-child.” (Babylonian Talmud Nida 31A, translation Soncino)
The Talmud offers the verse from Vayigash as support for this statement. The idea is that the verse connects the sons to Leah and the daughter to Yaakov (thanks commenter Benny).
Now obviously, this is scientifically incorrect. There are several ways to deal with this kind of problem. Some will say Chazal were correct and science is incorrect. Others will say science is correct and Chazal are wrong. Others will say that the Talmud is speaking in metaphors, or mysticism, or some other non-literal interpretation.
It seems that the Torah Temimah is unaware that the science in this Talmudic statement was wrong, but he provides important insight nonetheless.
If one were to try to say that Chazal were wrong about science in this instance, one might also need to say that the Torah was wrong. After all, Chazal are apparently gleaning this insight from the words in the Torah. While it is a matter of controversy to say Chazal were wrong about science, it is a matter of heresy to say the Torah is “wrong”.
Says the Torah Temimah (translation my own): It seems obvious that substance of this idea was known to Chazal from the science [of their day] that everything goes according to the last force, and therefore if the man seeds first his force ends earlier and the embryo will follow the force of the end which is her seed and therefore the child will be female and vice versa. But only as a hint and sign did they rely on this verse. Then the Torah Temimah proves from another Talmudic statement that this verse is not really a proof per se.
With this, the Torah Temimah has opened the door for one to say that Chazal were obviously basing their statement on contemporary science as opposed to some revealed wisdom and they were simply using the verse as a way of hinting toward their accepted wisdom. While this remains a matter of controversy in orthodox Jewish circles, it’s apparent that many great scholars held this way, including the Torah Temimah.
II. An Important R’osh
Chazal famously say that Yocheved was born between the walls of Egypt. They say this to explain a problem in the text. That is, the verse says that 70 people went with Yaakov to Egypt. The problem is that if you count the people mentioned in the Torah, it’s only 69 people and the Torah doesn’t mention her name because she was only a fetus. The Talmud even provides some textual support for this interpretation. The verse merely says that Yocheved was born in Egypt (Numbers 26:59), so we can infer that she was not conceived in Egypt.
The Torah Temimah alerts us to a comment of the R”osh (Rabeinu Asher) at the end of Mesechta Pesachim §40. Some of the rishonim are bothered by the fact that the Torah says that we should count 50 days from Pesach to Shavuos and a different verse says to count seven complete weeks (49 days). The R”osh quotes some weak answers to this question and then drops the bomb. Says the R”osh: There is no question here because the way of Scripture is when it gets to a round number minus one, Scripture uses the round number and it ignores the lower number. Similarly, we find the count of Yaakov’s family to be 70 (and another example).
This is huge. It is presumed by almost every serious orthodox Jew and most of the commentaries that every word in the Torah is absolutely precise and true. The R”osh obviously would agree. However, he has opened a door here. He is saying that the Torah is sometimes imprecise – specifically with regard to numbers. Would this also apply to a number like 600,000? Maybe. Maybe not. Is this an extension of dibra Torah kilshon bnei adam? Maybe.
The Torah Temimah asks several good questions to poke holes in this R”osh. The gist of his attack is that Chazal and the Rishonim all took the numbers in the Torah to be precise so how could the R”osh disagree? So it’s unclear if the Torah Temimah likes this R”osh or not. But I like it either way.