Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday's Thoughts On The Daf - Nedarim 88

Nedarim 88a contains an interesting confluence of events that teaches us methods of biblical exegesis. The case being discussed is whether a blind person who accidentally kills another by throwing a rock is punished with expulsion or is not punished at all. On Nedarim 87b, R' Yehuda had learned from the words "without seeing" in Bamidmbar 35:23 that if a person can't see, he would not be punished with expulsion. R' Meir learned that the "without seeing" teaches us that he is expelled since (according to the Ran) he has partial awareness that someone is there and this is enough to mandate the penalty.

Rava then explains how R'Yehuda and R' Meir reach their disparate conclusion, albeit based on the same verse. R' Yehuda learns from Devarim 19:5 ("one who goes with another into the forest") that anyone who is capable of going into a forest (including a blind man) is subject to punishment if he accidentally kills. R' Yehuda then says - what do I need Bamidbar 35:23 for? It can't be coming to include a blind man, since we already know this from Devarim 19:5. Rather, the pasuk from Bamidbar must be teaching that "without seeing" means that a blind man is exempted from punishment (or an inclusory phrase can't be followed by another inclusion - therefore the second inclusion must be an exclusory phrase).

Rava also explains how R' Meir reaches the opposite conclusion. In Devarim 19:4 it states that only someone who kills "without awareness" is subject to expulsion because he had the capacity to be aware and did not utilize his ability to notice the other person. This would exclude a blind person who is not capable of being aware. However if Bamidbar 35:23 is also teaching that a blind person is exempted from expulsion due to a lack of sight you would then have an exclusion followed by an exclusion. And we have a general proposition that any time there are two exclusions, the second term must be coming to include (or a negative can't follow a negative and therefore the result must be a positive and the blind person is subject to the punishment).

Thus R' Meir and R' Yehuda reach opposite conclusion about the same phrase, all based on whether it is being used in conjunction with another positive or another negative derivation.

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