Was Shmuel Not The Greatest?
‘Three Thousand Halachos Were Forgotten’
The Gemara relates that during the period of mourning for Moshe, 3,000 halachos were forgotten. Bnei Yisrael approached Yehoshua and requested that he recover the forgotten halachos by means of prophesy. Yehoshua responded that Torah laws cannot be retrieved in this manner because, as the pasuk (Devarim 30:12) states, “Lo ba’shamayim hi – [The Torah] is not in the heavens….” All Torah laws must be decided by the sages based upon the Torah that was given to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. Torah laws are not in the province of the heavenly court.
The Gemara relates that Shmuel was also asked to recover these halachos. He responded similarly but cited a different pasuk (Vayikra 27:34): “Eleh hamitzvos asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe el Bnei Yisrael b’har Sinai – These are the commandments that Hashem commanded Moshe to the children of Israel on Mount Sinai.” These are the commandments – nothing else may be added, not even by a prophet. At most a navi, through prophecy, can institute a temporary modification of a Torah law. However, if he seeks to introduce a permanent change in the Torah or to add a new mitzvah, he and his prophecy should be rejected.
The Choice Of Pesukim
The Maharsha (ad loc.) asks why Yehoshua didn’t invoke the rule cited by Shmuel that a prophet is not allowed to introduce a new halacha. Why did he invoke the reason of “it is not in the heavens”?
In A League Of His Own
Rabbi Yosef Shaul Halevi Natanson (Divrei Shaul to our Gemara) answers that the rule of “a navi may not add a halacha through prophesy” didn’t apply to Yehoshua, just as it did not apply to Moshe. Basically Moshe was in a league of his own when it came to prophecy. All other prophets besides Moshe, for example, had to prove themselves by means of an os (a sign as a prediction) or a mofes (a miracle, something supernatural). Moshe was unique because all of Klal Yisrael witnessed Hashem speaking to him.
He Too Was Unique
As regards to Yehoshua, Rabbi Natanson writes that his prophecy was also unique; he too did not need to perform an os or a mofes to establish the credibility of his prophecy because Klal Yisrael witnessed the mantle of leadership being transferred to him by Moshe. Therefore, he was not subject to the rule that “a navi may not add a halacha through prophesy.” Thus, when asked to recover the lost halchos, Yehoshua had to cite the dictum that the Torah is not in the heavens.
Over 600,000 Witnesses
The one difficulty with this answer is that the Gemara (Berachos 31b) derives from the pasuk (Tehillim 99:6) “Moshe v’Aharon b’kohanav u’Shmuel b’kor’ei shemo… – Moshe and Aharon of [Hashem’s] priests and Shmuel who invoke His Name…” that Shmuel was equal in greatness to Moshe and Aharon combined. If so, why didn’t Shmuel cite the same pasuk as Yehoshua? He not only equaled him in greatness but surpassed him!
The answer lies in the fact that, as we noted above, all of Klal Yisrael witnessed Hashem conversing with Moshe and they also witnessed Moshe passing the scepter to Yehoshua. However, Hashem only revealed Himself to Shmuel in the house of Eli. The people accepted Shmuel as a prophet because they saw everything he said in Hashem’s Name came true.
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