Was Shmuel Not The Greatest?
‘3,000 Halachos Were Forgotten’
The Gemara relate that Bnei Yisrael forgot 3,000 halachos while mourning Moshe’s death. When they asked Yehoshua if he could retrieve them by means of prophecy, he responded that Torah laws can’t be retrieved in this manner because “lo bashamayim hi – [the Torah] is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). All Torah laws must be decided by sages based upon the Torah that was handed down to Moshe at Mt. Sinai.
The Gemara relates that many generations later, Shmuel was asked to retrieve these halachos. He responded similarly but cited a different pasuk: “Eleh hamitzvos asher tziva 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” (Leviticus 27:34). We must keep these commandments, and a prophet may not add anything new to them.
The Choice Of Pesukim
The Maharsha (ad. loc.) asks why Yehoshua didn’t answer as Shmuel did – that a prophet is not allowed to introduce a new halacha? Why did he invoke the rule of the Torah not being in heaven?
Rabbi Yosef Shaul Halevi Natansohn (in Divrei Shaul to our Gemara) answers that the rule against a prophet adding a halacha through prophesy did not apply to Yehoshua and Moshe. Neither one of them had to prove himself, as other prophets did, by means of a sign or miracle. Moshe was in a league of his own when it came to prophecy, as all of Klal Yisrael witnessed Hashem speaking to him. And Yehoshua became the Jewish people’s leader by means of a public transfer of leadership from Moshe to him.
Over 600,000 Witnesses
Psalms 99:6 states, “Moshe v’Aharon b’kohanov u’Shmuel b’kor’ei Shemo – Moshe and Aharon of His [Hashem’s] priests and Shmuel, who invoke His Name.” The Gemara (Berachos 31b) derives from this verse that Shmuel was equal in greatness to Moshe and Aharon combined. If so, couldn’t Shmuel also introduce a halacha? And if yes, shouldn’t he have cited the verse that Yehoshua did – about the Torah not being in heaven – when he was asked to restore the 3,000 lost halachos rather than the verse that indicates that a prophet may not introduce a new halacha?
The answer is that as great as Shmuel was, Klal Yisrael did not see Hashem talking to him or Moshe transferring the mantle of leadership to him. Hashem revealed Himself to Shmuel in the house of Eli. The people only accepted him as a prophet because they saw that everything he said in Hashem’s name came true.
He was, therefore, subject to the rule that a prophet may not introduce new halachos. That’s why when the Jewish people asked him to restore the lost 3,000 halachos, he invoked this law rather than stating that the Torah is not in heaven.