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Textually Perfect

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 11/3/2020

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Textually Perfect

The Gemara at times comments חסורי מיחסרא והכי קתני,[1] the text of the Mishna is deficient and this is what it should say. Why was it written this way? Why didn’t the Tanna just express it explicitly?


1) The Gemara[2] says teachings that were given orally are not permitted to be transmitted in writing. That which we are permitted to do so nowadays is because of עת לעשות ה' הפרו תורתך, it is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided Your Torah.[3] Therefore it’s only permitted to write down the Mishna in an extremely restrictive way—just in order to grasp the Halacha and not more. So where we can learn a Halacha through חסורי מיחסרא, we are not allowed to explain it more.[4]


2) The Tiferes Yisrael[5] explains throughניגון  one can remember the Mishnayos better.[6] Songs were arranged according to the words and sections of the Mishna. So, the Tanna of the Mishna chose a certain word over others at times in order to fit the song for that Mishna. This explains why sometimes it seems there are extra words in a Mishna as in זו ואין צריך לומר זו, that which was unnecessary was also taught.[7] This explains the meaning behind חסורי מיחסרא והכי קתני.


3) The Gemara says when one departs from his friend he should do so with a דבר הלכה, discussion of a matter of Halacha.[8] When the Gra would depart he would say יחיד ורבים הלכה כרבים,[9] in a dispute between an individual and a majority the Halacha accords with the majority. This contains the initials יוהך—the Malach that watches over someone when he sets out on the road.[10] חסורי מיחסרא that although it is lacking but והכי קתני—it still has to be read that way. This is because it is written precisely in order to bring out all סודות, secrets of Torah.[11]


4) Rabbeinu Bachaye[12] explains חסורי מיחסרא והכי קתני that it is not that the Mishna is lacking. Rather to us it’s missing because we are lacking the intellect as we can’t reach the depth of wisdom of those from the time of the Mishna.[13]


Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] As in Pesachim 75a. When the Abarbanel stopped being finance minister in Spain, he remarked חסורי מיחסרא והכי קתני: Now that I stopped being busy with that (חסורי מיחסרא), I can learn (והכי קתני).

[2] Gittin 60b.

[3] Tehillim 119:126. When the time comes to act for the sake of Hashem, they are permitted to violate a law of the Torah in order to do so (See Brachos 54a, 63a and Yoma 69a). 

[4] Hamaor Hagadol, p. 683. 

[5] Eruchin chapter 4, Boaz, Os 1.

[6] Mishnayos were learned orally even in the days of Rebbi (see Baba Metzia 33a, Rashi).

[7] As in Eruvin 76a.

[8] Brachos 31a.

[9] Brachos 9a.

[10] This is in accordance withלשמרך בכל דרכיך  כי מלאכיו יצוה לך, He will charge His angels for you, to protect you in all your ways (Tehillim 91, 11), as the end letters spell יוהך (see Breishis Rabba 75:8). R’ Chaim Volozhiner remarks on וילך חרנה, he went to Charan (Breishis 28:10) that it should just say לחרן. As a result, the י,ו,ך of וילך and ה of חרנה are extra. This spells יוהך, since this Malach was now guarding Yaakov as he set out to travel.

[11] Nitzotzei Shimshon, Shir Hashirim 7:2.

[12] To Shemos 34:27. 

[13] This is why the Gemara—commentary on the Mishna—was written. 

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