Torah Methodology #13 - Shnei k’suvim hamach’chishim zeh es zeh…
“V’chein shnei k’suvim hamach’chishim zeh es zeh ad sheyavo hakasuv hashlishi v’yachriya beineihem” - Finally, we have the case of two verses that, on the surface of things, appear to contradict one another. In such a case, a third verse is used to clarify the matter. An example:
In Exodus 20:19, the Torah tells us that God spoke to us from Heaven. Exodus 19:20, however, tells us that God descended upon Mount Sinai. So which is it? Deuteronomy 4:36 clarifies the matter: “From Heaven He caused you to hear His voice…and on Earth…you heard His words…” God “stayed” in Heaven and caused us to hear His words on Earth. (Obviously this whole matter must be understood metaphorically, as God is both everywhere and non-corporeal.)
It is not entirely clear why this methodology starts with “v’chein” – “and similarly.” There are those who say it should properly read “v’kahn” – “and here.” Another version says “v’kol” – “and all” (meaning, “in any case where two verses seem to contradict…”). One explanation of “v’chein” is that the two seemingly-contradictory verses were likewise given us to interpret until such time as the matter is clarified by a third verse. In any event, ending a long list with “and also” isn’t all that inconceivable, so it need not bother us.
Rabbi Yishmael’s method of categorizing these principles into thirteen rules is not the only such list. Hillel had seven rules; Rabbi Eliezer, the son of R. Yosi HaGlili had thirty-two, including such rules as gematria (the numerical value of words) and notarikon (letters of a word standing for other words). At the end of the day, they’re not disagreeing with how Torah may be interpreted so much as they’re dividing the same pie into different numbers of slices.