Torah Methodology #12 - Davar halameid mei’inyano v’davar halameid misofo
The meaning of a verse can be clarified by its context or from subsequent information.
A perfect example of something clarified by its context can be found in the Aderes HaDibros (commonly translated as the “Ten Commandments,” although there are actually somewhat more mitzvos in those ten statements). There, the Torah tells us not to steal. There are many such laws in the Torah – not to rob by force, not to burglarize with stealth, etc. From context, we derive that the prohibition in the Aseres HaDibros refers to kidnapping. The context is that the adjacent mitzvos – adultery and murder – are capital crimes. The only form of stealing that constitutes a capital crime is kidnapping. (See Exodus 20:13.)
A less famous example of something clarified by its context is found in Leviticus 13:40, where it says, “a person whose hair falls out so that he is bald is ritually pure.” Really? A bald man can touch a corpse and remain pure? Rather, from its context – speaking of forms of tzaraas – we understand that such a person is only pure of such blemishes that would normally affect a bald patch.
An example of something clarified by subsequent information is also found among the laws of tzaraas. In Leviticus chapter 14, starting at verse 33, we are told about a house that has the signs of tzaraas infection. It isn’t until verse 45 that we are informed how to dispose of the lumber, stones and mortar. This clarifies that all this time we’ve been talking about a house made of such materials. If you live in a house made of corrugated steel, the laws of tzaraas do not apply to your house.