How many sheep must be sheared in order for the law of Reishit HaGez – offering the first shearing to a kohen – to apply?
In the Mishna (daf 135a) we learn that this was the subject of a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. Beit Shammai points to the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (7:21) to conclude that there must be a minimum of two sheep; Beit Hillel brings a passage from Sefer Shmu’el (I 25:18) from which he learns that there must be at least five sheep for the obligation to take effect.
A third opinion appears on today’s daf. A baraita taught in the study hall of Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosei ruled that the minimum number of sheep that must be sheared is four, based on a passage in Sefer Shemot (21:37). Rabbi concludes that we would follow Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosei’s teaching even if it was divrei kabbala – “words of tradition” – against divrei Torah, and we certainly follow his teaching in this case, given that his source is biblical.
Rashi explains the distinction between divrei kabbala and divrei Torah as follows. Divrei kabbala are the words of the prophets, who received a tradition that was appropriate for that time and place. This stands in contrast with divrei Torah that were given to be written down and established for all generations.
Although one might have thought that Rabbi preferred Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosei’s teaching to that of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai because it was a compromise position, this is rejected by the Gemara. The Gemara concludes that in this case, Rabbi had a tradition that Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosei’s ruling was handed down from the prophets Ḥaggai, Zekhariah and Malakhi. These three Second Temple prophets established the meaning of biblical laws as well as rabbinic ordinances whose purpose was to protect the integrity of those laws.