Abaye and Rava disagree about a very basic question. When someone performs an action that is forbidden by the Torah, will that action affect reality? The Gemara at the end of yesterday’s daf teaches:
Abaye said: With regard to any act which the Merciful One forbids, if one performed it, his action is effective; for if you were to think that the act has no legal effect, why would he be flogged for accomplishing nothing? Rava said: The act has no legal effect at all, and the reason why he is flogged on account thereof is because he has transgressed the statement of the Merciful One.
Today’s daf lists several examples of the performance of forbidden acts whose consequence – or lack of such – are brought to support either Abaye or Rava.
One of the examples that is brought is the case of temura, where someone tries to exchange a sanctified animal and transfer the holiness to another. In that case, the perpetrator receives lashes and the forbidden act affects the second animal, which becomes sanctified as a result. The Gemara suggests that this disproves Rava’s position. Rava responds by saying that in this case the Torah explicitly states that this will be the consequence of his action.
The question and answer that appear in the Gemara seem odd inasmuch as it is clear that in the case of temura there is a biblical mandate that the second animal will be affected by the forbidden sanctification. The Sefat Emet suggests that the Gemara was using the example of temura to make a basic point about Rava’s position. Since in the case of temura we see that a forbidden act takes effect, this law should be used as an archetype and we should derive a general principle from it. Rava responds that the case of temura is unique. The Torah teaches that it is not the forbidden act that grants sanctity to the second animal – the sanctity does not really transfer from one animal to the next – the source of the sanctity is Biblical fiat. Thus Rava’s original concept remains: A forbidden act has no legal effect at all.