Sanhedrin 51 - 57
When Logic Stops
The kal v'chomer is a method used in the Oral Law to interpret the Written Law. It is a logical deduction which states that if a particular rule applies to a situation which is of a less serious nature (kal) then this rule should certainly apply to a situation of a more serious nature (chomer).
An attempt to apply this method to determining a death penalty for an offender is rejected by one school of thought in our Gemara on the grounds that we cannot punish someone on the basis of a kal v'chomer ("din").
The explanation for such limitation is offered by the Maharsha (Sanhedrin 64b):
The death penalty administered by the Sanhedrin is an atonement for the sinner, perfectly matched to the gravity of the crime. If someone commits a crime of a more serious nature we cannot assume that he can achieve atonement for that graver sin through the penalty which is sufficient as an atonement for the lighter one.
- Sanhedrin 54a
The Price of Impatience
"Many old camels have carried on their backs the skins of younger ones."
This is a folk saying which sums up this background story of the death of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu:
Moshe and Aaron were once walking with Nadav and Avihu behind them, followed by all of Israel.
Said Nadav to Avihu: "When will these two old men die so that you and I will lead the generation!"
At that moment Hashem said to them: "Let us see who will bury whom!"
- Sanhedrin 42a