The Holy One, blessed be He,
said to Moses,
“I have a precious gift
in My treasure house,
called the Sabbath,
and desire to give it to Israel;
go and inform them.”
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 10b)
Courtesy of: Judaica Art & Judaica Artist/Victor Brindatch
“Have a wonderful Shabbat!”
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Rashi’s commentary sparkles with brevity, clarity and fine tuned precision. Not only what he says, but how he says it, conveys a maximum of meaning in a minimum of words. I would point to the following three characteristics of Rashi’s commentary style which we must constantly bear in mind if we are to attempt to understand what he says. His commentary is:
1. Based almost exclusively on the Torah-text. Although this is not always obvious, it is nearly always true. This requires the student to closely search the words of the Torah to uncover what Rashi is relating to. Rashi never “just” comments. Something about the words of the Torah impels him to comment.
2. A simple, straightforward approach without convoluted reasoning. The comment is rarely complex, though the student may have to engage in complex thinking in order to arrive at Rashi’s straightforward meaning. It is profoundly simple and simply profound. We must divest our thinking of gratuitous complexity and train our minds to think simply and clearly in order to plumb his meaning. Once we do, seemingly mind-stumping questions evaporate effortlessly.
3. Brief and precise in its choice of words. The student’s respect for Rashi begins only when he internalizes this point. We can only arrive at the full meaning of his comments if we take his every word and its particular grammatical construction with the utmost seriousness. Confusion and misunderstanding arise when we casually gloss over his choice of words and the particular way he puts them together.
While much can be said about how Rashi approaches the task of commentary, I will limit myself to one basic point here. (More can be found in “What’s Bothering Rashi?” Feldheim Pub.)
First and foremost, Rashi’s commentary is built on a “question and answer” principle. His commentary is meant to answer questions that arise from the text. While this may be true for all commentary, Rashi‘s presents us with a particular problem. He never – or hardly ever – tells us what his question is! To paraphrase a literary critic from another context we would say: “Every Rashi comment is an answer to a question. What is his question? That is the question!”
Discovering the implicit question behind Rashi’s comment is what the study of Rashi is all about. Finding out “What is bothering Rashi” is the stuff of Rashi-interpretation.
In the Rashi analyses that follow each week on this site, the student should first learn to question Rashi. By that I mean that, after you read the comment, ask yourself questions about it. Why does Rashi use drash when p’shat could explain matters simply enough? Why does he need to comment at all? Why does he offer two comments when one would do, etc? After you have questioned him, so to speak, you are to see if his comment deals with your question. A common question is: What’s Bothering Rashi? Then you should try to see how the Rashi comment deals with “What was bothering him.”
Occasionally we will add a Deeper Look to delve deeper into the meaning of this comment; occasionally we will add a Closer Look to look more closely at Rashi’s precise wording.
Good luck in the exciting and challenging study of Rashi on Chumash.
Dr. Dr. Avigdor Bonchek can be contacted at email@example.com.
Please click here to read Parshas Noah (71).
As told by Yerachmiel Tilles
Co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live in Tsfat (Safed) at Ascent and other places nearly every Saturday night.
CURRENT Story Three Precious Gifts
When Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov took leave of his Rebbe, Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg. the latter gave him three gifts: a loaf of bread, a coin, and his own white silk robe.
Connection: Weekly Reading – various animals
Please click to read Three Precious Gifts
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By Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles of Ascent-of-Safed
Anthology of the Weekly Torah Reading – Noah – Genesis 6:9-11:32
One from each genre
Teachings from the primary text of Kabbala, “The Book of Shining Light“.
From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; translation & commentary by Moshe Miller
|The Holy Ari
Outstanding Kabbalist of the last 1800 years; Leader of the Safed circle of mystics.
From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yakov Wisnefsky
From the teachings of Rabbi Bachya ben Asher
From the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
Compiled by Yosef Marcus
Contemporary illuminations from the director of Ascent-of-Safed.
By Shaul Yosef Leiter.
From the writings and talks of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch; edited by Yerachmiel Tilles
Kabbalah Online’s Weekly Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 5 – the week of 25 Tishrei – 1 Cheshvan 5771 / October 3 – 10, 2010
A note from the staff of Kabbalah Online in Tzefat
“Noah” is the section of the Torah where the concept of the 70 nations of the world and their relationship to the Commandments is developed.
The first three articles offer Kabbalistic insights on this subject. The last three present deep meanings derived from other topics in this special Torah reading.
Finally, the middle article features the long-awaited resumption of our series of translation and original commentary of “Sha’ar HaGilgulim,” the teachings of the holy Ari of Tzefat on reincarnation.
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Please click Noah 5771, to read this Holiday and Shabbos Magazine.