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Rashi By Maurice Liber Characters: 56109

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"Thanks to Rashi the Torah has been renewed. The word of the Lord in his mouth was truth. His way was perfect and always the same. By his commentary he exalted the Torah and fortified it. All wise men and all scholars recognize him as master, and acknowledge that there is no commentary comparable with his." This enthusiastic verdict of Eliezer ben Nathan[58] has been ratified by the following generations, which, by a clever play upon words, accorded him the title of Parshandata, Interpreter of the Law.[59] And, verily, during his life Rashi had been an interpreter of the Law, when he explained the Scriptures to his disciples and to his other co-religionists; and he prolonged this beneficent activity in his commentaries, in which one seems to feel his passionate love of the law of God and his lively desire to render the understanding of it easy to his people. Yet it is true that all scholars did not share in the general admiration of Rashi, and discordant notes may be heard in the symphony of enthusiasm.

Of what avail these eulogies and what signify these reservations?

If one reflects that the Bible is at the same time the most important and the most obscure of the books that antiquity has bequeathed to us, it seems natural that it should soon have been translated and commented upon. The official Aramaic translation, or Targum, of the Pentateuch is attributed to Onkelos and that of the Prophets[60] to Jonathan ben Uzziel. Rashi constantly draws inspiration from both these works, and possibly also from the Targumim to the Hagiographa, which are much more recent than the other two Targumim. Sometimes he simply refers to them, sometimes he reproduces them, less frequently he remarks that they do not agree with the text.

For the establishment of the text Rashi scrupulously follows the Massorah, the "Scriptural Statistics," the work of scholars who lived in the period between the seventh and the tenth century, and who assured the integrity of the Bible by counting the number of verses in each book and the number of times each word, phrase, or expression recurs. The Massorah soon came to have great authority; and many scholars, such as R. Gershom, for example, copied it with their own hands in order to have a correct and carefully made text of the Bible. The Massorah was Rashi's constant guide. From a calculation made, of the number of times he transgressed its rules, the infractions do not appear to be numerous, and sometimes they seem to have been involuntary. As a consequence, variants from the text of the Bible are extremely rare in Rashi, and the copyists eliminated them entirely. In general at his time the text was definitely established to the minutest details, and variants, if there were any, were due to blunders of the copyists. Rashi, who probably carefully compared manuscripts, once remarked upon such faulty readings.

It is to the Massoretes that some attribute the accents which serve to mark at once the punctuation and the accentuation of the Biblical text. Rashi naturally conformed to this system of accentuation, and if he departed from it, it seems he frequently did so inadvertently.

* * * * *

But the two great sources upon which Rashi drew for his exegesis were the Talmudic and the Midrashic literature, with their two methods of interpreting the Scriptures. As a knowledge of these two methods is indispensable to an understanding of Rashi's exegesis, I will give some pages from the work of a recent French exegete, L. Wogue, who presents an excellent characterization of them in his Histoire de la Bible et de l'exegese biblique:

Whatever diversities may exist in the point of view adopted by the investigators of the Bible, in the aims they pursued, and in the methods they employed, the methods are necessarily to be summed up in the two terms, peshat and derash. This is a fact which scarcely requires demonstration. There are only two ways of understanding or explaining any text whatsoever, either according to the natural acceptation of its meaning, or contrary to this acceptation. At first glance it seems as though the former were the only reasonable and legitimate method, and as though the second lacked either sincerity or common sense, and had no right to the title of method. Yet we shall see how it came about, and how it was bound to come about, that the Derash not only arose in the Synagogue, but assumed preponderating importance there.

From very ancient times the Pentateuch and certain chapters of the Prophets were read or translated in the synagogue every Saturday. Accordingly, the interpretation of the Law could not be slavishly literal.

Destined for the edification of the ignorant masses inclined to superstition, it perforce permitted itself some freedom in order to avoid annoying misconceptions. Sometimes the literal rendition might suggest gross errors concerning the Divine Being, sometimes it might appear to be in conflict with practices consecrated by the oral law or by an old tradition, and sometimes, finally, it might in itself be grotesque and unintelligible. Hence a double tendency in exegesis, each tendency asserting itself in the synagogue at different epochs and with varying force…. Two sorts of Midrash are to be distinguished; if the question concerns jurisprudence or religious practice, it is called Midrash Halakah, Halakic or legal exegesis; if the subject bears upon dogmas, promises, the consolations of religion, moral truths, or the acts of daily life, the Midrash is called Midrash Haggadah, the Haggadic or ethical exegesis. The first is intended to regulate the form and the external exercise of religion; the second, to sanctify and perfect man's inward being. Each brings to the examination of the text a preconceived notion, as it were; and it reconciles text and preconceived notion sometimes by traditional, sometimes by arbitrary, methods, often more ingenious than rational. The Peshat, on the contrary, subordinates its own ideas to the text, wishes to see in the text only what is actually there, and examines it without bias….

The pious instructors of the people felt the need of utilizing and applying to daily life as much as possible these Holy Scriptures, the one treasure that had escaped so many shipwrecks. That a word should have but one meaning, that a phrase should have but one subject, this seemed mean, shabby, inadequate, unworthy the Supreme Wisdom that inspired the Bible. The word of God was perforce more prolific. Each new interpretation of the Biblical text added richness and new value to the precious heritage…. Another very important circumstance, if it did not originate the Midrashic method, at all events tended strongly to bring it into vogue. I speak of the religious life, such as it was among the Israelites, especially in the time of the second Temple. A number of practices, more or less sacred and more or less obligatory, were established in, or after this period, either by rabbinical institution, or by virtue of the oral law or of custom; and these practices, sanctioned by long usage or by highly esteemed authorities, had no apparent basis in the written law. To maintain them and give them solidity in the regard of the people, it was natural to seek to prove by exegesis ad hoc that the Holy Text had imposed or recommended them in advance, if not expressly, at least by hints and allusions…. The application of this method was called forth not only by the religious practices, but also by the ideas and opinions that had been formed or developed in the same period. After the Babylonian Exile the successive influence of the Chaldeans, the Persians, and the Greeks produced among the Jews of Asia as well as among the Jews of Egypt certain theories concerning cosmogony, angels, and the government of the world, which rapidly gained credence, and were generally held to be incontestable. These theories provided a complete apparatus of doctrines so attractive and so enthusiastically accepted even by our teachers, that the people could not resign themselves to the belief that they were not contained in the Bible, or, worse still, that they were contradicted by this store-house of wisdom and truth. But these doctrines - for the most part, at least - are not to be found in the literal text of the Bible, and, as a consequence, the scholars turned to the Midrashic method as the only one calculated to read the desired meaning into the text.

Now the general character of Judaism had not changed perceptibly during ten centuries. In the eleventh century the Jews had the same needs as in the first, and the same method of satisfying their needs. They found it quite natural to bring their ideas into agreement with the Bible - or, rather, they did so unconsciously - and to twist the text from its natural meaning, so as to ascribe to the Biblical authors their own ideas and knowledge.

Yet, however great the favor attaching to this method, the Peshat was never entirely deprived of its rights. It was even destined to soar high into prominence. The appearance of the Karaites (eighth century), who rejected the Talmud and held exclusively to the Scriptures, brought into existence, either directly or indirectly, a rational, independent method of exegesis, though the influence of this sect upon the development of Biblical studies has been grossly magnified. It was the celebrated Saadia (892-942) who by his translation of, and commentary upon, the Bible opened up a new period in the history of exegesis, during which the natural method was applied to the interpretation of Biblical texts. The productions of this period deserve a commanding position in Jewish literature, as much for their intrinsic value as for their number.

While, however, in the countries of Arabic culture, natural exegesis made its way triumphantly, in the countries of Christian Europe, it freed itself from the traditional Midrash only with difficulty. Moreover, Derash - to carry a Jewish term into an alien field - was the method always employed by the Christian theologians. Throughout the medieval ages they adhered chiefly to a spiritual, allegoric, moral, and mystic interpretation. In the employment of this method the literary, grammatical, philologic, and historical aspect is perforce neglected. Nevertheless, even among Christian scholars the rational method found some worthy representatives, especially among the Belgian masters.[61]

The deplorable ease of the Midrashic method readily accounts for its vogue. The Haggadist is not compelled to hold fast to his text, his imagination has free play, and is untrammelled [untrameled sic] by the leading-strings of grammar and good sense. The task of the exegete properly so called is quite different. He may not find in the text anything which is not actually there. He must take heed of the context, of the probable, and of the rules of the language. The exegete searches for the idea in the text; the Haggadist introduces foreign ideas into the text.

"At the same time, whatever the attraction of the Midrashic method for the Jews of France and Germany, and however great the wealth of their material, neither this attraction nor this wealth could take the place of a pure, simple explanation of the genuine meaning of Scriptures, a meaning which often served as a basis for the Midrash, and in a vast number of cases would have remained obscure and incomplete. Here there was a yawning gap in an essential matter, and the man who had the honor of filling up this gap - and with marvellous [marvelous sic] success, considering the insufficiency of his scientific resources - was one of the most eminent scholars of the Synagogue, the leader of Jewish science, Rashi."[62]

It would be unjust to ignore the efforts of two of Rashi's predecessors, Moses ha-Darshan (first half of the eleventh century) and Menahem ben Helbo, who prepared the way and rendered the task easier for him. The principal work of Moses ha-Darshan, often cited by Rashi under the title of Yesod, "Foundation," is a Haggadic and mystic commentary, giving, however, some place to questions of grammar and of the natural construction of the text. As to Menahem ben Helbo, a certain number of his explanations and fragments of his commentaries have been preserved; but Rashi probably knew him only through the intermediation of his nephew Joseph Kara. Following the example of Moses ha-Darshan and possibly, also, of Menahem ben Helbo, Rashi used both the Peshat and the Derash in his Biblical commentaries. "Rashi," says Berliner, "employed an in-between method, in which the Peshat and the Derash were easily united, owing to the care he exercised, to choose from the one or the other only what most directly approximated the simple meaning of the text. Rashi was free in his treatment of traditional legends, now transforming, now lengthening, now abridging them or joining several narratives in one, according to expediency."

This opinion is comprehensive; but it is necessary to emphasize and differentiate.

As a rule, when the Midrash does no violence to the text, Rashi adopts its interpretation; and when there are several Midrashic interpretations, he chooses the one that accords best with the simple sense; but he is especially apt to fall back upon the Midrash when the passage does not offer any difficulties. On the contrary, if the text cannot be brought into harmony with the Midrash, Rashi frankly declares that the Midrashic interpretation is irreconcilable with the natural meaning or with the laws of grammar. He also rejects the Midrashic interpretation if it does not conform to the context. "A passage," he said, "should be explained, not detached from its setting, but according to the context." In other cases he says, "The real meaning of the verse is different," and again, "This verse admits of a Midrashic interpretation, but I do not pretend to give any but the natural meaning." Rashi was fond of repeating the following Talmudic saying, which he elevated into a principle: "A verse cannot escape its simple meaning, its natural acceptation." Rashi, then, cherished a real predilection for rational and literal exegesis, but when he could not find a satisfactory explanation according to this method, or when tradition offered one, he resigned himself to the Haggadic method, saying: "This verse requires an explanation according to the Midrash, and it cannot be explained in any other way."

A few quotations will facilitate the comprehension of this characteristic method.

1. CREATION OF THE WORLD (Genesis 1.1)

In the beginning]. R. Isaac[63] says: The Law ought to have begun with the rule enjoining the celebration of Passover, which is the first of the Mosaic precepts. But God "showed his people the power of His works, that He may give them the heritage of the heathen."[64] If the heathen nations say to Israel: You are robbers, for you have seized the land of the seven nations (Canaanites), the Israelites can reply: The entire earth belongs to God, who, having created it, disposes of it in favor of whomsoever it pleases Him. It pleased Him to give it to the seven nations, and it pleased Him to take it away from them in order to give it to us. In the beginning, etc. Bereshit bara]. This verse should be interpreted according to the Midrash, and it is in this way that our rabbis apply it to the Torah as having existed "before His works of old,"[65] or to Israel, called "the first-fruits of His increase."[66] But if one wishes to explain these words in their natural meaning, it is necessary to observe the following method. In the beginning of the creation of the heaven and the earth, when the earth was confusion and chaos, God said: "Let there be light." This verse does not set forth the order of the creation. If it did, the word barishona (Bet Resh Alef Shin Nun He) would have been necessary, whereas the word reshit (Resh Alef Shin Yod Tav) is always in the construct, as in Jer. xxvii. 1, Gen. x. 10, Deut. xviii. 4;[67] likewise bara (Bet Resh Alef) must here be taken as an infinitive (Bet Resh Alef with shin dot); the same construction occurs in Hosea i. 2. Shall we assert that the verse intends to convey that such a thing was created before another, but that it is elliptical (just as ellipses occur in Job iii. 10, Is. viii. 4, Amos vi. 12, Is. xlvi. 10)? But this difficulty arises: that which existed first were the waters, since the following verse says, that "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," and since the text did not previously speak of the creation of the waters, the waters

Rashi's exegesis is a bit complicated, because his beliefs prevented him from realizing that the narrative of Genesis presupposes a primordial chaos; but his explanations are ingenious, and do away with other difficulties. They have been propounded again as original explanations by modern commentators, such as Ewald, Bunsen, Schrader, Geiger, etc. Botticher even proposed the reading bara (Bet Resh Alef). I did not give the preceding commentary in its entirety, because it is fairly long and, in this respect, not typical. Consequently other quotations will serve a purpose.

2. THE SACRIFICE OF ISAAC (Gen. xxii. 1)

1. After these words]. Some of our teachers explain the expression: "after the words of Satan," who said to God Of all his meals Abraham sacrifices nothing to Thee, neithe a bull nor a ram. He would sacrifice his son, replied God if I told him to do it. Others say: "after the words of Ishmael," who boasted of having undergone circumcision when he was thirteen years old, and to whom Isaac answered: If God demanded of me the sacrifice of my entire being, I would do what he demanded. Abraham said: Behold, here I am]. Such is the humility of pious men; for this expression indicates that one is humble, ready to obey.

2. God said: Take now]. This is a formula of prayer; God seems to say to Abraham: I pray thee, submit thyself to this test, so that thy faith shall not be doubted. Thy son]. I have two sons, replied Abraham. Thine only son]. But each is the only son of his mother. Whom thou lovest]. I love them both. Isaac]. Why did not God name Isaac immediately? In order to trouble Abraham, and also to reward him for each word, etc.

All these explanations are drawn from Talmudic (Sanhedrim 89b) and Midrashic (Bereshit Rabba and Tanhuma) sources. The meaning of the passage being clear, Rashi has recourse to Haggadic elaborations, which, it must be admitted, are wholly charming. Rashi will be seen to be more original in his commentary on the Song of the Red Sea, the text of which offers more difficulties.

3. SONG OF THE RED SEA (Ex. xv. 1)

1. Then sang Moses]. "Then": when Moses saw the miracle, he had the idea of singing a song; similar construction in Josh. x. 12, I Kings vii. 8. Moses said to himself that he would sing, and that is what he did. Moses and the children of Israel "spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord." The future tense is to be explained in the same way as in Josh. x. 12 (Joshua, seeing the miracle, conceived the idea of singing a song, "and he said in the sight of Israel," etc.), in Num. xxi. 17 ("Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it"), and in I Kings xi. 7 (thus explained by the sages of Israel: "Solomon wished to build a high place, but he did not build it"). The "yod" (of the future) applies to the conception. Such is the natural meaning of the verse. But, according to the Midrashic interpretation, our rabbis see in it an allusion to the resurrection, and they explain it in the same fashion as the other passages, with the exception of the verse in Kings, which they translate: "Solomon wished to build a high place, but he did not build it." But our verse cannot be explained like those in which the future is employed, although the action takes place immediately, as in Job i. 5 ("Thus did Job"); Num. ix. 23 ("The Israelites rested in their tents at the commandment of the Lord") and 20 ("when the cloud was a few days"), because here the action is continued and is expressed as well by the future as by the past. But our song having been sung only at a certain moment, the explanation does not apply.

Ki gaoh gaah (Kaf Yod, Gimel Alef with holam He, Gimel with qamats, Alef with qamats He)]. As the Targum[68] translates. Another explanation: "He is most exalted," above all praise, and however numerous our eulogies, I could add to them; such is not the human king whom one praises without reason. The horse and his rider] - The one attached to the other; the waters carried them off and they descended together into the sea. Ramah (Resh Mem He) (hath He thrown)] like hishlich (He Shin Lamed Yod Final_Kaf); the same as in Dan. iii. 21. The Haggadic Midrash[69] gives this explanation: one verse employs the verb (Yod Resh He) the other the verb Ramah (Resh Mem He) which teaches us that the Egyptians mounted into the air in order then to descend into the ocean. The same as in Job xxxviii. 6, "who laid (yarah (Yod Resh He) ) the corner stone thereof" from top to bottom?

2. Ozi vezimrat yah vayei li lishuah (Ayin Zayin Yod, Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav, Yod He, Vav Yod He Yod, Lamed Yod, Lamed Yod Shin Vav Ayin He)]. Onkelos translates: my strength and my song of praise. He therefore explains ohzi (Ayin with qamats Zayin with dagesh and hiriq Yod) as uzi (Ayin with qubuts, Zayin with dagesh and hiriq Yod) and vezimrat (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav) as vezimrati (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav Yod) But I am astonished at the vowelling of the first word, which is unique in Scriptures, if an exception is made of the three passages in which the two words are joined. In all other places it is provided with the vowel "u", for example in Jer. xvi. 19 and Psalms lix. 10. In general, when a word of two letters contains the vowel "o", if it is lengthened by a third letter, and if the second letter has no "sheva", the first takes an "u": oz (Ayin with holam Zayin) makes rok, uzi (Resh with sin dot Qof, Ayin with qubuts Zayin with dagesh Yod makes jok, ruki (Het Qof, Resh with qubuts Qof with dagesh and hiriq Yod) makes ol, juki (Ayin with holam Lamed, Het with qubuts Qof with dagesh and hiriq Yod makes kol ulo (Kaf with holam Lamed, Ayin with qubuts Lamed with dagesh Vav)[70] makes kulo (Kaf with qubuts Lamed with dagesh Vav), as in Exodus xiv. 7. On the contrary, the three other passages, namely, our passage, the one in Is. (xii. 2), and that in Psalms (cxviii. 14), have ozi (Ayin Zayin Yod) vowelled with a short "o"; moreover, these verses do not have vezimrati (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav Yod) but vezimrat (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav), and all continue with vayei li lishuah (Vav Yod He Yod, Lamed Yod, Lamed Yod Shin Vav Ayin He). And to give a full explanation of this verse, it is in my opinion necessary to say that ohzi (Ayin with qamats Zayin with dagesh Yod) is not equivalent to uzi (Ayin with qubuts Zayin with dagesh Yod nor vezimrat (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav) to vezimrati (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav Yod), but that ohzi (Ayin with qamats Zayin with dagesh Yod) is a substantive (without a possessive suffix, but provided with a paragogic "yod"), as in Psalm cxxiii. 1, Obadiah 3, Deut. xxxiii. 16. The eulogy (of the Hebrews) therefore signifies: it is the strength and the vengeance of God that have been my salvation. vezimrat (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav) is thus in the construct with the word God, exactly as in Judges v.23, Is. ix. 18, Eccl. iii. 18. As for the word vezimrat (Vav Zayin Mem Resh Tav) it has the meaning which the same root has in Lev. xxv. 4 ("thou shalt not prune") and in Is. xxv. 5; that is to say, "to cut". The meaning of our verse, then, is: "The strength and the vengeance of our Lord have been our salvation." One must not be astonished that the text uses vayehi (Vav Yod He Yod) (imperfect changed to past) and not haiah (He Yod He) (perfect): for the same construction occurs in other verses; for example, I Kings vi. 5, II Chron. x. 17[71], Num. xiv. 16 and 36, Ex. ix. 21.

He is my God]. He appeared to them in His majesty, and they pointed Him out to one another with their finger.[72] The last of the servants saw God, on this occasion, as the Prophets themselves never saw Him. veanvehu (Vav Alef Nun Vav He Vav)]. The Targum sees in this word the meaning of "habitation"[73] as in Is. xxxiii. 20, lxv. 10. According to another explanation the word signifies "to adorn," and the meaning would be: "I wish to celebrate the beauty and sing the praise of God in all His creatures," as it is developed in the Song of Songs; see v.9 et seq.[74] My father's God]. He is; and I will exalt Him. My father's God]. I am not the first who received this consecration; but on the contrary His holiness and His divinity have continued to rest upon me from the time of my ancestors.

In the above the text calls only for the embellishments of the Haggadah. In the following passage from Rashi's commentaries the place allotted to Derash is more limited.


2. Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering]. To me; in my honor. An offering (terumah (Tav Resh Vav Mem He)), a levy; let them make a levy upon their goods. Of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart (idbenu (Yod Dalet Bet Nun Vav)), same meaning as nedava (Nun Dalet Bet He), that is to say, a voluntary and spontaneous gift.[75] Ye shall take my offering] Our sages say: Three offerings are prescribed by this passage, one of a beka from each person, used for a pedestal, as will be shown in detail in Eleh Pekude[76]; the second, the contribution of the altar, consisting of a beka from each person, thrown into the coffers for the purchase of congre gational sacrifices; and, third, the contribution for the Tabernacle, a free-will offering. The thirteen kinds of material to be mentioned were all necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle and for the making of priestly vestments, as will be evident from a close examination.

3. Gold, and silver, and brass]. All these were offered voluntarily, each man giving what he wished, except silver, of which each brought the same quantity, a half-shekel a person. In the entire passage relating to the construction of the Tabernacle, we do not see that more silver was needed; this is shown by Ex. xxxviii. 27. The rest of the silver, voluntarily offered, was used for making the sacred vessels.

4. Tejelet (Tav Kaf Lamed Tav)]. Wool dyed in the blood of the halazon[77] and of a greenish color. viargaman (Vav Alef Resh Gimel Mem Final_Nun)]. Wool dyed with a sort of coloring matter bearing this name. Vasmesh (Vav Shin Shin)]. Linen. izim (Ayin Zayin Yod Final_Mem)]. Goats' hair; this is why Onkelos translates it by mazi (Mem Ayin Zayin Yod), but not "goats," which he would have rendered by azia (Ayin Zayin Yod Alef).

5. And rams' skins dyed red]. Dyed red after having

been dressed. techashim (Tav Het Shin Yod Final_Mem].

A sort of animal created for the purpose and having various

colors; that is why the Targum translates the word by

isasgona (Yod Samekh Samekh Gimel Vav Nun Alef), "he

rejoices in his colors and boasts of them."[78] And

shittim wood] - But whence did the Israelites in the

desert obtain it? R. Tanhuma explains: The patriarch Jacob,

thanks to a Divine revelation, had foreseen that one day his


scendants would c

onstruct a Tabernacle in the desert. He,

therefore, carried shittim trees into Egypt, and planted them

there, advising his sons to take them along with them when

they left the country.

6. Oil for the light]. "Pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always."[79] Spices for anointing oil]. Prepared for the purpose of anointing both the vessels of the Tabernacle and the Tabernacle itself. Spices entered into the composition of this oil, as is said in KKi-Tissa.[80] And for sweet incense] which was burned night and morning, as is described in detail in Tezaweh.[81] As to the word ketoret (Qof Mem Resh Tav), it comes from the rising of the smoke (Kitor (Qof Mem Vav Resh)).

7. Onyx stones]. Two were needed for the ephod, described in Tezaweh.[82] And stones to be set] for an ouch of gold was made in which the stones were set, entirely filling it. These stones are called "stones to be set." As to the bezel it is called mishbetzet (Mem Shin Bet Tsadi Tav. In the ephod, and in the breastplate]. Onyx stones for the ephod and "stones to be set" for the breastplate. The breastplate as well as the ephod are described in Tezaweh[83]; they are two sorts of ornaments.

If these citations did not suffice, his anti-Christian polemics would furnish ample evidence of the wise use Rashi made of the Peshat. The word polemics, perhaps, is not exact. Rashi does not make assaults upon Christianity; he contents himself with showing that a verse which the Church has adopted for its own ends, when rationally interpreted, has an entirely different meaning and application. Only to this extent can Rashi be said to have written polemics against the Christians. However that may be, no other course is possible; for the history of Adam and Eve or the blessing of Jacob cannot be explained, unless one takes a stand for or against Christianity. It was not difficult to refute Christian doctrines; Rashi could easily dispose of the stupid or extravagant inventions of Christian exegesis. Sometimes he does not name the adversaries against whom he aimed; sometimes he openly says he has in view the Minim or "Sectaries," that is, the Christians. The Church, it is well known, transformed chiefly the Psalms into predictions of Christianity. In order to ward off such an interpretation and not to expose themselves to criticism, many Jewish exegetes gave up that explanation of the Psalms by which they are held to be proclamations of the Messianic era, and would see in them allusions only to historic facts. Rashi followed this tendency; and for this reason, perhaps, his commentary on the Psalms is one of the most satisfying from a scientific point of view. For instance, he formally states: "Our masters apply this passage to the Messiah; but in order to refute the Minim, it is better to apply it to David."

One would wish that Rashi had on all occasions sought the simple and natural meaning of the Biblical text. That he clothed the Song of Songs, in part at least, in a mantle of allegory, is excusable, since he was authorized, nay, obliged, to do so by tradition. In the Proverbs this manner is less tolerable. The book is essentially secular in character; but Rashi could not take it in this way. To him it was an allegory; and he transformed this manual of practical wisdom into a prolonged conversation between the Torah and Israel. Again, though Rashi discriminated among the Midrashim, and adopted only those that seemed reconcilable with the natural meaning, his commentaries none the less resemble Haggadic compilations. This is true, above all, of the Pentateuch. And if the Haggadah "so far as religion is concerned was based upon the oral law, and from an esthetic point of view upon the apparent improprieties of the Divine word," it nevertheless "serves as a pretext rather than a text for the flights, sometimes the caprice or digressions, of religious thought."[84] Now, Rashi was so faithful to the spirit of the Midrash that he accepted without wincing the most curious and shocking explanations, or, if he rejected them, it was not because he found fault with the explanations themselves. Sometimes, when we see him balance the simple construction against the Midrashic interpretation of the text, we are annoyed to feel how he is drawn in opposite directions by two tendencies. We realize that in consequence his works suffer from a certain incoherence, or lack of equilibrium, that they are uneven and mixed in character. To recognize that he paid tribute to the taste of the age, or yielded to the attraction the Midrash exercised upon a soul of naive faith, is not sufficient, for in point of fact he pursued the two methods at the same time, the method of literal and the method of free interpretation, seeming to have considered them equally legitimate and fruitful of results. Often, it is true, he shakes off the authority of tradition, and we naturally query why his good sense did not always assert itself, and free him from the tentacles of the Talmud and the Midrash.

Now that we have formulated our grievance against Rashi, it is fair that we try to justify him by recalling the ideas prevailing at the time, and the needs he wished to satisfy.

The Midrashim, as I have said, have a double object, on the one hand, the exposition of legal and religious practices, on the other hand, the exposition of the beliefs and hopes of religion. So far as the Halakic Midrash is concerned, it was marvellously [marvelously sic] well adapted to the French-Jewish intellect, penetrated as it was by Talmudism. The study of the Talmud so completely filled the lives of the Jews that it was difficult to break away from the rabbinical method. Rashi did not see in the Bible a literary or philosophic masterpiece. Nor did he study it with the unprejudiced eyes of the scholar. He devoted himself to this study-especially of the Pentateuch-with only the one aim in view, that of finding the origin or the explanation of civil and ritual laws, the basis or the indication of Talmudic precepts. Sometimes he kicked against the pricks. When convinced that the rabbinical explanation did not agree with a sane exegesis, he would place himself at variance with the Talmud for the sake of a rational interpretation. What more than this can be expected? Nor need we think of him as the unwilling prisoner of rules and a victim of their tyranny. On the contrary, he adapted himself to them perfectly, and believed that the Midrash could be made to conform to its meaning without violence to the text. That he always had reason to believe so was denied by so early a successor as his grandson Samuel ben Meir. Samuel insisted that one stand face to face with the Scriptures and interpret them without paying heed and having recourse to any other work. This effort at intellectual independence in which the grandson nearly always succeeded, the grandfather was often incapable of making. In commenting upon the Talmud Rashi preserved his entire liberty, unrestrained by the weight of any absolute authority; but in commenting on the Bible he felt himself bound by the Talmud and the Midrash. Especially in regard to the Pentateuch, the Talmudic interpretation was unavoidable, because the Pentateuch either explicitly or implicitly contains all legal prescriptions. In point of fact, in leaving the Pentateuch and proceeding to other parts of the Bible, he gains in force because he gains in independence. He no longer fears to confront "our sages" with the true explanation. For example, there is little Derash in the following commentary on Psalm xxiii:

A Psalm of David]. Our rabbis say: The formula "Psalm of David" indicates that David at first played the instrument, then was favored by Divine inspiration. It, therefore, signifies, Psalm to give inspiration to David. On the other hand, when it is said "To David, a Psalm,"[85] the formula indicates that David, having received Divine inspiration, sang a song in consequence of the revelation.

1. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want]. In this desert in which I wander I am full of trust, sure that I shall lack nothing.

2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures]. In a place to dwell where grass grows. The poet, having begun by comparing his sustenance to the pasturing of animals, in the words, "The Lord Is my Shepherd," continues the image. This Psalm was recited by David in the forest of Hereth, which was so called because it was arid as clay (heres), but it was watered by God with all the delights of the next world (Midrash on the Psalms).

3. He will restore my soul]. My soul, benumbed by misfortunes and by my flight, He will restore to its former estate. He will lead me in the paths of righteousness] along the straight highway so that I may not fall into the hands of my enemies.

4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil]. In the country of shadows this applies to the wilderness of Ziph.[86] The word tzalmavet (Tsadi Lamed Mem Vov Tav) here employed always signifies "utter darkness"[87]; this is the way in which it is explained by Dunash ben Labrat[88]. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me]. The sufferings I have undergone and my reliance, my trust, in Thy goodness are my two consolations, for they bring me pardon for my faults, and I am sure that

5. Thou wilt prepare a table before me], that is, royalty. Thou hast anointed my head with oil]. I have already been consecrated king at Thy command. My cup runneth over]. An expression signifying abundance.

From this commentary one realizes, I do not say the perfection, but the simplicity, Rashi could attain when he was not obliged to discover in Scriptures allusions to laws or to beliefs foreign to the text. As Mendelssohn said of him, "No one is comparable with him when he writes Peshat." Even though Rashi gave too much space to the legal exegesis of the Talmud, Mendelssohn's example will make us more tolerant toward him - Mendelssohn who himself could not always steer clear of this method.

Moreover, the commentary on the Bible is not exactly a scholarly work; it is above all a devotional work, written, as the Germans say, fur Schule und Haus, for the school and the family. The masses, to whom Rashi addressed himself, were not so cultivated that he could confine himself to a purely grammatical exposition or to bare exegesis. He had to introduce fascinating legends, subtle deductions, ingenious comparisons. The Bible was studied, not so much for its own sake, as for the fact that it was the text-book of morality, the foundation of belief, the source of all hopes. Every thought, every feeling bore an intimate relation to Scriptures. The Midrash exercised an irresistible attraction upon simple, deeply devout souls. It appealed to the heart as well as to the intelligence, and in vivid, attractive form set forth religious and moral truths. Granted that success justifies everything, then the very method with which we reproach Rashi explains the fact that he has had, and continues to have, thousands of readers. The progress of scientific exegesis has made us aware of what we would now consider a serious mistake in method. We readily understand why Derash plays so important a role in Rashi's commentaries, and to what requirements he responded; but that does not make us any more content with his method. To turn from Rashi to a more general consideration of the Midrashic exegesis, we also understand its long continuance, though we do not deprecate it less, because it is unscientific and irrational.

In spite of all, however, the use of the Derash must be considered a virtue in Rashi. Writing before the author of the Yalkut Shimeoni,[89] he revealed to his contemporaries, among whom not only the masses are to be included, but, owing to the rarity of books, scholars as well, a vast number of legends and traditions, which have entered into the very being of the people, and have been adopted as their own. Rashi not only popularized numerous Midrashim, but he also preserved a number the sources of which are no longer extant, and which without him would be unknown. This Biblical commentary is thus the store- house of Midrashic literature, the aftermath of that luxuriant growth whose latest products ripened in the eighth, ninth, and even tenth centuries.

It is hardly proper, then, to be unduly severe in our judgment of Rashi's work. In fact, why insist on his faults, since he himself recognized the imperfections of his work, and would have bettered them if he had had the time? The testimony of his grandson upon this point is explicit:

"The friends of reason," said Samuel ben Meir, "should steep themselves in this principle of our sages, that natural exegesis can never be superseded. It is true that the chief aim of the Torah was to outline for us rules of religious conduct, which we discover behind the literal meaning through Haggadic and Halakic interpretation. And the ancients, moved by their piety, occupied themselves only with Midrashic exegesis as being the most important, and they failed to dwell at great length upon the literal meaning. Add to this the fact that the scholars advise us not to philosophize too much upon the Scriptures. And R. Solomon, my maternal grandfather, the Torch of the Captivity, who commented on the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa, devoted himself to the development of the natural meaning of the text; and I, Samuel son of Meir, discussed his explanations with him and before him, and he confessed to me that if he had had the leisure, he would have deemed it necessary to do his work all over again by availing himself of the explanations that suggest themselves day after day."[90]

It seems, therefore, that Rashi only gradually, as the result of experience and discussion, attained to a full consciousness of the requirements of a sound exegesis and the duties of a Biblical commentator. What the grandfather had not been able to do was accomplished by the grandson. The commentary of Samuel ben Meir realized Rashi's resolutions. Though Rashi may not have been irreproachable as a commentator, he at least pointed out the way, and his successors, enlightened by his example, could elaborate his method and surpass it, but only with the means with which he provided them. We must take into account that he was almost an originator, and we readily overlook many faults and flaws in remembering that he was the first to prepare the material.

* * * * *

Grammar and lexicography are the two bases of exegesis. Rashi was as clever a grammarian as was possible in his time and in his country. At all events he was not of the same opinion as the Pope, who rebuked the Archbishop of Vienna for having taught grammar in his schools, because, he said, it seemed to him rules of grammar were not worthy the Sacred Text, and it was unfitting to subject the language of Holy Scriptures to these rules. Rashi in his explanations pays regard to the laws of language, and in both his Talmudic and Biblical commentaries, he frequently formulates scientific laws, or, it might be said, empiric rules, regarding, for instance, distinctions in the usage of words indicated by the position of the accent, different meanings of the same particle, certain vowel changes, and so on. Thus, we have been able to construct a grammar of Rashi, somewhat rudimentary, but very advanced for the time.

Nevertheless, in this regard, a wide gap separates the commentaries of Rashi and the works of the Spanish school of exegetes, which shone with such lustre [luster sic] in that epoch. Under the influence and stimulus of the Arabs, scientific studies took an upward flight among the Jews of Moslem Spain. The Midrash was abandoned to the preachers, while the scholars cultivated the Hebrew language and literature with fruitful results. In France, on the contrary, though rabbinical studies were already flourishing, the same is not true of philological studies, which were introduced into France only through the influence of the Spaniards. French scholars soon came to know the works, written in Hebrew, of Menahem ben Saruk and Dunash ben Labrat,[91] and Rashi availed himself of them frequently, and not always uncritically. Thus, like them, he distinguishes triliteral, biliteral, and even uniliteral roots; but contrary to them, he maintains that contracted and quiescent verbs are triliteral and not biliteral. Unfortunately, he could have no knowledge of the more important works of Hayyoudj, "father of grammarians," and of Ibn Djanah, who carried the study of Hebrew to a perfection surpassed only by the moderns;[92] for these works were written in Arabic, and the translations into Hebrew, made by the scholars of Southern France, did not appear until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Though the Spanish Jews did not yet cultivate the allegoric and mystic exegesis, their philosophic sense was rather refined and they did not always approach the study of the Bible without seeking something not clearly expressed in the text, without arriere-pensee so to speak. Rashi's exegesis was more ingenuous and, therefore, more objective.

Moreover, even if Rashi was not in complete possession of grammatical rules, he had perfectly mastered the spirit of the Hebrew language. Like the Spaniards, he had that very fine understanding for the genius of the language which arises from persevering study, from constant occupation with its literature. We have cited the sources upon which he drew; it would be unjust not to remark that he made original investigations. For example (and the examples might be multiplied) apropos of a difficult passage in Ezekiel, he asserted that he had drawn the explanation from inner stores, and had been guided only by Divine inspiration - a formula borrowed from the Geonim. He was frequently consulted in regard to the meaning of Biblical passages, and one response has been preserved, that given to the scholars of Auxerre when they asked for an explanation of several chapters of the Prophets. This fact shows that the Jews gave themselves up with ardor to the study of the Bible, men of education making it their duty to copy the Bible with the most scrupulous care and according to the best models, to the number of which they thus made additions. Among these copies are the ones made by Gershom, by Joseph Tob Elem, and by Menahem of Joigny. The Jews were almost the only persons versed in the Bible. I have mentioned how much the Church feared the sight of the Bible in the hands of the common people, and in clerical circles an absolutely antiscientific spirit reigned in regard to these matters. It was the triumph of symbolism, allegory, and docetism. All the less likely, then, were they to know Hebrew. An exception was the monk Sigebert de Gemblours, a teacher at Metz in the last quarter of the eleventh century, who maintained relations with Jewish scholars. He is said to have known Hebrew.

Rashi's thorough knowledge of Hebrew enabled him to depend upon his memory for quoting the appropriate verses, and in all his citations there is scarcely a mistake, natural though an error would have been in quoting from memory. Distinguishing between the Hebrew of the Bible and that of the Talmud, he sees in the Hebrew of the Mishnah a transition between the two. Often, for the purpose of explaining a word in the Bible, he has recourse to Talmudic Hebrew or to the Aramaic. He pays careful attention to the precise meaning of words and to distinctions among synonyms, and he had perception for delicate shading in syntax and vocabulary. Owing to this thorough knowledge of Hebrew he readily obtained insight into the true sense of the text. By subjecting the thought of the Holy Scriptures to a simple and entirely rational examination, he not seldom succeeds in determining it. Thus, as it were by divination, he lighted upon the meaning of numerous Biblical passages. A long list might be made of explanations misunderstood by his successors, and revived, consciously or unconsciously, by modern exegetes. An illustration in point is his explanation of the first verse of Genesis, quoted above. Long before such Biblical criticism had become current it was he who said that the "servant of God" mentioned in certain chapters of the second part of Isaiah represents the people of Israel.

Needless to say Rashi never tampers with the text. At most, as is the case with Ibn Djanah, he says that a letter is missing or is superfluous. Sometimes, too, he changes the order of the words. Neither copyists' mistakes nor grammatical anomalies existed for him. Yet he believed in all sincerity that the ancient sages could have corrected certain Biblical texts to remove from them a meaning startling or derogatory when applied to the Divinity.

Rashi wholly ignored what modern criticism calls the Introduction to the Scriptures, that is to say, the study of the Bible and the books of which it is composed from the point of view of their origin, their value, and the changes they have undergone. But rarely, here and there in his commentaries, does one find any references to the formation of the canon. To give an example showing how he justified a classification of the Hagiographa given by a Talmudic text and disagreeing with the present classification: Ruth comes first, because it belongs to the period of the Judges; Job follows, because he lived at the time of the Queen of Sheba; then come the three books of Solomon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, both gnomic works, and the Song of Songs, written in Solomon's old age; Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra (comprising the present Nehemiah), and Chronicles are likewise placed in chronological order. In the same passage of the Talmud the question is put as to why the redaction of the prophecies of Isaiah is attributed to King Hezekiah and his academy. Rashi explained that the prophets collected their speeches only a short time before their death, and Isaiah having died a violent death, his works could not enjoy the benefit of his own redaction.

Still less need one expect to find in Rashi modern exegesis, that criticism which applies to Scriptures an investigation entirely independent of extraneous considerations, such as is brought to bear upon purely human works. Rashi's candid soul was never grazed by the slightest doubt of the authenticity of a Biblical passage. We can admire the genial divinations of an Abraham Ibn Ezra, but we also owe respect to that sincere faith of Rashi which was incapable of suspecting the testimony of tradition and the axioms of religion.

Ibn Ezra[93] and Rashi present the most vivid contrast. Though Ibn Ezra was open-minded and clear-sighted, he was restless and troubled. He led an adventurous existence, because his character was adventurous. Rashi's spirit was calm, without morbid curiosity, leaning easily upon the support of traditional religion, frank, throughout his life as free from the shadows of doubt as the soul of a child. Ibn Ezra had run the scientific gamut of his time, but he also dipped into mysticism, astrology, arithmolatry, even magic. Rashi, on the contrary, was not acquainted with the profane sciences, and so was kept from their oddities. With his clear, sure intelligence he penetrated to the bottom of the text without bringing it into agreement with views foreign to it. But the characteristic which distinguishes him above all others from Ibn Ezra is the frankness of his nature. He never seemed desirous of knowing 'what he did not know, nor of believing what he did not believe. Finally, and in the regard that specially interests us, Ibn Ezra, who belonged to the school of Arabic philosophers and scholars, who knew the Spanish grammarians, and was their inheritor, always employed the Peshat - that is, when he was not biassed by his philosophic ideas. In this case he saw the true meaning of the text, perhaps more clearly than any other Jewish commentator. Rashi did not possess the same scientific resources. He knew only the Talmud and the Midrash, and believed that all science was included in them. Moreover, though he stated in so many words his preference for a literal and natural interpretation of the text, he fell short of always obeying his own principle.

* * * * *

There is one characteristic of Rashi's Bible commentaries which I have already touched upon, but to which it is well to revert by way of conclusion, since it makes the final impression upon a student of the commentaries. I refer to a certain intimacy or informality of the work, a certain easy way of taking things. The author used no method. Now he explains the text simply and naturally; now he enjoys adorning it with fanciful embellishments. One would say of him, as of many an author of the Talmud, that in writing his work he rested from his Talmudic studies; and one seems to hear in these unceremonious conversations, these unpretentious homilies, the same note that even in the present day is sometimes struck in synagogues on Saturday afternoons. What clearly shows that Rashi unbent a little in composing his Biblical commentaries are the flashes of wit and humor lighting them, the display of his native grace of character, his smiling geniality. If he yielded some credence to the most naive inventions, this does not mean that he was always and entirely their dupe. They simply gave him the utmost delight. He did not refrain from piquant allusions; and the commentary on the Pentateuch presents a number of pleasantries, some of which are a bit highly-spiced for modern taste. Fundamentally, they are a heritage of the old Midrashic spirit grafted upon the gaiety of "mischievous and fine Champagne," as Michelet said. Assuredly, there were hours in which good humor reigned over master and pupils, and we seem to see the smile that accompanied the witty sallies, and the radiance of that kindly charm which illuminated the dry juridic discussions. All this forms an attractive whole, and everyone may feel the attraction; for the commentaries on the Bible, which can be read with pleasure and without mental fatigue, are intelligible to persons of most mediocre mind and cultivation. The words of a certain French critic upon another writer of Champagne, La Fontaine, might be applied to Rashi, though a comparison between a poet and a commentator may not be pressed to the utmost. "He is the milk of our early years, the bread of the adult, the last meal of the old man. He is the familiar genius of every hearth."

For many centuries the Biblical commentaries held a position - and still hold it - similar to that of La Fontaine's Fables. Few works have ever been copied, printed, and commented upon to the same extent. Immediately upon their appearance, they became popular in the strongest sense of the word. They cast into the shade the work of his disciples, which according to modern judgment are superior. Preachers introduced some commentaries of his into their sermons, and made his words the subject of their instruction; and Rashi was taught even to the children. The mass of readers assimilated the Halakic and Haggadic elements. Those who were not students, through Rashi got a smattering of a literature that would otherwise have been inaccessible to them; and the commentaries threw into circulation a large number of legends, which became the common property of the Jews. Rashi's expressions and phrases entered into current speech, especially those happy formulas which impress themselves on the memory. His commentary is printed in all the rabbinical Bibles; it has become to the Jews inseparable from the text, and even Mendelssohn's commentary, which has all of Rashi's good qualities and none of his faults, did not succeed in eclipsing it. In short, it is a classic.

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