RuJHe's Short Guide to RaSHi

(C) RashiYomi Incorporated Version 1.15, July 9 2006,
Written by Dr. Russell Jay Hendel, President

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Although this monograph is available as a free download it is nevertheless protected by United States Copyright law. The RashiYomi corporation encourages students, teachers, Professors, and Rabbis to use this material, or excerpts of this material, as is, and with proper acknowledgement to the Rashiyomi corporation. Reproduction of this material for any commercial purpose is strictly prohibited. Citations of full examples from this work without proper acknowledgement to the Rashiyomi corporation is also strictly prohibited. Further inquiries (and suggestions!) on the use of this monograph may be obtained by emailing. RJHendel@Juno.Com In general it would be appreciated if appropriate acknowledgement is given to the ideas of this monograph consistent with citations in the academic world.


Overview: The purpose of this monograph is to provide a short, quick but comprehensive guide to the literary techniques and skills needed to produce mature, intelligent and correct literary commentary. The rules we present have wide applicability but their immediate application will be the review, understanding and classification of the comments of the first of the Biblical commentators, Rashi. This monograph will provide useful new material to a diverse audience including Rabbis, elementary school teachers, students, laymen, and professors and graduate students in either general literature or Biblical studies. This monograph will be equally useful to both those who have facility in reading Hebrew as well as those who just speak English. While this monograph is directed to those who believe in the Divinity of the Torah, such a belief is never assumed in this monograph and is not a prerequisite to mastering the methods presented in this monograph.

The purpose of this introductory section is to clearly state our goals, targeted audiences, prerequisites, online resources, future publications, how to read and use the monograph, and also to clarify our particular contribution to learning Rashi, as presented in this monograph.

Goals: We first give some background. The Bible or more specifically the Torah refers to the five Books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Numerous commentators during numerous periods spanning several centuries have written commentaries on the Bible. Rashi, Rabbi Sholomo the son of Rabbi Isaac, was the first of the Biblical commentators. In producing his comments Rashi was in large part guided by the Biblical comments contained in the entire Talmudic, Mishnaic and Midrashic eras which preceded him. All Rashi comments whether original or derived reflect the simple intended meaning of the text.

There are many ways to approach Rashi. We approach Rashi through skill competencies. Here is a simple example: RULE: To form a plural in English suffix the letter s. Such a rule is a skill competency--it is something specific that is reproducible in a wide variety of situations. After one has mastered this rule one would recognize apples, pears as plural but pea as singular. If for example you read in a piece of literature that concentration camp victims were served pea and carrot you could make a Rashi type comment: Each inmate was given only one pea and one carrot. This shows how meager their rations were. Here we apply the skill competency to make an inference--one pea and carrot--We could then go further and explain why this one pea per inmate is important--it is important because it emphasizes the conditions.

We can now state our basic thesis: All Rashi comments focus on the simple intended meaning of the text. There are 10 groups of skill competencies needed to understand all Rashis. These 10 groups subdivide into 30 skill competencies. A person who has mastered these skill competencies will be able to successfully reproduce all Rashi comments.

A short word about our citation of actual Rashi comments. Since our goal is presentation of skill competencies the student should regard all citations of Rashis as paraphrases that help the student to understand only one component of the Rashi. We do not further comment on the various other aspects of the Rashi comments. From time to time we will illustrate how our explanations tie in with the full Rashi comment. As a simple example of what we don't do in this monograph consider the pea example brought above: A natural tendency of Rabbis, professors and historians would be to dwell on the horrible conditions of the concentration camp inmates--only one pea per inmate! This is certainly a worthwhile avenue of study - however in this monograph we focus only on the underlying skill competencies and do not dwell on the moral/historical consequences associated with Rashi comments. Consequently we would simply explain the pea example above as illustrating the plural formation rule and would not further comment on the implications of one pea per inmate.

Prerequisites To fully master this monograph a student should have a good English translation of the Bible and a solid high school education. In an appendix I indicate how the methods of this monograph can be applied to teachers of elementary school children.

Online Resources: Today many learning resources are free. The English and Hebrew Bible as well as English translations of Rashi are available over the world wide net. URLs are presented below. This monograph is also free. It is located on the world wide web at the RashiYomi website whose url is below. Although this monograph is free it is governed by US copyright law. It is expected and appreciated that citations and links give appropriate acknowledgement.

Item URL
The Rashi Database Project
This Monograph

The English citations in this monograph by and large come from the Davka CD roms with minor emendations by me. The numberings of the Rashi on each Biblical verse (Rashi a,b,c,d...of a particular verse) also follow the Davka CD rom. Davka has produced many electronic resources for the Bible and Rashi in both English and Hebrew. You can find a list at

Acknowledgement: The contents of this monograph were first presented in January - March 2006 in the Adult Education series at the Ner Tamid synagogue in Baltimore, Maryland. The students had varied backgrounds. There was significant participation which will be acknowledged in the examples. Based on the positive response of the class I decided to write the monograph as a record of the lectures. Acknowledgement is given to Rabbi Landau for strongly advocating the adult education series, to the Ner Tamid synagogue for hosting the series and to my students for many lively and stimulating diaglogues.

Acknowledgement is given to the recently deceased, Mrs. Perl Hendel, Vice President for the RashiYomi Corporation and her husband, Abraham Hendel, Vice President for the RashiYomi Corporation, for numerous advice, support and instructive ideas.

    The Structure of this monograph:
  • There were six lectures or lessons.
  • Each lecture consisted of a collection of examples
  • Each example illustrated a basic literary Rashi method.
  • For illustrative purposes the examples by and large followed the sequence of weekly Parshahs for the winter season.
  • Lessons frequently reviewed methods from previous lessons.
  • An appendix, Teaching Rashi to Young Children gives helpful tips on using the methods of this monograph with young children. In fact, I home schooled young children (Ages 5-12) for 2 years and produced over 400 pages of notes prior to writing this monograph.
  • There is a Lightning Summary of the entire monograph located in an appendix. This Lightning summary reviews every lesson, example and Rashi by indicating the Rashi method and sub method used as well as brief summaries of Rashi's comment. This summary will prove very useful to everyone. This summary will be useful to someone who has gone thru the book once and wishes to refresh his or her memory. This Lightning Summary can also be studied as a stand alone guide.
  • A final appendix contains The 30 Rashi Methods with examples.
  • Future Updates: Over the next few months we will hyperlink cross references in this monograph as well as provide a user friendly html book form. The comments I receive on this monograph will lead to future updates. Please refer to the Rashi website for future updates.

Use of this monograph: I give the same advice that the great Rambam gave in his introduction to the Sacrificial order of the Mishnah. A student wishing to maximally benefit from this monograph should sit down and read this monograph example by example. Full citations are given. Further references to the full Rashi texts as well as to full Hebrew Biblical texts will add dimension to the understanding of this monograph but are not necessary. After completing the monograph the student may wish to review using the lightning summary in the appendix. The student should repeat reviewing the Lightning Summary every day the same way (s)he reads the Shma and other prayers every day till they have committed it to memory. The student will then find that all Rashis are easy to understand using the methods of this monograph.

Other resources: The Rashi database(whose URL is above) has as its goal the classification of all 7000 Rashi comments using the 30 Rashi methods presented in this monograph. There is also numerous material explaining each Rashi. The expected completion date of the Rashi database is 2010. Currently 60% of all Rashis have been explained. There are three newsletters explaining about a dozen Rashis every week. Those who wish to sign up may do so by contacting, I am available for lectures to lay and teacher audiences.

Lesson 1 of 6

Example 1 - Notation

Since this is our first example we will use it to illustrate the anatomy of a Rashi and our notation.

We begin with the citation of a Biblical verse. This verse is located in the 5th verse of the 26th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. We abbreviate this using a 7 character notation: Dt26-05. We use two letter notations to refer to the 5 books of the Bible:Gn,Ex, Lv,Nu,Dt refer to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy respectively. This verse Dt26-05 states as follows And you shall speak and say before the Lord your God, A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a tiny number of people, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous;

Rashi made several comments on several of the phrases in this verse. We are interested in the 4th Rashi comment. Notationally we refer to the first Rashi comment as comment a, to the second Rashi comment as comment b and to the 4th Rashi comment as comment d. The full notation for the verse and Rashi is consequently Dt26-05d, the d th Rashi on the 5 th verse of the 26 th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy.

The actual Rashi comment on Dt26-05d is as follows: With a tiny number of people: 70 people.

    We now dissect this Rashi comment
  • The Rashi begins with a bolded phrase: With a tiny number of people This is called the Rashi Header. The Rashi header is that part of the verse that Rashi is commenting on. Since we cited Dt26-05 above you can check that this bolded phrase occurs in the verse. Almost all books use the convention that the Rashi header is bolded. We shall occasionally use underline.
  • After the Rashi header we find the Rashi body which states with seventy souls. It is immediately understood that the Rashi body, with seventy souls is commenting and explaining the Rashi header, with a tiny community
  • In summary Rashi is explaining that the Biblical word tiny in Dt26-05 refers to 70 people.
  • We don't however know how Rashi arrived at his conclusion. There are several avenues of approach that may be used here. Some Rashi super-commentators identify the Talmudic, Mishnaic, or Midrashic source that Rashi used. The identification of primary sources used by Rashi is important. However the focus of this monograph is on the 30 skill competencies used either by Rashi or his primary sources to arrive at conclusions.
  • Before we present the reason for Rashi's comment we take note that Rashi himself did not explicitly state his reason. This leaves room for dynamic interpretation as well as error! All we can do is guess at Rashi's reason. However the 30 methods I present in this monograph all have intuitive appeal and can be used without Rashi to obtain meaningful comments. I therefore believe that these methods have a certain degree of soundness.
  • We explain this Rashi comment using an Other verse, Gn46-27 which states And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, were seventy. As can be seen from the underlined words in this Other verse the Rashi comment that tiny means 70 people is inferred from the explicit statement in the other verse.

We can summarize the above as follows: Rashi explains the word Tiny in Dt26-05 by using the other verse method which clarifies, using the other verse Gn46-27 that the meaning of Tiny in Dt26-05 is 70.

Since this was our first example we went over it slowly. In future examples of the other verse method we will simply cite the two verses and show how they naturally lead to the Rashi comment. We will frequently use formatting such as underline to indicate correspondences.

The Other verse method is the first of our skill competencies that we are presenting. We call it a skill competency because every time you see a Biblical verse you should attempt to provide further details using other Biblical verses. The inferences you arrive at may or may not be present in Rashi and other commentaries. But you will have the confidence of knowing that they are true comments.

Acknowledgement I traditionally begin all Rashi classes and written works with the above Rashi because this identification of tiny with 70 occurs in the Passover Hagaddah. The Passover Hagaddah records the attempts once a year to arouse interest in Jewish education whether to those who are wise, rebellious, simple or apathetic. It seems that the Talmudic sages felt that the other verse method was just the right place to begin. We have therefore followed their lead.

Example 2.1
OTHER VERSES - further details

Example 2.1a: For purposes of completeness we recap the summary of the Rashi we just did. Verse Dt26-05d states And you shall speak and say before the Lord your God, A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a tiny number of people, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous; Rashi clarifies the underlined phrase Tiny by citing an other verse Gn46-27 which states And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two souls; all the souls of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, were seventy. Hence the Rashi comment Tiny in Dt26-05 means 70.

    Some words about notation. We have labeled this example 2.1a:. Other examples, presented in this lesson, of the OTHER VERSE - further details method will be labeled example 2.1b, Example 2.1c, etc. Other examples of the OTHER VERSE - further details method presented in future lessons will be labeled example 2.2a, 2.2b,..., 2.3a,.... In other words
  • the "2" in "2.1a" refers to the number of the underlying method
  • the ".1" in "2.1a" refers to the Lesson # in which an example of this method is being presented
  • The "a" in "2.1a" refers to the sequence of examples --a,b,c,..--presented in any one lesson on any particular method.

This notation will allow us to review methods taught in previous lessons and keep track of our examples. If a student wishes to see all examples of a Rashi method they can do a search on e.g. "example 2.". If a student wishes to see all examples in say lesson 3 they can do a search on ".3". This will enable quick cross referencing of examples.

    Example 2.1b: Verse Gn48-05b states And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. Rashi clarifies the meaning of the underlined phrase as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. Rashi clarifies this by citing an Other verse, Nu13-04:16
  • And these were their names; from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.
  • From the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.
  • From the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
  • From the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.
  • From the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.
  • From the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.
  • From the tribe of Zebulun, Gadiel the son of Sodi.
  • From the tribe of Joseph, that is, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gadi the son of Susi.
  • From the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.
  • From the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.
  • From the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.
  • From the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Joshua.

Hence the Rashi comment Recall that the Patriarch Jacob had 12 children. Each of these children leads a tribe. For example we speak about the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Yissachar and so forth. The tribal units each had their own plot of land in Israel; similarly they each had separate military service. Tribal status was transferred patrilinearly (The children of a Judaean were also Judaean) Technically therefore Joseph who was a son of Jacob should have been a tribe. But Jacob states that instead Ephraim and Menasheh, Josephs' children will have tribal status. Thus Ephraim and Menasheh are the only grandchildren of Jacob with tribal status. Hence the underlined phrase ...will be to me like Reuven and Shimon means ...will head tribes like Reuven and Shimon head tribes.

The interested read can peruse several other verses such as Nu13, Nu02, Nu26 which similarly list Ephraim and Menasheh among the tribes. It should not surprise us that Rashi's inference is justified by several other verses; this is typical.

As indicated in the introduction these Rashi comments do not require knowledge of Hebrew. The other verse method can be fully appreciated using only English texts.

Example 3.1
WORD MEANINGS - noun-verb

A major method of any commentator is to explain word meaning. Word meaning is not something simple; it is not looking up words in a dictionary; on the contrary word meaning is dynamic. Rashi had 10 word meaning methods. Today we will review three such methods.

    Words can acquire meaning thru grammatical transformations. In general nouns (objects) can become verbs (activities) in one of three ways (This is true in all languages).
  • Removal: e.g. From the noun dust we have the verb to dust which means to remove dust
  • Creation: e.g. from the noun flower we have the verb to flower which means to to create/bring forth flowers
  • Usage: e.g. from the noun hammer we have the verb to hammer which means to use the hammer in its traditional manner.
Using this grammatical transformation rule we may analyze several Rashis.

Example 3.1a: Ex16-20b states However they listened not to Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank; and Moses was angry with them. Rashi applying the noun-verb method translates this verse as follows However they listened not to Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it wormed worms, and stank; and Moses was angry with them. Notice how the resulting translation using wormed vs. bred is punchier and more succinct.

Example 3.1b: In the previous Rashi we had to amend the translation to reflect the noun-verb transformation. However in the following Rashi, Nu31-03b, the English translation has already captured the desired noun-verb translation: And Moses spoke to the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves for the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and do the Lord’s vengeance in Midian. Here the verb to arm comes from the noun arms. This example shows how a good English translation incorporates Rashi comments.

Example 3.1c: In the following example we again have to amend the English translation by coining a term to reflect the Rashi noun-verb translation. Gn13-12a Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived in the cities of the plain, and tented toward Sodom. Here the verb to tent comes from the noun tent and means to pitch a tent.

Example 3.1d: Verse Ex29-05a states And you shall take the garments, and put upon Aaron the coat, and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the finely done girdle of the ephod; Here the noun-verb rule, gird-girdle is nicely reflected in the traditional translation.

Example 3.1e: Amending the traditional translation of Nu04-13b we have And they shall ash the altar, and spread a purple cloth on it; Note the comparable English usage, to dust.

Example 3.1f: Verse Gn50-23a with appropriate emendations states And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation; the descendents of Machir the son of Manasseh were also childrened upon Joseph’s knees. Here the coined term childrened means to raise and play with children.

In Example 3.1 we have effortlessly explained half a dozen Rashis using a grammatical transformation principle which is common to all languages. As indicated in the introduction a goal of this monograph is to show how literary methods common to all languages can contribute to the understanding of Rashi.

On a final note the above example illustrates the dynamic nature of language. It is interesting that in the early days of computer science after grammar had been thoroughly understood, the expectation was that if we gave a computer a grammar code and a dictionary chip it could speak. Such a viewpoint looks on language statically instead of dynamically. Most 5 year olds can coin terms like to ash, to tent etc. and this natural productive ability of children shows that language is intrinsically dynamic. Such a perspective gives greater appreciation to Rashi who is therefore doing more than explaining words. We will have further opportunities as we go on to study other word meaning methods.

Example 4.1
WORD MEANINGS - special connective words

As mentioned above in Example 3 a major Rashi method is explanation of word meaning. Word meaning is dynamically treated by Rashi who had 10 distinct methods of explaining and presenting word meaning.

All languages have special connective words by means of which sentences and clauses are connected together. Typical connective words in English (or Hebrew) are if, then, because, also, perhaps, all, and, or, only, etc.

    Today we analyze the word if, which in Hebrew is Lamed Vav. The Rashi can equally be understood in English or Hebrew. Rashi posits that there are three distinct meanings to the word if.
  • If:: If can have its traditional meaning as seen in the following verses Gn18-24 If there are only fifty righteous inside the city will you also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? Dt32-29 If they were wise, they would understood this, that they would consider their latter end!
  • If only it were so: If can also connote an interjection, if only it will be so indicating unexpected happiness and content with an event that is about to happen. Some typical verses with this interjection are the following: Gn17-18 states And Abraham said to God, if only that Ishmael might live in your presence! Gn23-13 And Abraham spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, But if only that you hear me; I will give you money for the field; take it from me, and I will bury my dead there Gn30-34 And Laban said, if only that it would might be according to your word. In translating these verses we have amended the English translation to reflect the Rashi comments.
  • Perhaps: Rashi suggests that if has a third meaning, perhaps which occurs only once in the Bible. Judge for yourself: Gn50-15c And when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and will certainly pay us back for all the evil which we did to him. The meanings if and if only that it will be so simply do not fit in in the above verse. Therefore Rashi translates if as meaning perhaps a concept closely related to if which fits nicely with the verse's content.

The above example provides a paradigm on how other Rashis on special connective words should be approached. Rashi should be perceived as listing the several meanings and functions of the special connective word It is the student's job to precisely and clearly define the complete list. Sometimes Rashi helps by explicitly giving you the list. At other times the student must do considerable work.

The above example is particularly interesting in that Rashi assigns a meaning to a word just once (Gn50-15 is the only verse in the Bible where Lamed vav has the meaning perhaps). By reviewing the other meanings of the word we appreciate how Rashi was in effect forced to develop a new meaning since the traditional meanings do not adequately explain the verse.

Finally a word about notation: We headed this example as follows: WORD MEANINGS - special connective words. Here the lower case phrase, special connective words refers to the particular skill competency studied. By contrast the capped phrase WORD MEANINGS refers to the group of 10 skill competencies subsumed under the WORD MEANING method. As we go through this monograph we will have occasion to present other skill competencies -- such as the synonym or idiom skill competencies -- which are sub-methods of the group of WORD MEANING methods.

Example 5.1
ALIGNMENT - word meanings

    To explain the alignment method we illustrate it: Here is Gn48-11d in aligned format. Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass’s colt to the choice vine;
  • he washed his garments in wine, and
  •                   his Samech-Vav-Tauv in the blood of grapes;

As can be seen an alignment visually identifies word parallels between two clauses or two verses. These word parallels create identifications which can either indicate subtle nuances or clarify meaning.

In the above alignment we clearly understand why the two bolded phrases blood of grapes and wine are aligned with each other. It makes sense that blood of grapes means wine. What is new is the alignment of garments with the Hebrew word Samech Vav Tauv. Hence the simple but elegant Rashi comment The Hebrew word Samech Vav Tauv is a garment.

In summary: Rashi infers the meaning of unknown or rare Hebrew words from alignments of parallel clauses. Such inferences of meaning from alignments are common in the Bible especially in the poetic literature.

In class, after presenting the Rashi, I went a step beyond Rashi. I pointed out that the Biblical root Samech-Vav-Tauv means seduce. If we combine the idea presented by Rashi, that Samech-vav-Tauv means garment and my idea that this root means seduce we naturally come up with the idea of a nightgown or lingerie. The consequent vision of Gn48-11d is that in the Messianic era people will wash their lingerie in wine. Upon presenting this supplementary explanation several of the married people in the class offered further insights.

Such supplemental commentary to Rashi does not contradict Rashi but rather enriches our understanding of Rashi. Rashi's goal was to simply point out that the alignment sheds light on meaning. Rashi's commentary was not meant to be exhaustive; Rashi was not saying that all Samech-Vav-Tauv means is garment. Therefore the use of other Rashi methods to supplement a Rashi is always welcome.

In this case I have used the WORD MEANING - root rule which seeks to identify word meaning from the meaning of the underlying Biblical root. We will revisit this method below.