(C) July 2006, RashiYomi Incorporated
This lesson is part of the Rashi Short Guide, the HTML Book version, (C) July 2006, RashiYomi Incorporated. The entire HTML-Book is located on the World Wide Web, at http://www.Rashiyomi.com/RashiShortGuideHTMLBook.zip and is a free download.


Lesson 4 of 6


Example 11.4
WORD MEANINGS - metonymy(FFF)


In Example 6.3 we showed how the Hebrew or English word listen could also mean listen, accept, understand, or news report. We classified this as a synonym method. We would now like to more closely examine this example of synonyms.

Technically a synonym refers to two different words with almost similar meanings. A simple example Example 6.2 is pot vs. frying pan. By contrast example 6.3, studying the possible nuances of listen as meaning hear, listen, understand, accept, report studies one word with several meanings.

Strictly speaking the word synonym does not refer to one word with several meanings. However, as a matter of convenience we classified both these examples as synonyms since they both deal with a collection of almost similar meanings (but differ as to whether the multiple meanings come from one or several words). From time to time we will use such poetic license in the classification scheme.

    However there are several literary techniques available in all languages which describe how words can change meaning. The most general of these principles is the metonymy principle. Metonymy refers to naming an item by a related item. Metonymy is a very broad principle which frequently covers examples explained by other more specific methods. Let us review several ways metonymy can be used:
  • People-land relations: The sentence America defeated Iraq really means The American people defeated the Iraqi people. Here the land, America metonymically refers to the related item, the people of the land, the American people.
  • One root with several related meanings: In example 6.3 we saw how the word listen can refer to the related activities of understanding, acceptance, hearing news.
  • Noun-verb transforms: In the introduction to example 3.1 we showed how the activity to hammer means to do the activity that is typically related to the item, hammer.
  • Synecdoche: We often name a whole group of items by an exemplary member of that group. For example in most languages honey can refer to anything sweet. This is also an example of metonymy since honey and sweetness are related.
  • Form, function, feel (FFF): The Pentagon is named by its related form, the pentagonal shape. The United Nations is named by its related function to unite nations. A hardship is named by how it feels-- it feels hard. A similar word-naming mechanism is the naming of glasses, for either seeing or for drinking, by their substance, what they are made of. For convenience I refer to this as the triple FFF rule (naming by Form, Function, Feel). Naming by form and function is universal in most languages and is an example of metonymy.

The student may be overwhelmed by all the terms used. But our approach is very simple. When we can use a specific and focused rule such as the noun-verb transform we will do so. When no other specific rule covers the word meaning but the items are related we will use the metonymy(FFF) rule. Consequently we agree (as a matter of convenience) to use the term metonymy(FFF) to include synecdoche,naming by form, function, feel etc. Many literary scholars also use the term metonymy to refer to all methods involving related items including synecdoche.

Let us now review several examples.

Example 11.4a: As just pointed out the word honey is closely related to sweet fruit juices (See Rashi Lv02-11a).

Example 11.4b: An example of naming by form is Lv13-02a. Rashi explains that the Hebrew word Sin Aleph Tauv is a whitish form of leprosy. We can explain this Rashi using the triple FFF principle. The root of Sin Aleph Tauv is Nun Sin Alpeh which among other meanings, can mean cloud. Hence sin aleph tauv would mean cloud-white leprosy. Here we name a color by an object with that color. This is similar to the English name for the color orange. Since form refers to the physical appearance of an object, therefore, naming by the color of an object is naming by form. Some readers may consider this too technical; if so they can follow the method of literary scholars and classify this etymology as a metonymy--the color white is named by a related object with the same color-- the cloud.

Example 11.4c: The word eyes can refer to the related meaning of appearance. A simple example would be Lv13-05a And the priest shall inspect the leprosy on the seventh day; and, behold, if its appearance is the same, and it has not spread over the skin; then the priest shall confine him for seven further days. This use of the word eye to refer to appearance is another example of metonymy. [Note: Many translations are more specific and translate eye as meaning color not appearance. However, in our opinion, the translations its appearance has not changed has almost the same connotations as its color has not changed.]

To further support this Rashi we can cite other verses where the word eye means appearance. Nu11-07 And the manna was like a coriander seed, and its appearance was like the appearance of bdellium. Ez01-16 The appearance of the wheels and their work was like the appearance of an emerald; and the four had one likeness; and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.

Note, our previous Rashi examples did not require a knowledge of Hebrew. The metonymy examples can be appreciated if you have a good English translation; and a modest knowledge of Hebrew. For example if you knew that the Hebrew word Shin Mem Ayin means listen then you can suggest the translations understand, report, accept. An knowledge of Hebrew grammar would allow you to recognize that the root of the Hebrew word Sin Aleph Tauv is Nun Sin Aleph and that Nun Sin Alpeh means cloud. Then you could translate Sin Aleph Tauv as meaning cloud-white.

Example 11.4d: The metonymy principle can be useful in explaining phrases as well as words. Lv19-16b states You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people; nor shall you stand on the blood of your neighbor; I am the Lord. Rashi explains If you see your neighbor in danger and you are able to save him, do so. Here Rashi interprets don't stand on the blood of your neighbor to means don't stand idly on the blood of your neighbor. Here standing idly is related to abstaining from helping. Rashi also translates blood as meaning the related danger.

It is important to emphasize that we are treating this Rashi as a translation. Rashi would translate Lv19-16b You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people; nor shall you abstain from helping your neighbor during an emergency; I am the Lord. There is a philosophical point here: If the verse uses the words standing and blood does Rashi or we have the right to translate this as abstaining and emergency? We do not further discuss this philosophical but point it out as something a student should think about.

Example 11.4e: The metonymic translation of stand as remain also occurs in the following Rashi Ex10-24a And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds stand; let your little ones also go with you. Rashi states stand means remain. Hence Rashi would translate as follows: And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds remain; let your little ones also go with you.

Example 11.4f: As a final example of metonymy we bring Ex12-05b Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male the son of the first year; you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats; Rashi explains The phrase the son of the first year means one year old, that is, anytime during its first year of life. Here the word son refers to possessing an attribute. Rashi would translate this verse as follows Ex12-05b Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male one year old; you shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats; Note that almost all English translations use the Rashi comment one year old. I have not been able to find any English translations that translate son of a year. Here again we see the fine line between translation and commentary.


Example 4.4
WORD MEANINGS - special connective words - REVIEW


    We continue our review of previous lessons by studying the connective word, all. The word all can mean
  • all parts
  • no exceptions
  • all subgroups even borderline cases that you don't expect to be included.

Example 4.4a: Let us now review examples of each of these meanings. Verse Gn19-04b states But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both old and young, all the people from every quarter; Rashi states all implies no exceptions. No one protested. There was not even one righteous person in the city.

Example 4.4b: Verse Lv21-11b states Neither shall he go to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; Note that the Hebrew word Caph Lamed is equally translated as all or any. Rashi paraphrased states Any implies any part. Hence a log (about a pint) of blood from the deceased confers ritual impurity on all those in the same tent or house with it.

Example 4.4c: Verse Nu21-08b discusses a response to a punishment of the people who complained excessively against God. The people were punished with snake bites. When they repented the verses states And the Lord said to Moses, Make a copper serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that anyone who is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live. Rashi comments anyone refers even to those bit by dogs To appreciate Rashi observe that the primary focus of the Biblical chapter is on the bites of snakes. Hence the natural interpretation of the verse is that those bitten by snakes were cured when they looked at the copper serpent. We don't expect the verse to be speaking about other types of bites. For this reason Rashi interprets the word anyone as referring even to people bitten by dogs vs. snakes. This Rashi shows how all can be interpreted emphatically as referring to non-expected cases.

We have only explained one comment of the Rashi at Lv21-11b. There are other comments in this Rashi but they are explained by other Rashi methods. Hence we only presented the methods we are focusing on in this lesson.

Example 4.4d: The following example illustrates how multiple Rashi methods may converge to provide a single explanation. It also unexpectedly illustrates how a Rashi commentator may focus on only one method when in fact several are needed.

Nu14-01b discusses the response of the Jewish people to the slanderous report of the spies. The verse states And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. Rashi states The word all the congregation includes all subgroups of the congregation, such as the judges and leaders. (Without the word all I would think that only the people complained but the national leaders like judges and leaders who were more mature did not complain).

    While presenting this example a student pointed out how using the Alignment method (Example 5.1) further supports Rashi. We can align the verse's two component phrases as follows
  • And the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried;
  • and the people wept that night.

    The above alignment exposes two contrasts
  • congregation vs. people
  • That night

    A simply way of explaining this contrast is that congregation refers to the structured community, and hence refers to the judges, leaders etc. By contrast the people would refer to the masses. Perhaps we can even see a progression
  • First the spies who were the leaders of each tribe slandered Israel
  • Then the congregational leaders cried
  • Then at night, after their leaders and judges had cried, the people also cried.

In summary both the connective word also as well as the alignment points to several components of the community complaining: The judges, leaders, and people.

Because use of alignment to extract nuances is a new method (previously we have used alignment to explain meaning) we will revisit this example below.


Example 12.4
GRAMMAR - root conjugation


Two basic jobs of any commentary are to explain word meaning and grammar. We have additionally listed 8 other groups of tasks of Rashi including derivations from other verses, alignments and style.

    The Grammar rule has 3 main sub methods
  • The goal of the root sub method is to explain all conjugations and meanings of Biblical roots. Biblical roots are conjugated with letter prefixes and suffixes to indicate (i) tense (ii) person (iii) gender (iv) plurality (v) mode (vi) object (to whom the activity is done) and (vii)mood or modality. Each of these conjugations has a specific meaning. Furthermore, these conjugations take on different forms for roots with weak letters.
  • The sentence sub method deals with grammatical attributes of sentences such as (i) word arrangement (Verb Subject vs. Subject Verb) (ii) sentence type (interrogative, command) (iii) compound sentences (iv) apposition and (v)methods of paragraph / sentence development.
  • The miscellaneous grammatical methods deal with (i) agreement (in gender and plurality), (ii) the construct (iii) pronoun reference (iv) ellipsis (v) noun-verb transforms (e.g. to dust) (vi) special word usage(e.g. how to use numbers) (vii) suffix-prefixes (e.g. terminal Hey means towards).

It is important to emphasize that formal grammar as we know it today was just beginning to be developed in Rashi's time. Consequently very often Rashi was the only source of Hebrew grammar to Biblical students. Although today there are many good grammar books Rashi's comments often offer insights not found in conventional grammar books. Today we examine grammatical examples where Rashi indicated a rare grammatical conjugation. These rare grammatical conjugations can be learned today from modern Hebrew grammar textbooks.

Recall that the hafal tense indicates a passive recipiency of someone causing an action. The following two Rashi examples illustrate this.

Example 12.4a: Verse Ex10-08b states And Moses and Aaron were returned to Pharaoh; and he said to them, Go, serve the Lord your God, but who are they who shall go? Rashi comments Returned indicates the passive-causative--that is, someone caused Moses and Aaron to return. Here Rashi's goal is to explain the rare conjugation (the Hafal). Notice, how a good English translation enables appreciation of the grammatical point made by Rashi without further knowledge of Hebrew. However while most of the Rashis in the previous lessons can be understood without knowledge of Hebrew, the grammatical Rashis frequently require, as a prerequisite, knowledge of Hebrew.

Example 12.4b: Verse Ex10-24a states And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds stay; let your little ones also go with you. Rashi comments Cause them to stand in their places. Here Rashi interprets the passive-causative, hafal of the verb to stand as meaning to let remain, to cause someone to stand in their place.


Example 7.4
STYLE - general-detail - REVIEW


    We continue our review of Rashi rules from previous lessons. Verse Ex12-14c states And this day shall be to you for a memorial; and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord
  • General: throughout your generations;
  • Details: you shall keep it a feast an ordinance forever.

Rashi paraphrased comments on the general-specific style: The general-specific style teaches us that the Passover commemoration is eternal, forever. The word generations is general. For example, it could mean 1-2 generations, those who personally knew of God's miracles. The law would then be that only those who personally knew of the exodus miracle are required to observe Passover. But the future descendants who did not personally see God's hand are not required to observe it. Consequently, the general term generations is given specific meaning with the details clause: an ordinance forever. This detail clause indicates that the general term generations means for all generations, eternally. Here we follow the Rabbi Ishmael Style rules that a general-specific style is interpreted so that the specific clause sheds light on the particular meaning of the general clause.


Example 13.4
SPREADSHEETS - spreadsheets


    Next we introduce a new method, the Spreadsheet rule. The Spreadsheet method has 3 sub methods.
  • Spreadsheet: The basic form of the spreadsheet rule occurs when Rashi clarifies a complicated numerical or verbal computation; these clarifications can typically be easily understood using a spreadsheet. An example is given below. Any use of examples to clarify the meaning of a verse is classified as a spreadsheet method.
  • Geometric: Rashi will sometimes clarify geometric constructions. Here Rashi verbally describes a picture. Since Rashi is clarifying something complex we classify this as a Spreadsheet rule.
  • Consequences: Sometimes Rashi will take a verse that is perfectly understood and derive a consequence of the verse. Since the verse was understood and Rashi simply adds a consequence to the verse's meaning we classify this as use of the Spreadsheet method. Note that very often spreadsheets are used to derive consequences of data.

    Rashi on the following verse uses the spreadsheet method. Verses Ex10-08:11a states
  • And Moses and Aaron were brought again to Pharaoh; and he said to them, Go, serve the Lord your God, but who are they who shall go? And Moses said, We will go with
    • our lads and with
    • our seniors, with
    • our sons and with
    • our daughters, with
    • our flocks and with
    • our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast for the Lord.
  • And he said to them, Let the Lord be with you,
    • if I will let you go,
    • and your infants. Look, evil is before you.
    • Not so,
    • go now you who are warriors, and
    • serve the Lord; for that is what you desire. And they were driven out from Pharaohís presence.

As indicated by the underlined words Moses requested that the lads,seniors,sons,daughters,flocks,herds be allowed to go. But as the underlined words in Pharoh's response show Pharoh said no to infants and said yes to warriors serving God. It is not clear how Moses' request and Pharoh's response line up. Rashi clarifies this line up. This clarification can most elegantly be done using a Spreadsheet table.

Moses Pharoh Final decision
ladsWarriorsCan go
seniorsWarriorsCan go
SonsinfantsCan not go
daughtersinfantsCan not go
flocksserve GodCan go
Herdsserve GodCan go

In this example Rashi focused on Pharoh's phrases no infants can go but warriors can go because that is what you seek. Indeed a further Rashi Ex10-11b comments on the Biblical phrase because that is what you seek Pharoh said: You, Moses, asked to offer sacrifices. But infants don't offer sacrifices. So we won't let the infants go. This second Rashi explains how Rashi made the decisions in the spreadsheet table. It would appear from this Rashi that Pharoh (on this occasion) allowed the animals to go also, since they were needed for the sacrifices.


Example 14.4
DATABASES - patterns


We close today with a new Rashi method, the database method. In a certain sense every Rashi is the consequence of a database query. For example you might ascertain the meaning of a word by reviewing all verses with that word. However such a database query is simple and straightforward. When a database query has a certain degree of richness and complexity we say the database method is being used. The flavor of database Rashis is a flavor of discussion on something not completely finished.

Before presenting examples we note that modern database theory has greatly clarified the concept of a database. The Structured Query Language, SQL is a standard that was reached by consensus from many disciplines and clearly presents the essence of a database query. Fortunately the Rashi student need not understand technical database theory. However it is enriching to know that such queries follow specific and standard rules.

Today we ask the following query: What is associated with God's loss of temper To answer this query we must collect all verses where God loses his temper and seek an underlying pattern of consequence.

Here is a short list of verses where God loses his temper

  • Dt29-25:27 states For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given to them; And the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book; And the Lord rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.
  • Nu12-09:10 states And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and He departed. And the cloud departed from off the Tent; and, behold, Miriam had become leprous, white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
  • Nu32-08:11 Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-Barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the valley of Eshkol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the Lord had given them. And the Lordís anger was kindled the same time, and he swore, saying, Surely none of the men who came out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me; Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenazite, and Joshua the son of Nun; for they have wholly followed the Lord. And the Lordís anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the Lord, was consumed.

    We see the pattern. God's anger being kindled is always followed by some type of punishment. Let us now examine two possible exceptions.

    Verse Nu22-21:22 states And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. And Godís anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the Lord stood in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. We don't however find any punishment of Bilam nearby. But in verses Nu31-01:02,07:08 we find And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Avenge the people of Israel of the Midianites; afterwards shall you be gathered to your people. ... And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them who were slain; that is, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian; and Balaam, the son of Beor, they also slew with the sword. Here we see the same pattern: God's anger followed by punishment; however the punishment is not textually nearby.

    Armed with the results of this database query we can understand the Rashi on verses Ex04-12:14 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall say. And he [Moses] said, O my Lord, send, I beseech you, by the hand of him whom you will send. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he comes forth to meet you; and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Again although God's anger was kindled we find no subsequent punishment--not even a punishment which is textually distant.

    Rashi comments at Ex04-14a: Note the underlined phrase Aaron the Levite. Nowhere else do we find Aaron called a Levite (He was a priest). From this subtle extra word we infer that Moses was punished as follows: Had he listened to God he would have been both prophet and priest. However because he refused to go he was made the nation's prophet but not their priest (The priesthood was given to Aaron).

      It is important to emphasize how we should and should not understand this Rashi.
    • Rashi is not commenting on the extra rare word, Aaron the Levite.
    • Rather, Rashi is commenting on a database query Even without the word Levite we know that Aaron was chosen as Priest, not Moses, and combining this fact with the above database query we infer that Moses was punished by not becoming priest.
    • In other words, the extra word Aaron the Levite is further supportive text to a Rashi comment that was derived from a database query.

    Understanding this distinction--derivation from a word vs. derivation from a database query--is fundamental to understanding Rashi.

    Is this Rashi comment the simple meaning of the text or is it homiletic? The response to this is simple: A database query on any text reveals the simple intended meaning of the text. The principles uncovered are part and parcel of the text and are transferable to other situations. However reviewing a database is tricky. Maybe there are other examples that were overlooked. Maybe there is another way to generalize the rules. For this reason the flavor of Database Rashis is one of discussion and non-full certainty.

    Database Rashis may be equally understood and inferred using either an English or Hebrew text.