(C) July 2006, RashiYomi Incorporated
Lesson 4 of 6
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
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.
scholars also use the term metonymy to refer to
all methods involving related items including
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).
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--
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
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.
And the manna was like a coriander seed,
and its appearance was like the
appearance of bdellium.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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;
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
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
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
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;
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.
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.
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
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
- 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.
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
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
(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.
(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
(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
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.
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?
Returned indicates the passive-causative--that
is, someone caused Moses and Aaron to return.
Here Rashi's goal is to explain the rare conjugation
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
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.
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.
STYLE - general-detail - REVIEW
We continue our review of Rashi rules from
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.
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.
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
- 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
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.
|Sons||infants||Can not go|
|daughters||infants||Can not go|
|flocks||serve God||Can go|
|Herds||serve God||Can 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
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
Here is a short list of verses where God loses his
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.
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.
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
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.
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.