This Rashi is continued from above in rule #1, references.
Today Hebrew grammar is well understood and
there are many books on it. Rashi, however, lived
before the age of grammar books. A major Rashi method
is therefore the teaching of basic grammar.
Many students belittle this aspect of Rashi. They erroneously
think that because of modern methods we know more. However Rashi
will frequently focus on rare grammatical points not covered
in conventional textbooks.
There are many classical aspects to grammar whether
in Hebrew or other languages. They include
- The rules for conjugating verbs. These rules govern how you
differentiate person, plurality, tense, mode, gender, mood, and
designation of the objects and indirect objects of the verb. For
example how do you conjugate, in any language, I sang, we will
sing, we wish to sing, she sang it.
- Rules of agreement. For example agreement of subject
and verb, of noun and adjective; whether agreement in gender or plurality.
- Rules of Pronoun reference.
- Rules of word sequence. This is a beautiful topic which is
not always covered in classical grammatical textbooks.
Today we cover the rule of euphemism which allows change of person and
plurality in pronouns for reasons of social discretin.
Verse Nu11-15b, discussing Moses' reaction to God's anger
on the behavior of the Jewish people's complaints states
If you [God] do this to me [to make me alone deal with
all national complaints] then please kill me if I find grace in your
eyes so that I don't see my suffering.
We have shown above in rule #1, references, based on analogy with
similar statements in other verses, that the Bible really intended
please kill me if I find grace in your
eyes so that I don't see their suffering.
Here Rashi uses the universal rule of euphemism. Euphemism
allows substitution of different persons in pronouns to place distance from
a bad thought. Here their suffering a first-person-plural phrase is replaced
with my suffering a first-person-singular phrase. By not uttering the
word their Moses places distance from the expected punishment that will
befall the Jews.
Euphemism is a universal grammatical rule. A simple well known
example in English is use of the plural they for the singular his/her. Similarly in speaking about personal problems one might
use the third person.
Advanced Rashi: Rashi notes that there are 18 uses of euphemism in the Bible. The Hebrew idiom for euphemism literally
means the fix of the scribes. This literal translation has suggested to
some people that
the original biblical text was different but the Rabbis changed it.
But euphemism is not a biblical midrashic category!
It is a universal grammatical rule used in all languages. To assume that the original biblical text did not use it is to assume God is coarse but the Talmudic
sages fixed God's coarseness. This is rediculous. The truth of the matter is that
God in the Bible uses all rules of grammar including euphemisms.
Here is another way of looking at this. There are several rules governing
use of person - I, you, he. One rule deals with who is using it. But another rule
deals with deliberate deviations to avoid emotionally painful statements.
Both these approaches are valid! Therefore we need not see any problem in God using
On a very deep philosophical level this use by God of euphemism points to a
controversy between Judaism and Kant. Judaism believes that Peace is God's name
while truth is only God's seal. Kant however believed that truth is paramount.
But then we immediately see that the Jewish world view sees nothing wrong, on the contrary,
sees something right, in God deviating from the rules of pronouns for the sake of peace.
By contrast Kant, to whom truth was paramount, doesn't "understand" how a perfect God could
chose peace over Truth. Thus our affirmation that the original Bible was written with these
euphemism's is simply an affirmation that Judaism sees peace as taking precedence over truth.