When using the grammar method Rashi will instruct
students in Hebrew grammar similar to the instruction found
in modern day textbooks.
A classical part of all Hebrew
grammar courses are the rules for conjugation of verbs.
All verb roots may be conjugated in 7 dimensions: a) passivity (active-passive)
b) modality(will-should), c) person (I, you, he), d) plurality,
e) tense (past-future-infinitive), f) gender, g) object, h) connective
preposition. A standard quick good summary for conjugation is the
appendix of the Ibn Shoshan dictionary.
Hebrew roots are considered three-letter objects. The midieval
nomenclature for these three letters are Pay, Ayin, Lamed
while the current notation is 1,2,3. For example a Biblical
root whose first letter is Yud would be called in midieval
terminology a Pay Yud root while in modern terminology it
would be called Yud-2-3 root. Both terminologies indicate
that the first letter of the root is Yud. The conjugation rules
for Yud-2-3 roots differ from the conjugation rules for
ordinary roots. Table 2 of Ibn Shoshan gives the conjugation rules
of these roots over the four dimensions of activity, tense, gender, person.
Young Yeshiva students are frequently taught (or forced to memorize)
these tables. Studying these tables immediately yields the Rashi comment:
changes to a Vav in the passive, causative, and passive-causative
(Nifal, hifil, hofal) modes. The Yud however remains
in the Qal, Piel, Pual, and Hithpael modes.
Advanced Rashi: The above is a paraphrase of Rashi. Rashi actually only literally says that: The Yud
changes to a Vav when the mode is passive. But as shown above this is
only partially true. For example the Yud does not change to a Vav
in the Pual - Passive-intense mode. Similarly the Yud changes
to a Vav in the active-causative mode.
We conclude that the Rashi comment is only a rough approximation and
not 100% accurate. I conjecture that Rashi used such rough approximations
as a pedagogic technique. Rashi taught the basic rule which experienced teachers
would then amplify on.
The above analysis is very useful to those who think that the best approach
to Rashi is to be literal and defend every minutae of Rashi. Such an approach
does not always yield true results. To recap: Rashi said that Yud changes
to Vav in passive situations but as seen this is only true in two out
of the three passive tenses. Rashi expected the teacher and student to fill in
the missing details.
Such an approach to Rashi is mature, deep and enriching. It sees Rashi as
blazing a path while leaving it to others to smooth the path and pave it so it is