Today, students of the Bible learn grammar from Biblical
Hebrew grammar textbooks. These textbooks organize material by
topics. Grammatical topics include a) verb mood and conjugation, b) plurality
agreement, c) pronoun reference, d) subject-verb-object sequencing, e) sentence
structure and type, f) the possessive and g) connective words, and many other topics.
However in Rashi's time gramamr was just beginning. There were no official
grammatical textbooks and tables. One of Rashi's functions was to teach grammar.
Rashi did not write a grammar textbook but instead left grammatical explanations
appended to each verse.
In today's example Rashi explains rules about gender. Some background
is useful. In Hebrew unlike English every word has a gender. Consequently
possessive suffixes must reflect proper gender agreement. A punchy way of
capturing Hebrew gender in English is to use in translations
the anthropomorphic terms his and her. Using this convention
we would translate Ex35-17 as follows:
[The wise will make...]
the hangings of the court, his pillars thereof, and her sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court;
The Rashi comment is now readily understandable: The word court can be both
masculine and feminine. Hence the switch in the verse: his pillars, vs.
Advanced Rashi: Rashi in his commentary simply introduces the idea of bi-gender words.
He does not explain why there is such a stark switch. However we can
easily suggest that sockets are receptacles and hence feminine while
pillars are masculine symbols.