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 present a Rashi which is best understood using
rules of word sequence. Verse Nu13-23 discussing
the Israeli fruit brought back by the spies states
And they came unto the valley of Eshcol,
and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes,
and they bore it upon a double pole; they took also of the pomegranates, and of the figs.--
The Rashi on this is charming, fascinating and beautiful.
The literal translation of the phrase with the underlined word is
[they] carried it with a pole in twos. Rashi in effect
points out that there are two possible interpretations of this phrase.
Using modern Talmudic methods of Briskian clarification
we see that the point of issue between the two interpretations is whether
- Interpretation 1:
Two carried it with a pole in twos.
- Interpretation 2:
[they] carried it with a double pole.
Rashi explains that Two is part of the indirect object - they carried
the fruit with a double pole.
- two is the subject of the sentence, that is,
who carried the fruit, or
- two is part of the indirect object of the sentence, that
is with what was the fruit carried.
I would argue that the most forceful way of proving Rashi's
interpretation is to use the modern idea of word sequencing.
In both English and Hebrew a sentence subject would be sequenced
early in the sentence proximate to the verb: For example in the follow
two sentences two functions as a grammatical subject: Two carried it on a pole
or They carried it by pairs of people on a pole. But in the verse being studied,
Nu13-23 the word
two is distant from the verb. Consequently
Rashi interprets it as an indirect object: They carried it by
poles in [pole] pairs.
Advanced Rashi:Before proceeding to further explain Rashi I give another example
of a Rashi based on word sequence. A recurring phrase in
the gifts of the princes (Nu07) is a young one ox.
I think most people can see the improper word sequence; it should
read one young ox. Here we use the rules of adjective
sequences. It is a rule that numerical adjectives have a specific
place in the sentence - a young one ox is simply wrong
grammatically, wrong from the viewpoint of word sequencing.
Rashi therefore reinterprets one as meaning unique,
that is, one of a kind. The resulting phrase now reads
a young unique ox or as Rashi explains unique [best] in
Rashi does not explain either
of these comments explicitly using the concept of word sequence.
Rather Rashi focuses on word redundancy: If it uses the singular
ox don't I know that it is one. Since the word one
is redundant we reinterpret this to mean unique. Similarly Rashi
on the verse in Nu13-23b states If if uses the plural, they
carried don't I know that there were two. Since the word two is
redundant we must apply it to the poles (rather than the people).
But as we have explained many times in this list, Rashi frequently
expresses his comments using puns and exaggerations. Such
expression facilitates memorability. However the form in which Rashi
expresses his coNovents do not necessarily indicate the actual reason
for the Rashi comments. In fact there are many occurrences of ones and twos throughout
the Bible. If Rashi comments only on those verses with improper word
sequencing I think it proper to take word sequencing as the real reason
for Rashi's comment.