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 study a Rashi based on a simple grammatical rule: agreement in plurality. That is,
a plural subject must refer not to one person but to several people.
Verse Nu21-27b discussing
the reaction to the defeat of Moab states
Wherefore the riddle-makers say: Come ye to Heshbon! let the city of Sihon be built and established!
The subject of the sentence, riddle-makers, is plural. In fact in the Biblical Hebrew the
verb of the sentence is also plural. The plural subject and predicate, according to the rules of grammar
must refer to a plurality of people. Hence the paraphrased Rashi comment:
Bilam was not the only riddle-maker. Bilam, was not a permanant prophet, but rather an interpreter (Nu22-05)
Bilam however aspired to become a prophet. He did this by practicing riddle-making since God spoke to the prophets
in riddle-like phrases (Nu12-05.) Apparently Bilam belonged to a school of such riddle-makers. In fact we
find an explicit verse Nu24-05...the oration of Bilam, his son [student] was Beor Although
Bilam's father was also named Beor (See Nu22-05) Bilam apparently affectionately named his star pupil
after his father. It is extremely reasonable to assume that Bilam founded a school of riddle makers who sought
by practicing riddles to know the knowledge of heavens and prophecy (Nu24-16)
To be fair Rashi only says The plural, riddle-speakers, refers to Bilam and Beor. However
what I attempted to do above, although speculative and conjectural, does have a basis.
All these are reasonable assumptions which enrich our understanding of Rashi - it also shows
that Rashi was insulting Bilam - Bilam was rather pathetic - he prepared for prophecy by studying
childish riddles and thought he knew the wisdom of God.
- I first point
out that Bilam was not a prophet.
- I then conjecture that he used riddle-styles to attempt to know God.
- Finally I suggest that he founded a school of riddle-speakers since people who
attempt to learn things usually gather in schools of people to conduct their research.
- Based on the above I then suggest that the strange construction, Bilam, his son was Beor
probably refers to his star pupil whom he named after his father.