Certain Biblical paragraphs are stated in a example form.
In other words an example of a law is stated rather than the full
general rule. The reader's task is to generalize the example.
The idea that all Biblical laws should be perceived as examples (unless
otherwise indicated) is explicitly stated by Rashi (Pesachim 6.).
This is a rule of style since the rule requires that a text be perceived
as an example rather than interpreted literally. The Rabbi Ishmael style
rules govern the interpretation of style.
God's granting the Jewish request for water
Take the rod, and gather the assembly together, you, and Aaron your brother,
and speak to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water,
and you shall bring forth to them water out of the rock; so you shall give the congregation and their cattles drink.
The Rabbi Ishmael example rule requires generalization
of this passage. In this case we simply generalize
(a) the Jews in the wilderness, (b) their cattle and (c) their need of water
(a) all Jews, (b) their property, and the property's needs:
God brings the needs of Jewish property to the Jews.
Advanced Rashi: A simple search engine query shows about 200 Rashis that use the style
From this text we learn.... Almost all these Rashis illustrate the Rabbi Ishmael generalization
rule. In past years in this email newsletter we have seen illustrated the following Rashis:
Bilam took two associates on the journey. Rashi:
From this text we learn that a distinguished person should always take two associates. or
Moses prayed for the nation. Rashi: From this text we learn that one should pray for somebody who
insulted him (the Jews had insulted Moses) if the person apologizes.
On any of these 200 Rashis it is always possible to probe deeper and show further support for the Rashi statement.
For example, in this Rashi we can cite a parallel passage where Jews seek water, Ex17-01:07. There although the
Jews ask for ...water for us and our cattle the text of the passage where God grants the request only mentions
....water will go out and the nation will drink. Using the alignment method we can see that both passages
invovle a request for water for the Jews and their cattle but God's responses are different in the two passages: In one
the nation is mentioned while in the other the nation and their cattle. This emphasis indicated by the alignment also justifies
that God specifically cares about Jewish property besides caring about Jewish lives. However even with the alignment we
need the generalization rule to generalize this passage to all Jews and all property (not just cattle).