There are two approaches to teaching general principles:
- One can state the abstract idea
- One can state a good example and let the reader infer the
Interestingly, computer science studies, show that both
methods of instruction are equally effective. Some students
learn better from exposure to abstract ideas while other students
learn better from exposure to good examples.
The technique of communicating an abstract principle
via examples is known as the Rabbi Ishmael Style rules.
It is a matter of style that an example is viewed more
generally instead of restrictively.
Here is a simple example: Ex21-28a states that
an owner must pay when his ox causes damage.
Rashi, following the Talmud generalizes this: An owner
must pay when his animal causes damage. Here
the animal is the general abstract class while the ox
is the specific example. The Bible teaches the general rule
using the specific example. This follows the Rabbi Ishmael
Verse Gn30-01c states
And when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children,
Rachel envied her sister; and said to Jacob,
Give me children, or else I am dead.
Rashi comments on the underlined phrase Give me children
or else I am dead by using the Rabbi Ishmael Style
This is a general principle
and does not apply only to Rachel:
Any barren women emotionally feels
as if she is dead.
The focus of the Rashi point is on the extreme loneliness
of not having children. Modern man is aware of needs for
food, sex and shelter. But there are other equally strong
emotional needs; having children is one of them, especially