Their presence in Rashis on Parshat Chukath-Balak Volume 12, Number 23
Rashi is Simple - Volume 35 Number 23
Used in the weekly Rashi-is-Simple and the Daily Rashi.
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July 3rd, 2009
The goal of this Weekly Rashi Digest is to use the weekly Torah portion to expose students at all levels to the ten major methods of commentary used by Rashi. It is hoped that continual weekly exposure to these ten major methods will enable students of all levels to acquire a familiarity and facility with the major exegetical methods.
Verse Nu21-27b discussing the defeat of Moab states Wherefore the riddle-speakers say: Come ye to Heshbon! let the city of Sihon be built and established! Rashi notes that the underlined words, riddle-speakers references verses Nu23-07 discussing Bilam's prophecies on the Jews. Hence the Rashi comment The phrase riddle-speakers in Nu21-27b references non-prophets like Bilam who, in preparation/hope for prophecy, would practice speaking in riddles. Nu23-07 explicitly refers to Bilam's riddle style (his riddle.)
Advanced Rashi: To fully appreciate this Rashi we must recall that although Bilam had some prophetic visions he was not called a prophet but rather an interpreter Nu22-05. Apparently he hoped to become a permanant prophet. Towards that end he practiced speaking in riddles since most prophets communicate their prophecies in riddle-like phrases (cf Nu12-06.) So when the Nu21-27 speaks about the statements of the riddle-makers Rashi correctly identifies this with a school of non-prophets like Bilam who (incorrectly) thought that practicing riddles would prepare them for prophecy. In other words, Rashi's statement that Riddle-makers refers to Bilam is really a pejorative insult.
When Rashi uses, what we may losely call, the hononym method, Rashi does not explain new meaning but rather shows an underlying unity in disparate meanings. Rashi will frequently do this by showing an underlying unity in the varied meanings of a Biblical root.
In my article Peshat and Derash found on the world wide web at http://www.Rashiyomi.com/rashi.pdf. I advocate enriching the Rashi explanation using a technique of parallel nifty translations in modern English. Today's examples show this.
Advanced Rashi: The following comments give insights into the whole drama of Biblical interpretation. There is only one verse in the entire Bible where the Hebrew Shin-Ayin-Lamed means what I have translated foot. The verse, Is40-12 states Who has measured sea [depths] with his foot or fixed the horizon with his fist... Because this verse talks about measurement some have interpreted Shin-Ayin-Lamed to refer to a cupped hand. So the verse would read Who has measured waters with his cupped hand.... These same people see a cupped hand as a hollow and then they interpret the verse in Numbers as The angel stood in a hollow between vineyards with a fence on each side. These people would then name a fox by the hollows foxes hide in.
There is no way to settle this contrversy between the hollow translation and the foot-walk translation. The reason there is no way to settle this is that there are so few Biblical verses with these terms. Appealing to other languages also does not help as these terms are rare in other languages. I brought this controversy to show the flavor of Biblcial interpretation. It is a dynamic and exciting field, begging for creativity, with researchers basing inference on extremely little evidence.
I also brought this example to show the why of this email newsletter. Both translations use the same fundamental meaning-hononym method. In other words the methods presented in this newsletters are universal rules of interpretation which all agree to.
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.
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)
The table below presents an aligned extract of verses or verselets in Nu24-13, Nu22-18. Both verses/verselets discuss Bilam's refual to violate God's orders. The alignment justifies the Rashi comment that: Note the contrast indicated by the underlined phrases. Initially Bilam thought of himself as the person who connects to God and spoke about my God. After Bilam tried to curse the Jews he realized he misued his spiritual powers and that God was no longer my God. He realized he sinned and had fallen into disfavor. Hence when he quotes himself he leaves out the phrase, My God.
Advanced Rashi: Some alignments are more explicit. For example the Decalogue speaks about the prohibition of making vs. having idols thus explicitly indicating two prohibitions: manufacture and possession of idols. By contrast some alignments are more discrete indicating their messages with omissions rather than with explicit contrasts.
I am indebted to Dr. Aviva Zornberg's new book, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections of the Biblical Unconscious, for inspiring the understanding of this Rashi. I was at the launching of this book at Pardes in June a few weeks ago. There professor David Shulman used Indian philosophy to describe Aviva's book as studying silence. The book describes several types of silences and the communications implicit in them. Aviva picked up this theme in her own talk on her book. Using Kabbalistic terminology she distinguished between voice and words Frequently the Biblical text will give voice without words and it is important to understand the implied content. You can google the book title to find reviews or purchase it.
Using these concepts we can see the omission of my God by Bilam as a silence indicating guilt and a sense of failure in his relationship with God. Note that there are emotional overtones to this awareness. Many people prefer to hint at failure - say through silences - rather than admit them outright. So the Biblical communication of this awareness of Bilam through silence is better than say a communication through explicit words. Indeed, the Bible's goal is not to make explicit everything it wishes to communicate. It is important to God to communicate emotions and feelings as well as facts. In this passage God is telling us the very interesting fact that even a wicked person like Bilam felt embarassed and ashamed by his failure; he therefore hinted at his failure through a contrastive silence of omission rather than through explicit statements.
Using the above analysis we can distinguish between the alignments presented in this newsletter and further commentary. The alignment rule points to a contrast indicated by an omission. That is the sole goal of the alignment rule; to uncover such nuances embedded in contrasts. The alignment is the objective component of the Biblical comment. Each commentary and person then uses the uncovered aligned nuances to extract important emotional and moral points that the Bible is trying to communicate.
The table below presents two contradictory verses. Both verses talk about Moab-Edomite relations. The underlined words highlight the contradiction. One verse says Moab and Midyan were at war while the other verse says Moab sought an alliance with Midyan against their common enemy, the Jews. Which is it? Were Moab and Midyan enemies or allies? Rashi simply resolves this using the 2 Aspects Method method: Moab and Midyan were enemies. But their enmity of the Jews was so great that it dwarfed their hatred and made them allies.
Advanced Rashi: This Rashi is modern in flavor with overtones and implications for possible alliances against Israel by nations that were formerly without diplomatic relations. It also sheds light on alliances relating to holocast activities of Nazi Germany.
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.
Verse Nu20-08a discussing God's granting the Jewish request for water states 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 from (a) the Jews in the wilderness, (b) their cattle and (c) their need of water to (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).
We have explained in our article Biblical Formatting located on the world wide web at http://www.Rashiyomi.com/biblicalformatting.pdf, that the Biblical Author indicated bullets by using repeating keywords.
That is, if a modern author wanted to get a point across using bullets - a list of similar but contrastive items - then the Biblical Author would use repeating keywords. Today's verse illustrates this principle.
Bullets whether indicated through modern notation or through the Biblical method of repeating keywords always indicate contrastive emphasis - that is, each bullet is presumed to be a distinct item contrasted to the other items on the list. Very often the bullets are also used to indicate that the entire list of exhaustive of some spectrum.
But if the latter is the simple meaning of the verse why did Rashi exclusively state the destroyed Temples atone? By doing this Rashi avoids the broader meaning of the text and focuses on exceptional cases (Destroyed temples/exile). I would argue however that the simple meaning of the text - mansions, temples - is clear. Rashi's job was to add meanings not obvious. It is fallacious to assume that the Rashi comment was meant to exhaust the verse's meaning. Rather the Rashi comment was meant to supplement the verse's meaning. Rashi expected the teacher to supplement Rashi's advance meaning with the simple meaning of the text.
This approach - supplement vs exhaust - is fundamental to understanding Rashi and will enrich the Rashi experience of all students of Rashi from young to old and from novice to advanced.
Today we ask the database query: Is God formal or does He use conversation openers to soften people up? The reader is encouraged to perform the query using a standard Biblical Konnkordance or search engine. These database queries yield the list below. The list justifies the following Rashi inference: God does use conversation openers and conversational styles. (1) Some prophets use these conversation openers which soften the confrontation and repent. (2) Some prophets obstinately continue their sin despite the conversation openers. (3) With some people (who did not sin) the conversational chatty style prepares them for a difficult prophecy. The list below presents the results of the database query and show examples
Advanced Rashi: The above Rashi is a treat. The Rashi is based upon a Midrash Rabbah. Rashi, in his usual terse style does not bring all examples. I have brought the full Midrash Rabbah to show how Rashi takes an entire Midrash and make a Rashi.
Of special note in this example is the fact that God, Himself,uses conversation openers. Rashi-ists frequently teach us that every word of the Torah must have some hidden deep meaning. This is not so! What is true is that every word is Holy. But holyness should not be equated with lack of redundancy. Redundancy in speech is an important social skill that enables us to maintain social relations. And if verbal redundancy has moral value (for our social relationships) it is a strong reason for God Himself setting an example and showing us how to use conversation openers.
Finally we point out Rashi's sense of humor. Rashi is not, like the Midrash Rabbah, a stuffy professor with elaborate database queries. Rashi also avoids playing the sermonist - that God used conversational openers to get people to repent. After all, Rashi would say, Bilam didn't repent. Indeed, he was evil. How could he repent. So Rashi humourously says God used a conversation opener to make him fail - Bilam would think God is asking the question because He didn't know and further rebel. From a psychological point of view the Rashi gives insights: Bilam was incapable of having a social life. He didn't even recognize a conversation opener when it was given to him. Everything with Bilam was an issue of power. No wonder he failed!
Verse Nu24-07b discussing the blessings of Bilam states Water shall flow from his branches, and his seed shall be on many waters; and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. Rashi comments: Plants especially thrive better in watery grounds. So the intent of the verse is his seed shall thrive especially well.
Since Rashi elucidates the meaning of the verse by citing agricultural facts we classify this Rashi as use of a non-verse method. In fact Rashi's use of agriculture here is modern in flavor, resembling the modern use of archeological findings to clarify the Biblical text. Both are examples of non-verse methods.
Advanced Rashi: There is advanced symbolism here. The lion, in secular poetry is typically the symbol of military prowess. But the Torah asks, And what do you do when you have won? Jews are not interested in leading a military life. The ability to dwell in power without fear of worrying about the next war is an important blessing (and relevant to the current modern situation).