(C) July 2006, RashiYomi Incorporated
This lesson is part of the Rashi Short Guide, the HTML Book version, (C) July 2006, RashiYomi Incorporated. The entire HTML-Book is located on the World Wide Web, at http://www.Rashiyomi.com/RashiShortGuideHTMLBook.zip and is a free download.

Lesson 3 of 6

Example 6.3

We begin today' lesson by reviewing material from previous lessons. Recall that when Rashi uses the synonym method he focuses on nuances in meanings between two words with almost identical meanings. Rashi shows how these nuances influence the meaning of the text.

Example 6.3a: Ex06-09a states And Moses spoke so to the people of Israel; but they did not listen to Moses because of their anguished spirit, and because of the cruel slavery. Rashi points out the obvious: Obviously they physically listened. However they did not accept Moses' consolation.

Here Rashi uses the fact that the Hebrew root meaning listen also means listen, accept, hear, understand, and receive news. Rashi would therefore translate this verse as follows: And Moses spoke so to the people of Israel; but they did not accept Moses [consolations] because of their anguished spirit, and because of the cruel slavery. Notice that a knowledge of Hebrew is not necessary to appreciate this Rashi. The same Rashi comment-- listen means accept --can equally be made in Hebrew or English! This is an important point for people, who don't know Hebrew, but want to master Rashi methods.

There is a subtlety here: In English listen and understand are synonyms, 2 words with almost identical meanings. But in Hebrew we have one Biblical Hebrew root, Shin Mem Ayin which has 4-5 meanings, listen, understand.... Technically we don't call one word with several meanings a synonym. However for purposes of the Rashi methods we will be indifferent whether we deal with two words with almost similar meanings or one word with several similar meanings. We will also return to this issue below.

Some other Rashis and Talmudic examples of interpretations of listen occur in the following verses:

Example 6.3b: Gn41-15a, Gn41-15b: And Pharaoh said to Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none who can interpret it; and I have heard about you, that you can understand a dream to interpret it. Here Rashi interprets listen as meaning understanding.

Example 6.3c: Gn11-07d: Come, let Us descend to earth, and confuse human language, so that they may not understand each other's language. Here again listen means understand.

Example 6.3d: Gn03-08b: And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Rashi states They [prophetically] heard the actual physical voice of God [the voice of prophecy] Here Rashi interprets listen as meaning physically hear.

Example 6.3e: Gn45-18a And the news reported in heard in Pharaoh’s house, was: Joseph’s brothers have come; and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants. Rashi suggests the following Pharoh's house news report was that Joseph's brothers have come... Here listen refers to a news report. [Note: Some Rashi-ists, would see Rashi's comment as dealing with the meaning of the phrase, Pharoh's house.]

This collection of examples should make the reader aware how useful the simple technique of synonyms is.

Example 4.3
WORD MEANINGS - special connective words

We also review the connective word rule. Every language has connective words--words like if, then, because, also, when, that, .... The function of these words is to connect separate phrases and sentences. Most connective words have several meanings. Rashi's goal in dealing with connective words is to list all their meanings.

Today we study the word also. Consider a simple sentence While you are going into the kitchen get me cake also.

    The word also has 3 possible meanings:
  • Similar item: Besides getting me milk get me cake also.
  • Similar relationship: Besides getting her cake get me cake also.
  • Derived item: Get me cake and get me plates, knives, and forks.

Let us now look at Biblical examples based on the connective word also.

Example 4.3a: Ex18-18b states You will certainly wear away, you also, and also this people who are with you; for this thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone. Rashi states: You and also Aaron; the people and also the High court. Here Rashi interprets also to refer to similar items.

Example 4.3b: Gn07-01:03 And the Lord said to Noah, Come you and all your house into the ark; for you have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every Kosher beast you shall take to you seven pairs, the male and his female; and of beasts that are not Kosher one pair, the male and his female. Of birds also of the air by seven pairs, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. Rashi paraphrased states The word also indicates that both birds and animals have 7 pairs (male-female) of Kosher animals and one pair (male-female) of Non-Kosher animals. Thus here Rashi interprets also to indicate a similar relationship. Even though the verse doesn't explicitly say that the 7 pairs of birds applies to Kosher birds, nevertheless Rashi, because of the word also, says that the 7 Kosher pairs and 1 non-Kosher pair applies to both birds and animals.

Example 4.3c: Dt22-22b If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they also shall die, both the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so shall you put away evil from Israel. Rashi explains: The two adulterers will die as well as the fetus (if the adulterers are executed and there is a pregnancy we don't wait for the baby to be born but execute them as is). Here Rashi interprets also to refer to a derived item, the baby derived from the adulteress relationship.

Example 4.3d
WORD MEANINGS - special connective words

Perhaps the most famous of the CONNECTIVE WORDS is the Hebrew letter Vav. This letter is traditionally translated as and. However like most Biblical special connective words it can mean and, or, if and in general can refer to any logical connection between two sentences. The meaning of and in any particular case is determined by its context.

The great Biblical commentator, the Malbim, a titan of the later authorities, in a beautiful and exquisite commentary on Lv20-09 analyzes two dozen Talmudic controversies between Rabbi Yonathan and Rabbi Yoshiah on the meaning of vav.

    Malbim in typical fashion rejects a literal translation of the controversy since it would make these Talmudic Rabbis look like fools. Consequently in typical razor like sharpness Malbim distinguishes three cases:
  1. Simple commands: Certainly in simple commands, a verse like Lv23-40 ....on the first day [of Succoth] take an ethrog and lulav and hadassim and aravoth the Hebrew letter vav means and.
  2. Simple prohibitions: Certainly in simple prohibitions, a verse like Lv21-14 a priest should not marry a widow or a divorcee... the Hebrew letter vav means or. Malbim uses modern logic to carefully explain that when a vav is translated as or it means inclusive or (and/or) while when the Hebrew word Aleph-Vav or is used it means exclusive or.
  3. Conditional Sentences: However Rabbi Yonathan and Rabbi Oshiah disagree on the translation of vav in a verse like Ex21-15:
    • One person holds it means or: He who smites his father or mother is subject to a death penalty.
    • The other holds it means and: He who smites [both] his father and his mother is subject to a death penalty. (So smiting only one of them would not subject you to a death penalty).

The above analysis should expose the reader to the complexity, richness and maturity of the CONNECTIVE WORDS rule. Malbim delicately traces the effects of this controversy on two dozen topics scattered throughout the Talmud and spanning the spectrum of Jewish law.

In connection with the special word rule I should also mention my recent paper The Meaning of Akh that appeared in the Journal of Biblical Literature,33#2,(2005). There I show that the Biblical connective word Akh means usually, probably, nevertheless. Some typical verses and examples are as follows:

Example 4.3e: Lv23-27a: On the tenth day of this seventh month there shall usually be a day of atonement; it shall be a holy gathering to you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. Rashi comments: Usually there will be atonement---in commandments between God and man; but in inter-personal commandments forgiveness is a prerequisite to atonement.

Example 4.3f: Dt16-15a: Seven days shall you keep a solemn feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God shall bless you in all your produce, and in all the works of your hands, therefore you shall usually rejoice. Rashi comments: Usually you shall rejoice---for most of the Holiday--but not on the first day(there is no obligation) when you are getting into the mood and still thinking about weekday matters. There is actually a controversy whether the usually excludes the first day, when we are getting into a mood, or the last day when we are preparing to resume ordinary life. Here again we see how a simple rule on word meaning heavily influences Talmudic controversy.

Example 3.3
GRAMMAR - noun-Verb

We continue our review of Rashi rules from previous lessons. Recall that one aspect of the grammar rule is the changing of nouns to verbs and vice verse.

In discussing the plague of hail Ex09-31a states And the flax and the barley were ruined; for the barley was springed, and the flax was fully-budded. Rashi paraphrased states springed is the verb form of the noun Spring. The word springed refers to something fully blossomed.

Here again a full knowledge of Hebrew is not necessary to appreciate the Rashi. The semantic transformation from noun to verb occurs in all languages.

Example 10.3
FORMAT - climax

Today we introduce a new rule, the climax rule. Unlike the word meaning and grammatical rules the climax rule is stylistic not mechanistic. As such the rule has a subjective flavor.

    Example 10.3a: Nu09-21:22a discusses the possible number of days that the cloud of glory stayed on the Tabernacle.
  • And so it was, when the cloud abode from evening to the morning, and the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed;
  • or it was by day and by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
  • Or whether it was two days,
  • or a month,
  • or a days, that the cloud stayed upon the tabernacle, remaining on it, the people of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not; but when it was taken up, they journeyed.

Rashi comments on the underlined sequence by day and by night, by day and by night, two days, month, days. Rashi focuses on the climactic nature of the list--the list items are increasing in numerical magnitude. For example two days is bigger than by day and by night; similarly month is bigger than two days. Hence the Rashi The underlined bold word days must, because of the climax principle, refer to a period bigger than a month. We conclude that days means a Year.

In understanding this Rashi it is important to emphasize what is not happening. Rashi is not using the word meaning rule. Rashi is not saying that days can mean a year in other contexts. Rather Rashi is saying that days, although it usually means a few days in the above context it means a year. This interpretation of days as meaning a year happens because of the climax principle which requires that the terminal member of a list of climatically listed items be interpreted to mean something greatest.

Finally we note that in this example the climax principle actually overrode the normal meaning of a word! This power of the climax principle is typical. We again emphasize that the climax principle is not mechanical. For example, the interpretation of days as meaning year vs. half a year or quarter is not forced but reasonable and based on conventions of language. This subjective nature of the climax rule is also typical.

    Example 10.3b: Ex07-28b:29 states And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come
  • into your house, and into your bed chamber, and upon your bed, and
  • into the house of your servants,
  • and upon your people, and into your ovens, and into your kneading troughs;

    Rashi does not add anything new to the verse but rather points out the climactic nature of the verse as indicated by the underlined phrases:
  • The plague started with Pharoh who instigated the evil decrees;
  • Next Pharoh's servants are mentioned who advised him on the evil
  • Finally the punishment of the nation is mentioned who carried out the orders.

    During class one of my students cited the very next verse in which the list is different.
  • And the frogs shall come up both on you,
  • and upon your people,
  • and upon all your servants.

Here the order, you,people,servants is different from the order in the original verse that Rashi commented on you,servants,people. We had a lively discussion in class discussing why. Such discussions, arising from a consistent application of Rashi principles are a necessary component in learning Rashi.

We did not reach any definite conclusion. The most reasonable answer is that the people and servants form a group--- even in a monarchy the servants have to be sensitive to the feelings of their constituency, the people. Similarly the people have to comply with the wishes of their leaders, the servants. Thus it would appear reasonable that Pharoh is mentioned first since he instigated everything and then the unit of people-servants was punished second. Hence Pharoh is listed 1st in both verses while the people, servants are listed in different orders.