Translated By: Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger
Studies in Rashi, contains 12 complete essays on Chumash Bereishit. The essays are presented, for the first time, in a bi-lingual Hebrew/English format.
Beginning in late 1964, after the passing of his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe began dedicating a segment of his weekly Shabbat public gatherings to the study of Rashi`s classic biblical commentary. What soon emerged was an innovative method for both the study and analysis of the Bible`s pre-eminent commentator, and Bible study itself. These talks continued for more than twenty-five years.
The publication of Studies in Rashi aims to open this unique dimension of the Rebbe`s scholarship to the ever-growing numbers of English speaking students aspiring to serious textual study.
To help the reader fully appreciate the essays, the volume is prefaced by a list of 17 "General Principles of Rashi" which form the basis for the Rebbe`s methodology in Rashi study.
Studies in Rashi, Bereishit, is the first in a series which will present one essay for each respective Torah portion.
The essays were translated by Rabbi Y. Eliezer Danzinger, and are fully annotated in Hebrew and English. The volume is further enhanced with a detailed bibliography and comprehensive index.
A great principle of Chasidic teaching is that we are obliged to respond to darkness with an increase of light. It was in this spirit that, not long after the passing of his mother, the Lubavitcher Rebbe began to devote numerous talks to in-depth explorations of the commentary of Rashi on the Torah.
Rashi - an acronym for Rabbi Shelomo Yitschaki - was a French rabbi whose commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud achieved an immediate fame that has lasted for a thousand years. In language that sets the standard for brevity and clarity, he tackled the most significant problems of interpretation that face students of the holy texts. His solutions have served as the starting point for his successors, who though they do not always agree with him, rarely ignore him and usually feel compelled to reference his remarks when they make their case.
While Rashi`s Talmud commentary was written for those who pick up Talmud study, and it requires the Talmud`s intellectual rigor and sophistication, Rashi`s commentary on the Bible in general and on the Torah in particular are consciously designed for a larger readership. Rashi announces his intentions near the beginning of his Torah commentary by saying: "I come only for the simple meaning of the text - peshuto shel mikra." Because of this focus on the simple meaning, Rashi`s Torah commentary is used not only by Talmudic scholars, but by a much wider audience that includes even by elementary-school children.
Scholars are as human as the rest of us, and over the years, there has been a temptation, if not to be dismissive of Rashi`s Torah commentary, at least to have low expectations of it. Its fruits had already been plucked, as they were accessible to allReal scholars would look elsewhere for insight. There was a though that this commentary is a training ground for beginners, worthy and holy in that function, but limited by its simplicity.
The Rebbe`s series of talks on Rashi`s Torah commentary, his Rashi sichos, showed how short-sighted such attitudes were. With his vast grasp of Jewish literature, his piercing vision and his elemental understanding of the order of that permeates Rashi`s approach, the Rebbe set forth in his own clear and well-ordered style to show how profound this seemingly simplest of commentaries really is.
The Rashi sichos have long been available in Hebrew and Yiddish and have held an honored place in the vast body of literature the Rebbe authored. Now, the team of rabbis at Kehot Publishing has translated twelve essays, one for each Torah portion of the book of Bereshit (Genesis), as the first in a series that should cover all five books of the Torah.
The commentaries that the Rebbe chooses to explicate are often seemingly simple, even innocuous. For instance, in commenting on Genesis 25:19 ("And these are Isaac`s toladot [offspring]"), Rashi writes simply: "And these are Isaac`s toladot - Jacob and Isaac who are spoken of [further on] in this portion." Yet despite the apparent simplicity, the microscope the Rebbe puts to this comment reveals so much that it is difficult to contain in a review of this short length.
A comment better admits summary is what Rashi writes on Genesis 23:9, in which Avraham is negotiating to buy a burial place for Sarah. Avraham says to the sons of Heth: "Let him (i.e., Efron) grant me the cave of Machpelah... for full money, let him grant it to me." Rashi comments: "For full money - I will pay its full value. And likewise, David said to Aravna, `for full money.`"
At first glance, this commentary seems absolutely transparent. What hidden depths could there possibly be here? But that very obviousness is the Rebbe shows to be a clue --- Rashi`s rule is only to explain that which is not obvious.
Another clue comes from the Rashi`s quote of King David, from a text in Chronicles - it seems merely to repeat what is said here in Genesis. Instead of simply accepting this as a repetitive, shallow comment, the Rebbe asks us to see what results we get if we proceed by assuming that there is something here too that is not as obvious and superficial as it seems.
Step by step, the Rebbe demonstrates how Rashi`s precise choice of words leads us to a profound understanding of what Avraham achieved in his purchase of the Cave of Machpelah. "Full money" meant the achievement of a complete severance of the property from its previous owners. Despite the fact that he could have achieved ownership in many other ways - "Abraham declined to take possession of it by right of law, or even to receive it as a free gift. Rather, he insisted on paying for its full value."
From this flow several insights. In the realm of law, the Rebbe shows how it clarifies the true reason why the Talmud doesn`t use this verse to establish that one can buy real estate with money - the insistence on full value does not allow us to conclude that a deal could hold even if one purchases property at beneath the market value.
In the realm of mystical insight, the Rebbe maintains that this shows us the necessity for even those most gifted to engage themselves in a full effort, and not to content themselves with gifts of the mind or spirit. One`s place in the world is gained only through the work of personal purification, giving one`s all.
Such insights abound in this book, all carefully derived from Rashi`s commentaries with patient, step-by-step analysis that gives the reader full confidence that this had to be Rashi`s intent, hidden though it was at first.
The translators faced the great challenge of finding a way to render the supple, flowing Yiddish and Hebrew syntax of the Rebbe into a natural, clear English. Imagine a winding, complex stream of words that has the musical feel of Walt Whitman or William Faulkner. Now couple this surge of words not to poetry or fiction but to Talmudic analysis and mystical theology, and you have something not at all easy to translate.
The many levels of allusion to Rabbinic and Biblical material, and the Talmudic style of extended and complex questioning do not lend themselves to English in an obvious way. For instance, the translators find themselves forced to use non-standard punctuation - curly brackets - to try to make clear to the reader the difference between parenthetical and bracketed statements of the author and the translators` addition of their own words of explication. A further distraction are the few transliterations which occasionally mismatch Sefardic diction with colloquial Yiddish pronunciations.
Yet in the end, though the reader may be temporarily distracted, the Rebbe`s thought gets through. And through the Rebbe`s words, we come into an exhilarating re-acquaintance with the familiar figure of Rashi, whose greatness stands spectacularly revealed in the Rebbe`s light.