Rashi on Bereishit

Part of the my project for the year isn’t just to make my own commentary as I reread the Torah, but also to find some commentary from others and try and read and understand that. And in the Jewish theological world, one of the key voices was “Rashi”, otherwise known as Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. Rabbi Yitzhaki lived in the 11th and early 12th century and wrote comprehensive commentary on the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. I’ve picked up a copy (in English, with explanations) of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah and will be following along with him as I read. Sometimes, I’ll try and post something about it.

If you are following the calendar, you’ll notice that I’m already behind. It’s week two and I should be writing something about Noach, but I’m not quite in the swing of things yet so please forgive me.

I’m not going to claim to follow Rashi’s deeper explanations of the text and there is so much that he talks about that I don’t really have the context to describe properly. Although I fear it reduces his work to the least common denominator, I’ve pulled out some things that either he discusses or comments on from the text. Some of it is very weird. As I understand it, Rashi postulated that the Torah was perfect and, as such, it states in the fewest number of words necessary to make the desired point. In places where it appears to use more words than necessary, that is because there is deeper meaning to the repetition that must be pulled out. The corollary is that if the Bible says something, it is important, no matter how trivial it may seem. Much of his commentary (to me) appears to be fully utilizing the words that are available to draw conclusions of meaning that we may not ourselves make.

The weirdest thing that Rashi comments on is the belief that the entire story of the Fall of Man literally happens in one day (presumably the sixth day). That is, in the morning God creates man, he does the gathering of animals to name them, he creates a woman from the man’s side, she is tempted by the snake, and before nightfall they are cast out of the garden. That’s not so bad, actually, since the text doesn’t give a lot of time references. It appears that more time passes, but since the Torah doesn’t say that more time passes, Rashi suggests that it must not have. Furthermore, Cain and Able were also born on that very busy day, along with three unnamed sisters. (One twin of Cain, and two twin girls of Able. Cain and Able themselves were not twins.)

Clearly, the fastest pairs of multiple-birth pregnancies in the history of the world. And since it was prior to God creating birth pains, Eve was probably able to read a magazine or catch up on the latest Garden gossip while in labor.

(Note: My text says that Rashi drawls allusions to this belief of the single-day fall in his commentary, supporting it, but this isn’t his idea and came from one of the works that came before.)

Some other interesting ideas in here is the “proof” that God wrote not only write the Torah in Hebrew, but that Hebrew was the Adamic language, the tongue spoken by humanity prior to the Tower of Babel. How does he prove this? The idea is based on a pun from Adam’s speech/poem to God in Genesis 2:23:

“This one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

In Hebrew, like in English, the word for “man” is very closely related to the word for “woman”. (or “male” and “female” or however you translate it). In Hebrew they are “ish” and “ishshah”, according to one of my study bibles. But this punning on the similar words in God’s speech doesn’t work, according to Rashi, in the other common languages of the day and only makes true sense in Hebrew. Therefore, he deduces, that the original language of the Torah (and the original language for that poem) must be Hebrew. Someone out there someplace must be using this to validate that Adam and Eve spoke English. I hesitate to do a Google search because those websites can be scary.

Other things I pulled out:

  • The motivation for the snake tempting Eve: It was a complex (and ill-founded) plot to somehow kill off Adam by having Eve convince him to eat the fruit. I’m not sure I follow this, but she ruined it by eating first.
  • Why did Eve offer Adam a piece of the fruit to eat: She knew that she might die and she was afraid that he would take another wife, so if he ate too and also died she wouldn’t need to worry about that. (Rashi does NOT paint women very well. I like my explanation better.)
  • Why type of fruit was the tree of knowledge of good and evil: A fig tree. (Which is why the fig leaves were so convenient.) (He also brings up several times the notion that a tree should exist whose fruit tastes the same as the rest of its flesh and that God was very unhappy that it didn’t.)
  • What was Lamech’s crime: He killed Caine. (And by Lamech, I mean the one descended from Cain, not Seth. There appear to be two of them born around the same time in the two trees. That must have been a popular name in the baby name books that year.) Moreover, he tells a complex story where Tubal-cain, Lamech’s son, has Lamech kill Cain by accident and then Lamech kills his son too.
  • Why did Encoh walk with God: Unlike the view that I’ve always heard, that Enoch prefigured the messiah by being ascended into heaven, Rashi actually believes that God took him up into heaven early because he was feeble-minded and it kept him out of trouble.

There are lots of things to think about and I am doing Rashi a disservice by telling only of his conclusions, but not describing (as best I can) his thought processes that led to these conclusions. Even so, this is a very interesting view into an earlier interpretation of the Torah.

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