Friday, August 05, 2005

Rashi rocks

Today is the 900th yartzheit of Rashi, the outstanding Biblical commentator of the Middle Ages.

Fun facts to know and tell from Yeranen Yaakov

We're all related to Rashi via Miriam and Me.

A tribute, by Amshinover

And fascinating examples of Rashi's work from this week's sedra via
Avigdor Bonchek

Because Rashi is so popular, he's perhaps the most widely misunderstood of all the biblical commentators. His commentary isn't meant to be an anthology of midrashim; and, pace the faculty of my high school, his purpose isn't to fill in blanks in the narrative, or to tell us what really happened behind the scenes.

Here's the closest thing we have to his mission statement:

There are many Aggadaic expositions which our Sages have already organized in their proper order in Bereishis Rabbah and in other Midrashim. But, I have come only to to give the plain meaning of Scripture and the Aggadah which serves to clarify the words of Scripture in a way which fits those words. [Gen 3:8]

Most of the time, Rashi commented on chumash only when he saw an anomaly or maculation in the verse that calls out for an explanation. Then he used his knowledge of midrash or grammar to solve the problem, often choosing between competing midrashim. In short, for Rashi the midrashim were a tool for solving problems in the text. Whether or not Rashi took the midrashim literaly is of secondary importance.