Sunday, June 26, 2005

DovBear on the Parsha: Shelach

This is one of my all-time favorite of the Rashi/Ramban smackdowns.

[Numbers 15:39]

The total numerical value of the word tzitzith is six hundred, and together with the eight threads and five knots you have six hundred and thirteen [correspondiong to taryag, the six hundred and thirteen commandments.]

I do not understand this, for the word tzizith in the Torah is written without a [second] yud so the total numerical value is only five hundred and ninety! Moreover, the total number of threads in the opinion of Bes Hilel, is only three and the knots per Torah law are only two.

The Ramban's objection is facinating. Implications and questions:

1 - Did Rashi have a text of the Torah with a different spelling for the word tzizith? Or is he just playing a little loose with the rules of gematriah?

2 - Of course, Rashi knew that tzizis weren't required by Torah law to have eight threads and five knots; he knew that this arrangment was created by the Rabbis. (After all, he studied Menochoth.) Yet, on this verse Rashi suggests that tzizis serve to remind us of the commandments, because they have eight threads and five knots! Well, what if the Rabbi's had created another arrangment? The math would have turned out differently! And if the math had turned out differently, how, per Rashi, would tzitzis remind us of taryag?

Is Rashi suggesting that the rulings of our Rabbis were inevitable, and not contingent? Doesn't this view obviate free will?