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Thought for the Day: Rashi's Job in Chumash

In this week's parsah, vayigash, we get a listing of the members of klal yisrael.  Counted among Shimon's children is "Shaul, ben k'na'anis".  Rashi comments that this is the son of  Dina who had been with a k'na'ani and after they killed out Sh'chem she wouldn't leave Sh'chem until Shimon swore to marry her.  As usual, Rashi is just giving us p'shat when we see something a little different in the pasuk and ... hey!  Wait one darn minute!  Shimon and Dina are full brother and sister; they share the same father and mother!  Shouldn't there be more here?  Hmm... maybe Rashi doesn't like to explain himself?  No, that can't be it; just check out the huge Rashi (with charts, diagrams, and spreadsheets) at the end of parsha toldos explaining the Torah tells us that Machalas bas Yishmael was the sister of N'vayos to teach that Yaakov spent 14 years in Yeshiva Sheim v'Eiver.  So maybe Rashi just doesn't know, so he is being silent?  No, that can't be it either; check out another Rashi at the end of parsha toldos that he doesn't know what the Torah wants to teach by telling us that Rivka was the mother of Yaakov and Eisav.  Ok; then just how do we understand all this?

I often find that when all the data is contradictory, the problem is with the initial assumption and not with the data.  I propose that Rashi is not coming to explain Chumash at all.  Rather, he wants to show us to see Chumash through the eyes of Chazal.  To accomplish that, each Rashi will do one of three things.  The first kind of Rashi is just to tell me how to read a pasuk.  After all, before I can not what is out of the ordinary, I need to know what is ordinary.  Therefore Rashi will explain basic hebrew grammar.  At the end of parsha mikeitz, Rashi goes over how to conjugate verbs whose first root letter is tzadi or shin/sin/samech in the hispa'el construct.  Several times Rashi will point out that a hei at the beginning and end of a word can mean "moving toward" (he'hara - to the mountain).  Just the basics I need to read though the p'sukim and know when I should ask a question.

The second kind of Rashi is demonstrating obvious logical conclusions.  Such as the long Rashi about Machalas achos N'vayos.  Another example is where Rashi uses the dates in parsha No'ach to derive how deeply the teiva rode in the water.  Admittedly, what Rashi considers an obvious, logical conclustion and what you and I consider to be an obvious logical conclusion are two different things.  That is normal in the "obvious logical conclusion" game.  After all, what I consider an obvious logical conclusion about physics is not the same as what my wife does.  I have more experience with physics, so the obvious logical conclusions are more apparent to me.

Finally, once we know how to read a hebrew and how to see obvious derivations from the text, there is only one thing left: how Chazal read the Chumash.  When it comes to that, Rashi either simply reports the Chazal, or says he doesn't know one.  You want to know what that Chazal means?  Rashi would say, "Great!  Go investigate!  Now, next pasuk."

Rashi himself actually explains all of this in the second Rashi on Chumash: b'reishis bara this pasuk says nothing but "expound on me!"  And so he does.


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