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The commentary of Rashi on the Torah is not simply another commentary. As a pirush, Rashi stands in his own league both in terms of his authority and eminence. Why is this so? In addition to his scholarship, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah is not entirely his own. Rashi rarely uses his own voice. Rashi almost exclusively quotes the mesorah of Chazal regarding how to understand the Torah Shebeksav.
While of course there are other medrashim from Chazal, the medrashim that Rashi selects have become the basic mesorah of Klal Yisrael regarding how to understand and relate to the Chumash.
Rashi’s commentary is famously very concise. But that brevity often leaves us with two questions;
- What is the deeper meaning of each Rashi/Chazal?
- How did Rashi/Chazal glean the insights from the words of the pesukim?
For example, when the Torah describes (Bereishis 28, 11) that Yaakov leaves Be’er Sheva for Charan, Rashi writes (Ibid 28, 17) “that Har Hamoria jumped to where he was staying.” That is very wonderful to know, but what is the deeper message of the fact that the mountain jumped toward him? What are we being taught by that Rashi? Similarly Rashi writes (Ibid 28, 13) that when Yaakov slept that night, Hashem folded the entire land of Israel beneath him. How are we to understand this Rashi? What is its deeper message?
The Sfas Emes is a brilliant commentary that provides insight into Rashi. In fact, nearly 80% of all of his entries can be seen as a commentary unpacking the depth of the ideas that Rashi quotes. The Sfas Emes often uses the derech of the Maharal to unpack the p’nemius, the deeper message of Rashi, and presents it in a very inspirational and brilliant way. When I was teaching a largely non-religious audience in the Boston area, I found the message of the Sfas Emes to inspire Jews of all different backgrounds and levels.
The difficulty is that the Sfas Emes is not organized as a commentary on Rashi and is not easy to identify which Sfas Emes comment corresponds to the pertinent Rashi. To resolve this problem, I organized the Sfas Emes into a commentary on the words of Rashi in a sefer called “Biur HaSfas L’pmnimius Shel Rashi.” It is now easy to find which Sfas Emes comments on Rashi, including the beautiful approaches explaining the symbolism and depth of the mountain jumping and Eretz Yisrael folding mentioned above.
Organizing the Sfas Emes in this manner also has the added benefit of making the Sfas Emes much easier to understand. The Sfas Emes has a (deserved) reputation as a difficult sefer to comprehend because it is often written in a short and cryptic style. But when all of his explanations on one particular Rashi and Chazal are grouped together, reading all of his entries on a Rashi together helps to clarify his insights.
This leads us to the second question raised above – how did Rashi/Chazal glean their insights from the words of the pesukim? Of course the answer is that Chazal had a mesorah how to understand each verse, but the question then becomes how does this mesorah fit into the words of the passuk?
For example in a much maligned verse, the Torah writes, (Devarim 25, 12) “Vekatzosa es kapah – You shall cut off her hand,” Rashi quotes Chazal that this doesn’t mean that her hand should be cut off rather “katzosa es kapah” is an idiomatic way of saying that she should pay a monetary fine for publicly embarrassing someone.
How do Chazal see that explanation in the passuk?
The Baal Haturim is a very beautiful commentary that also helps understand Rashi and Chazal. His main goal is to find remazim (allusions) in the Torah to the words of Chazal. Very often he finds remazim for the words of Rashi.
For example, commenting on the above Rashi, the Baal Haturim explains how Chazal know that “katzosah es kapah” means paying a fine. He says that the word “kapah” is used only two times in all of Tanach. (Two in the mesores.) One is in the citation here in Devarim and the second is in Aishes Chayil, “Kapah parsa le’ani” – her palm is extended to the poor. It is clear that in Aishes Chayil “kapah parsa” means to open one’s palm to give money to the poor. Just as kapah is an idiom referring to a hand giving money, so too in Devarim, “katzosah es kapah” refers to a hand giving money.
As another example, when the Torah commands (Shemos 13, 9) to put tefillin on your hand, Rashi and Chazal explain that it means the left hand. Where is there a remez in the verse that it is referring to the left hand? The Baal Haturim tersely explains,
והיה לך לאות על ידך בגימטריא זרע שמאל
He means that that the words in the passuk commanding to put on tefillin והיה לך לאות על ידך – “And it shall be for you a sign on your arm” – are the same gematria as the term זרע שמאל – left hand.
There are nearly one thousand examples of these inspiring remazim (using gematria, mesores, or roshei teivos) that show how the words of the pirush of Rashi are actually embedded in the pesukim itself.
When teaching middle school-aged children, I have found that it can be a very inspiring “spice” to occasionally show how the words that Rashi uses have the same exact gematria as the part of the passuk he is explaining. When one sees example after example of this, it becomes clear that the pirush of Rashi is not just another commentary, but it is the mesorah of Torah Shebaal Peh and that mesorah of Chazal is embedded in the words of Torah Shebeksav.
However, the Baal Haturim is not organized as a commentary to Rashi, and it is easy to miss remazim to Rashi. Moreover, Baal Haturim comments to Rashi can often be in an entirely different Parsha. To address this issue, I have gathered and organized all the Baal Haturims as a commentary on the words of Rashi. The Birkas Peretz, by the Steipler Gaon, does the same thing and I have included his commentary as well. I have called this collection “Rayos Niflaos Lepirush Rashi.”
I have been sharing both “Biur HaSfas L’pmnimius Shel Rashi” and “Rayos Niflaos Lepirush Rashi” on the Parsha in a weekly email update called “Pnimius Shel Rashi.”
If you would like to receive these two resources for free you can click HERE to receive it as a weekly update.
You can also click here to see the latest examples.