rashihed.jpg (16002 bytes)

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)


by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashas B'ha'aloscha (64)

The rule for understanding Rashi: Simplify, simplify, simplify

Numbers 8:3

And Aaron did so. Toward the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps as Hashem had commanded Moses.


And Aaron did so: Rashi: [This is stated] in order to tell the praise of Aaron, that he did not deviate.

Those familiar with Rashi will recall that he has made similar comments on other verses in the Torah. (see Exodus 12:28; Leviticus 8:36; 16:34; Numbers 8:22).

Our analysis here is relevant to Rashi's comments there as well.

Let us begin our analysis somewhat differently this time.

We will start with what's bothering Rashi, because that is easier to deal with than other questions that can be asked.

Do you know what prompted him to make this comment?

Your Answer:

What Is Bothering Rashi?

An Answer: These words are totally unnecessary. Of course Aaron did what Moses told him to do. Would we have expected him to be insubordinate? So the Torah does not have to mention this at all. It should be obvious that Aaron fulfilled this mitzvah. Thus these words are unnecessary.

This is what's bothering Rashi. How does Rashi deal with this?

Your Answer:

Understanding Rashi

An Answer: Rashi says that these apparently extra words tell us that Aaron fulfilled the mitzvah exactly, without the slightest deviation. This phrase then, is necessary because it tells us of Aaron's faithful fulfillment of G-d's command.

But, this is a strange statement. What would you ask on this comment?

Your question:

Questioning Rashi

A Question: It is strange to say that Aaron should be praised for doing what he was told to do. What is so special and deserving of praise if Aaron did as he was told to do? The question is especially cogent when this is a command from G-d. Most of us would follow faithfully any mitzvah that G-d singled us out personally, by name, to do. Why, then, is Aaron entitled to any "special mention" for this?

Some Suggested Understandings of Rashi

Before we go on to see Rashi's important message, let us look at two explanations of this comment.

1) "This teaches us that Aaron carried out this mitzvah personally and did not assign the task to one of the other priests, even though it included the menial aspect of preparing wicks involving soot and oil."

This explanation raises a simple question: If I were in that situation would I assign a mitzvah given to me by G-d to someone else? Certainly not; and it is hard to imagine that Aaron would do so.

2) "Aaron did not deviate from his initial fervor in carrying out the mitzvah. It never became a matter of routine for him."

This explanation raises other difficulties: This verse is speaking of Aaron on his first day of his work in the Tabernacle. How can we deduce that his fervor did not wane later on? Secondly, where does the Torah refer to Aaron's fervor? It says "he did so" It doesn't say how he did what he did.

There is an important point to make here. If we are to fully understand Rashi's brilliant work, it is not sufficient to give an explanation for his words. We must search for a reasonable explanation. Rashi wrote his commentary to be understood in a reasonable way, it is for us to think reasonably, likewise in our effort to probe the depth of his thought.

Do you have a reasonable explanation for this comment?

Your Answer:

Understanding Rashi

An Answer: All our assumptions may be correct - it is obvious that Aaron would do what he was told to do; it is equally obvious that we too would have fulfilled this command to the letter, since it is a divine command given to us personally. It is, therefore, no big revelation that Aaron did what he was told to do without deviating, and the Torah needn't have told us this. What is a revelation is that the Torah did make a point of mentioning his obedience. The explicit mentioning of Aaron's positive behavior - even though his behavior wasn't unusual, is precisely the lesson Rashi is telling us. We must take Rashi at his word quite simply. He wrote "This is in order to praise Aaron…" This verse, as Rashi's comment shows us, teaches us the importance of acknowledging recognition for any good act, no matter how unexceptional it might be.

The Educational Lesson

There is a cynical saying that goes "No good deed goes… unpunished!" Unfortunately that may be so (occasionally) in human affairs, but the Torah tells us how G-d deals with people and how we should also deal with people. No good deed, however obvious, should go unrecognized. The important educational message here should be evident. When a child, a student, a spouse or a worker does good work or a good deed, even though we expect it of him, we must always show recognition for his positive behavior, acknowledge it and hold it up for praise. A good act remains a good act, whether it is exceptional or not.

Shabbat Shalom

Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The Rashi Institute is preparing a new, original volume of What's Bothering Rashi? We are in need of sponsors for this project. For those interested please write us and we will supply the details.

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to parsha@shemayisrael.co.il

Jerusalem, Israel