Simplicity - A basic rule in Torah interpretation
And I took the heads of your tribes ,wise and known men and I made them heads over you. Officers of thousands, officers of hundreds, officers of fifties, and officers of tens and police for your tribes.
Officers of Thousands: Rashi: One who is appointed over a thousand.
A Question: This comment seems totally unnecessary. It appears to say what the verse itself says.
What's bothering Rashi that prompted him to make this comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The meaning of the words "officers of thousands," are unclear. Since the words "officers" and the word "thousands" are both in the plural, the verse can be interpreted to mean, many officers, each officer being in charge of many thousands.
How does Rashi's comment clear up matters?
An Answer: Rashi makes it very clear: One officer appointed over just one thousand soldiers.
But how does Rashi know that this is correct? Maybe, in fact, the verse means "officers each of which is in charge of thousands."
To know why Rashi chose this interpretation over the other, one must be familiar with a principle that Rashi relies on in interpretation.
What is that principle?
A FULLER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: On the verse in Genesis 21:34 Rashi lays down a principle of interpretation. He says the Torah would not state things in an ambiguous way. Therefore, when we have two (or more) possible interpretations of a verse and we must choose between them, we should choose the least ambiguous; the one that gives us the clearest meaning. In our case, if the verse meant "officers of thousands" we would have no way of knowing how many officers were in charge of how many thousands of soldiers. On the other hand, if we say the verse means "one officer for one thousand" its meaning is very clear. So Rashi chose the interpretation that was the clearest.
Rashi's rule of interpretation is the rule used by most classical Torah commentaries. That is to seek the simplest interpretation that fits best with the Torah's words.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at Judaica bookstores.
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