by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Back to this week's parsha | Previous Issues
A series of Rashi-comments that grapples with understanding a difficulty in the Torah by means of both p'shat and drash.
"Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days and you shall bring a new meal-offering to Hashem."
"The seventh Sabbath. Rashi: As the Targum has it: The seventh week.
Fifty days and you shall bring a new meal offering to Hashem: Rashi: On the fiftieth day you shall bring it. I say this is the midrashic interpretation. But its p'shat is: Until the morrow of the seventh week - which is the fiftieth day - you shall count. This is an inverted verse."
What is Rashi Saying?
Rashi offers two interpretations for this verse. The first he labels as midrash, the second as p'shat. It is not readily apparent why one is more drash than the other, since neither interpretation takes the verse as it is ordinarily translated (see our translation of the verse above).
What Is Bothering Rashi ?
An Answer: The previous verse says "You shall count for yourselves - from the morrow of the rest day (Pesach), from the day on which you will bring the omer wave-offering - seven weeks; they shall be complete." Seven weeks is seven times seven days which equals 49 days. Yet our verse seems to say "Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days ..." A blatant contradiction. How can these two apparently contradictory verses be reconciled?
An Answer: In the Torah, the esnachta (comma) is under the word "day," meaning this is a stop. With this in mind, the verse reads: "Until the morrow after the seventh week count fifty days. [new sentence] And you shall bring a new meal-offering to Hashem." Thus, the word ????? is a cardinal number (fifty). However Rashi breaks up the verse differently, he puts the comma earlier, under the word "you shall count." According to Rashi, both in drash and p'shat, the word ????? is an ordinal number (fiftieth). The verse now reads according to the drash: "Until the morrow after the seventh week count. [new sentence] On the fiftieth day offer a new meal-offering to Hashem." Now there is no contradiction. Both verse 15 and our verse 16, mean we are to count only 49 days, then on the fiftieth day we are to offer the new offering.
"But Its P'shat Is ...."
After the midrashic interpretation, Rashi offers what he considers to be the p'shat interpretation. As opposed to the midrash, his p'shat interpretation puts the words "fiftieth day" together with the first part of the verse: "Until the morrow after the seventh week - which is the fiftieth day - [then] you shall bring a new meal-offering." Note that these interpretations in Rashi, both the drash and the p'shat, while they differ as to where they place the comma, both translate "chamishim" as "fiftieth." This avoids the contradiction that would have existed were the word translated as "fifty."
P'shat and Drash in Rashi
It remains to be understood why, in Rashi's eyes, one of these interpretations is p'shat and one is drash, since neither interpret the verse the way it is simply translated, i.e. ...count fifty days. And you shall offer ..."
An Answer: In both interpretations, Rashi introduces changes in the text. Let us compare these changes and see if we can determine the difference between p'shat and drash in this way.
Can you see now why one is considered p'shat the other drash?
Understanding P'shat and Drash
An Answer: In both interpretations words are reversed. So this is not a difference. The main difference is that one interprets the verse according to the musical notes (called trop), the esnachta, and while the other interpretation ( the midrash) ignores the esnachta. Rashi is telling us that p'shat must fit in with the musical notes; if it doesn't, the interpretation must be considered drash.
"I Say This Is the Midrashic Interpretation"
This is a strange statement. What does Rashi mean "I say this is a midrash"? Either it is or it is not a midrash! It would not seem to be up to Rashi to determine if this interpretation is a midrash. Rashi's midrashic sources for his commentary on Leviticus are one of the following: The midrash-halacha "Toras Cohanim"; the midrash -haggada "Vayikra Rabba" or the Talmud. When Rashi quotes a midrash, he certainly knows where he found it. Why then does he say "I say this is a midrash"?
But, lo and behold, Rashi's first interpretation, which he calls midrashic, is not found anywhere in the midrash!
An Important Lesson
If Rashi is not citing a midrash, why does he call it a midrash? The answer is that the term midrash refers to a mode of interpretation, which is not p'shat. Rashi is saying that this interpretation (the one that ignores the esnachta) is a midrash-type interpretation - even though it is not one of the recorded midrashim of the Sages. As we pointed out above, Rashi calls the interpretation that does follow the musical notes, p'shat.
"A Reversed Verse"
In Hebrew the term is "mikra mesuras" which means literally a "castrated verse." It can mean either a verse that leaves out a word, usually one that is self-understood or a verse that has some words reversed, as in our case. The "mikra mesuras" occurs frequently in the Torah. Because of its frequency, Rashi does not consider this to be sufficient reason to consider such a verse as non-p'shat.