by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Bereishis (70)We begin a new cycle of Torah reading this week. The beauty of the Torah (besides its innate beauty) is that it offers us the never-ending opportunity to gain new insights into this ancient document.
Let us look at one the most famous Rash-comments, in which he explains, quite briefly, his approach to commentary. It is the only "introduction" Rashi has given us of his Torah commentary.
"And they heard the sound of Hashem, G-d going in the garden in the of the wind day. And Adam and his wife hid from Hashem, G-d in the midst of the trees of the garden."
And they heard; Rashi: There are many Aggadic Midrashim which our Rabbis have already arranged in their place in Bereishis Rabbah and other Midrashim, but I have only come to explain the simple meaning of the Scriptures ("p'shuto shel Mikra") and those aggados which fit the words of the text with each word stated in its proper framework and with its correct meaning. They heard the sound of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who was going in the garden.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi seems to dismiss the Midrashim on this verse. He then offers his p'shat interpretation. It's impossible to know how his p'shat differs from the Midrash without knowing what the Midrash says!
WHAT THE MIDRASH SAYS
Let's see the Midrash.
In Bereishis Rabbah (which Rashi mentions in the first part of this comment) we find the following comment:
Rabbi Chalfon says: 'We find walking attributed to sound (our verse) and we also find walking attributed to fire ('And fire went earthward' Exodus 9:23).
There are several other Midrashim there. One more: 'They heard the sound of the trees saying: 'This robber, he stole the mind of (lied to) his Creator.'
Certainly Rashi was aware of these Midrashim. But he rejects them and offers his interpretation in place of them. Why?
In the two previous chapters in parashas Bereishis there are many Midrashim and Rashi did cite some of them, without making an issue of it. Rashi either accepted them or ignored them. Why now does he make an issue of the fact that there many Midrashim, but now Rashi says: 'I have only come to explain the simple meaning (p'shat') of the Scriptures''? Why does he accept other Midrashim and not these?
Can you think of an answer to this difficult question?
Hint: Read the complete Rashi-comment as we quoted it at the beginning of this piece.
RASHI'S VIEW OF MIDRASHIM THAT HE WILL USE
An Answer: Rashi had said that he comes to teach p'shat "and those aggados which fit the words of the text." This is an important addition. Most people think Rashi gives only p'shat without Midrash, but, in fact, over 70% of his Torah comments have their source in Midrash! So what does he really mean? He means that while he strives for p'shat, he will also cite a Midrash if it fits in with the words of the verse.
Now compare the Midrashim we cited on the word "And they heard" and think why Rashi might have rejected them, while he did accept other Midrashim on other verses.
Hint: What is unclear in our verse?
An Answer: What is unclear in our verse are the words: "And they heard the sound of Hashem, G-d, going through the Garden."
What was heard - the sound of G-d going through the garden or the sound going through the garden?
Rashi says it was the sound of G-d as He was going through the garden. One Midrash we quoted said it was the sound going through the garden. The other Midrash we quoted said it was the sound of the trees, not of G-d's going.
RASHI REJECTS THE MIDRASHIM
An Answer: I would suggest that Rashi rejects these Midrashim because they do not fit the words of the verse. The verse says it was the sound of Hashem's going that they heard. The Midrashim don't see it that way.
MIDRASHIM RASHI DOES USE
To give the reader an idea of a Midrash that Rashi does use, just as a sample, look back at the Rashi comments on the previous verse (3:7). There are two comments "They knew they were naked" Rashi explains that they new they were stripped of the only mitzvah they had been given. This does not contradict any linguistics of the verse. It is a Midrash, a poetic concept, but it can live together with the simple p'shat. The next Rashi on verse 7 talks about the fig leaf used to cover themselves. The tree they ate from was the tree they took cover with, because all other trees refused to save them from their embarrassment. This too is a Midrash and this too, while it is an embellishment of the verse, it does not cause any difficulties with the wording of the verse, or with the simple p'shat. Therefore Rashi could incorporate them in his commentary as they are "those aggados which fit the words of the text."
It may seem like a subtle difference between hearing the sound of Hashem going through the garden - or hearing the sound going through the garden, but Rashi was very careful about getting the meaning of the Torah's words understood correctly.
"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 all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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