Parashas Noach (5762)
With all the evil we have been witnessing over the past weeks (months? years?), the following verse is unfortunately quite appropriate.
"And Hashem sensed the pleasing fragrance and Hashem said to His heart 'I will never again curse the earth because of man for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth. I will never again smite every living thing as I have done."
FROM HIS YOUTH: RASHI: It (the word "min'urav") is written [ without a "vav" after the letter "eyin"] implying that from the time he begins to stir and leaves his mother's womb he already has a evil inclination ("yetzer hara" "y.h.").
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
The Torah spells the word "min'urav" (from his youth) as if were "minarav" (from his birth). By leaving the letter "vav" out after the letter "eyin," a different meaning is derived from this word.
We needn't ask "what is bothering Rashi?" because it is clear that the drash he cites is based on the unusual spelling of the word "min'urav."
What we do have to ask is: What is the significance of this change of meaning?
What is the difference between saying that a person is endowed with his evil inclination (y.h.)"from his youth" or "from his birth"?
An Answer: The commentaries on Rashi do not discuss this question, so the following thoughts are my own.
It would seem that if we say that one's y.h. begins in one's youth, (and not before) the implication is that that the person acquires it through social influences. That is to say, as a result of his parental and environmental influences. If his parents brought him up in a way that turned him to evil and/or his schooling, friends or other influences inculcated in him bad values and tendencies, then the individual would manifest a stronger evil inclination.
If, on the other hand, we assume that one's y.h. exists already at birth, (when he leaves the womb, as Rashi says) then we would assume non-environmental influences are at play, what is called today "genetic" influences".
THE IMPLICATIONS - SOCIAL AND EDUCATIONAL
The implications of these different views are quite profound. If we assume that man is basically O.K. and only a bad environment ruins him (a view espoused by the French philosopher J. J. Rousseau), then we assume that early upbringing makes all the difference. Education's job is to fend off bad influences, enabling the child to be "himself" and all will turn out fine. (It also means that parents are responsible, and "guilty" for the wrong doing of their children, because these children are assumed to have been born O.K. morally). If we allow the child to be as "he is" and do not "corrupt him" then we will have beaten, eliminated, the evil in mankind. This is quite an optimistic view. It is the one that has governed secular educational policy and outlook over the past several centuries.
If, on the other hand, we assume that one's y.h. exists already at birth, that it is inherent to man's essence, then we are left with the understanding that man must forever wage battle with his evil inclination. Educational efforts are directed to teach man to battle his y.h. and not let it get the best of him. And no matter how much we invest in our educational efforts, man can never take his "goodness" for granted. He must always be on alert to his inherent evil inclination. There is no magic formula for raising the perfect child; there is no Royal Road to righteousness. Man will always be subject to his y.h. and, ironically, he will more likely fall prey to it should he assume that he has forever conquered it.
In viewing ourselves, as well as viewing others, we would do wisely to heed our Sages' sage advice "Honor him, while you remain suspicious of him."
All this (and more) is contained in Rashi's brief comment.
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