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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Noah(65)

Ramban's controversy with Rashi on this verse reveals a startling seminal concept in Torah interpretation.

Genesis 8:4

And the ark came to rest in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month upon the mountains of Ararat.


On the seventeenth day: Rashi: From here you can learn that the ark was submerged in the water eleven 'amos.'


Rashi goes on to show that since the waters were 15 amos above the highest ground (verse 7:20), and it took two months for them to subside (from 1st of Sivan until the 1st of Av = 60 days) and which time the ark hit solid ground and came to rest (see next verse) this means that it took 60 days for 15 amos to recede. That equals an ama each four days. Thus on the 16th of Sivan (when the ark rested) only 4 amos had evaporated. So from the total of !5 amos only 4 had receded this leaves 11 amos of water in which the ark was submerged.

The source of Rashi's calculations can be found in the midrash, Bereishis Rabbah.

The Ramban disagrees with Rashi. He introduces his opinion with the following significant words:


After quoting Rashi he says "but since Rashi (elsewhere in his Torah Commentary)

closely examines the midrash aggada and toils to explain the Plain Sense of the verse, he has allowed us to do likewise. For the Torah has "seventy faces" and many midrashim conflict one with another. (The Ramban then goes on at length to show how this interpretation is wrong and that the ark may have only been submerged 3 or 4 amos. He also disagrees with Rashi's chronology of events of the flood.)


This statement of the Ramban is truly starling and an eye-opener for understanding Torah commentary. The Ramban not only disagrees with Rashi's calculations he disagrees with the Talmudic Sages' calculations, for Rashi's calculations are derived from them.

So the Ramban says that since Rashi occasionally will disagree with Talmudic interpretations of P'shat, so other commentators may also disagree. We must remember that here the disagreement is about FACTS and not a moral lesson. To think that a Rishon and perhaps also an Acharon can disagree with the Sages of the Talmud is a breathtaking statement. But the Ramban clearly says this. It must be borne in mind that we are talking about P'shat interpretation and not midrashic interpretation. When it comes to midrash many different views can be correct at different levels of understanding. But when we refer to p'shat and especially p'shat about historical facts - only one interpretation can be correct. And here the Ramban says the commentator - if he can rally convincing evidence - can disagree with Chazal. As he points out, Rashi also does this occasionally; but the Ramban does it more frequently.

The Lesson

We all have the responsibility to learn Torah deeply enough to enable us to view its words through our understanding . This is true only, of course, once we have toiled in the "vineyards' of the earlier commentators.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

The Institute is preparing a new volume on Megillas Esther. It will be titled: "What's Bothering Rashi and the Midrash?" It analyzes both Rashi and selected Midrashim on the megillah. If you would like to be a sponsor, please contact us.

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