This commentary cannot be understood
without studying first parasha Thazria.
We could ask ourselves why
this parasha continues with the strange subject of a disease
that attacks the body, clothes and homes.
The Sages tell us that leprosy
is connected to the ill-use of words, lashon hara.
We know that Miriam, Moshe's sister, became the first
victim of this disease after she criticized Moshe's conduct.
This shows that the Torah
is not talking about simple slander that has tragic consequences.
What is involved is a scourge which stems from the speech
of people of the highest level. We see this in the fact
that the phenomenon of leprosy does not exist any more,
for we no longer have the same quality of people. The
Sages link the disease to the sin of Hava, Eve, for her
sin was also one of words.
The negative side
This parasha deals with the negative side of all that
was described previously regarding the eminence and power
The plagues in the houses
of the land of Israel
Rashi draws our attention to the fact that the Torah puts
particular emphasis on the plagues that infest the houses
of the land of Israel.
Study of a Rashi commentary
Let us follow his analysis in stages:
1. On Vayikra 14, 34
ki tavoou el-eretz Canaan
And when ye are come into the land of Canaan
asher ani noten lakhem la
which I give to you for a possession
and I put the plague of leprosy
beveti eretz ahuzatekhem
in a house of the land of your possession
uva asher lo habayit
then he that owneth the house shall come
vehigid la cohen lemor
and tell the priest, saying:
kenega nira li babayit
there seemeth to me to be as it were a plague in the house."
2. Rashi writes:
"venatati nega, I put the plague of leprosy:
besora hi lahem, it is good
news for them
shehanegaim baim alehem, that
the plague is put on them
for the Amorians had hidden
treasures of gold in the walls of their homes during the
forty years when Israel was in the desert
ve al-yede hanega notetz habayit
umotzean, and because of the plague, the house will be
demolished and the treasures found."
ke nega nire li babayit, there seemeth to be as it were
a plague in the house:
she afilu hu hakham ve yodea
she hu nega vadai, even if he is a hakham (a learned man)
and knows this type of plague,
lo yifsok davar barur, he
will not make a definite statement
lomar nega nire li, ella kenega
nire li, and say 'there seemeth to me to be a plague'but there seemeth to be as it were a plague."
3. It seems strange to consider
it good news that, after having overcome so many obstacles
and after having reached the land of Israel, the children
of Israel are told that their houses are ridden with a
plague and they must be demolished. What immigrant would
stay on after being given such a prospect, and moreover,
being told that it is good news.
4. Rashi explains is thus:
Stressing the word venatati (I will give), Rashi notes
that the other plagues are announced with the expression
yiye (there will be), as in Vayikra 13, 2 and 13, 47,
while this one is not. The Torah is thus telling us that
this plague is not a plague, but a present, a gift, and
this is why it is accompanied with the expression venatati
(I will give).
5. Rashi then explains why this gift augurs well for the
future: he bases his
interpretation on the teaching of Ribbi Yehuda in Torat
Cohanim (ch. 5):
"it is good news (bessora) that a plague will be
put on them" as is written in Midrash Vayikra Rabba,
ch. 17, 6: "when the Amorians heard that the children
of Israel were arriving, they hid their treasures in their
walls and in their fields. Hakadosh Barukh Hu said: 'I
promised the fathers that I would make their sons enter
a land full of goodness" as it is written (Devarim
6, 11) 'and houses full of good things.'What does Hakadosh
Barukh Hu do? He who discovers the plagues in his house
destroys them and finds a treasure, a sima, as Onkelos
translates Bereshit 43, 23."
Characteristics of Rashi's
method of interpretation:
6. Rashi always begins by focusing on linguistic features
in the Torah, for is through them that one discovers the
meaning of the Torah, what is called the peshat (literal
meaning). It is therefore necessary to be able to read
the Torah in Hebrew.
7. Rashi seeks to discover
the meaning of each specific linguistic feature, by analyzing
the peshat or the middrashim if they express best the
8. Rashi does not cite references
for his sources, for his commentaries are intended for
readers who have learnt these texts from childhood; in
traditional Jewish education children learn the classical
texts from a very young age.
10. He usually does not elaborate
on the points made in his sources.
11. A rule for the study of
One must study his commentary
" by referring to his sources
" to see what he has added or omitted, for these
additions or omissions transmit additional meanings or
stress a particular point.
For example, what he omits from the commentary of Vayikra
Rabba relates to God's promise (avtaha) and it is this
which is clearly absent when the children of Israel languish
in the desert or discover these "plagues" which
seem to them like another catastrophe in their path. They
constantly need to have trust and faith in the Creator
and in his divine plan, but it is in silence and in darkness.
Revelation comes to he who searches and studies, just
as we are doing with Rashi's commentary. He who moves
the first domino will move the second which will move
the third, till one reaches the end; it is the same domino
effect in the study of the Torah. It is the journey through
night which leads us to daybreak, just as the day in Judaism
begins at night (va yehi erev va yehi boker, yom ehad).
This is why the greatest Sages studied and prayed at night.
12. Rashi uses the same concise
method as that of the Torah, the Talmud and all of Jewish
tradition. This conciseness makes it necessary for students
to study Rashi with a teacher, who will guide them through
all these stages.
13. Then students can go on
to study the eminent commentators of Rashi, such as the
Reem, who analyzed Rashi in detail in order to understand
14. Rashi is both a teacher
who helps students understand the Torah and a teacher
who gives moral lessons. He is a "master." He
teaches us how to follow the path of goodness and that
of Hakadosh Barukh Hu, he teaches us the positive side
of life's trials and how important it is to have trust
Let us now apply this method to Rashi's next commentary
on the request which a person who finds a plague in his
house must make to the Cohen:
- one finds Rashi's source
in Mishna Negaim 12,45.
- Rashi uses the entire text of the Mishna but makes several
- he changed lo yigzor into lo yifsok which appears to
allude to the work of halakhic decidors who must always
have as their goal the holiness which is represented in
the role of the cohen.
- he also changed talmid hakham into hakham and he added
davar barur. Rashi based his commentary of verse 13, 2,
which commands a leper to be brought to Aharon, on Torat
Cohanim and stressed the fact that the priest had to confirm
and pronounce the presence of purity or impurity, hinting
that the priest, however, is not an expert in diagnosing
the disease (as noted in Tractate Shevuot 6b). This is
why the expert has the right to give his view but he must
leave the confirmation and pronouncement to the priest
who represents keddusha, holiness.
What is your view of these social laws?
- Rashi also omitted the repetitions of the word "house"
possibly in order to stress the wider aspect of what is
Study slowly and systematically Rashi's method of interpretation
Most people find it easier to do this in a group session
or with a study partner (hevruta).