What’s In a Blessing?
Rashi and the Priestly Benediction of Numbers 6:22–27

Robert A. Harris

 

 

Birkat Kohanim, the three-fold “priestly benediction,” is often thought of as the aggregate of the greatest of God’s blessings:

The Eternal spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
The Eternal bless you and protect you!
The Eternal deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Eternal bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.1

But what do these verses really mean? And what is the implication of this particular text for our larger understanding of biblical and post-biblical theology? One of the foundational Jewish treatments of this prominent biblical passage that offers anything like comprehensive answers to those questions is found in Rashi’s Torah commentary. In order to assess Rashi’s evaluation, let us first consider a different biblical text that features a divine blessing.

Toward the end of Abraham’s life, the Torah reports that the patriarch was “old, advanced in days, and the Eternal had blessed Abraham in everything” (Genesis 24:1). In this particular passage, as in so many others, the language of Scripture is delightfully ambiguous, enabling traditional Jewish exegesis to have a field day. The famous twelfth-century commentator Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–c. 1167) interprets the unspecified blessing according to what he senses to be the contextual (p’shat) meaning: “God blessed Abraham in all things: with length of days, wealth and honor, and children—and this is all a person can wish for!” While this explanation certainly makes sense, and considers the divine blessing in terms that incorporate bounties for which many people might wish, a later commentator, Rabbi David Kimḥi (1160–1235, called Radak), interprets the passage in a way that perhaps even more closely follows the ambiguous meaning of the verse: “God did not deprive Abraham of anything, nor was he in want of anything, save for [the business of] marrying off his son Isaac to a woman worthy of him.” Since Genesis 24 relates the efforts that Abraham (and his servant) took to ensure that Isaac be married off “properly,” Radak’s explanation may fit the verse’s context even better than that of Ibn Ezra. In Radak’s estimation, a “complete divine blessing” in this case was one that did not deprive Abraham of any (positive) human aspiration or experience, save for finding a wife for his precious son, and he was about to experience also that. Not to be outdone, an even later commentator, Rabbi Moshe ben Naḥman (1194–1270, called Ramban) stated that it was not specifically concern for the proper marriage of his son that motivated Abraham to arrange with his servant to find Isaac a wife, but rather his desire to experience the joy of grandchildren: “Scripture records this matter to recount that Abraham’s life was complete in every way, nothing was missing—other than seeing children [born] to his son.…” Unsurprisingly, other rabbinic exegetes examine this identical ambiguity in the biblical narrative, and each posits his own unique interpretation of precisely how God blessed Abraham at this temporal juncture.

In thinking about this interpretive arc (Ibn Ezra to Radak to Ramban), and the seemingly never-ending wish to refine the sense of what constitutes the completeness of a divine blessing, I am reminded of an old Borsht Belt joke. Walking along the shore, a mother is aghast when her young son is swept out to sea by a sudden large wave. Falling to her knees, she cries out to God to spare her child. On this particular occasion (as on few others, it seems!), God answers her pleas, reverses the course of the wave, and deposits the boy back on the shore, directly into the arms of the mother. After a moment of grateful tears, the mother steps back to examine her son, turns back to God and says, “He had a hat!”

Beyond the humor, the story conveys an awareness of both the tangible and intangible dimensions of God’s blessings. On other occasions, the biblical narrator seems to make a distinction between formulating blessings that are material in character and others that are more generally covenantal in nature. For example, when the blind Isaac mistakenly blesses Jacob with the blessing intended for his favored son, Esau, Isaac stipulates items mostly of a material nature: “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow to you; be master over your brothers and let your mother’s sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, and blessed they who bless you” (Genesis 27:28–29). However, when patently aware of Jacob’s identity only a few verses later, Isaac offers Jacob an intentional, covenantal blessing: “May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham” (Genesis 28:3).3 

There are, of course, numerous instances of all kinds of blessings being issued in biblical literature—both of the covenantal and spiritual type, as well as blessings oriented toward material beneficence. When turning toward the three-part “Priestly Blessing” (Numbers 6:22–27), a central question that we ought to consider is: what type of blessing does the biblical author intend through these particular words, material or spiritual? Another way of considering this question would be to ask it from the vantage point of the blessing’s recipients: out of all the possible blessings for which ancient Israel could have hoped, why would they have wanted these in particular?

There are, of course, many ways in which one could attempt to answer such questions. This essay will consider these and related questions primarily from the perspective of one of the great medieval rabbinic exegetes of the Bible from northern France, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, universally called Rashi (1040–1105). Our questions, thus refined, will therefore be as follows: how does Rashi construe these blessings, and why does he think ancient Israelites—or his contemporary Jewish audience—would wish to be blessed with these specific blessings? Since Numbers 6:22–27 represent the only instance of biblical commands that mandate the issuance of cultic-sourced blessings (whether or not they were considered to be a constituent part of the actual service), one might well ask, as a follow-up: does Rashi think these blessings represent a kind of summa, as it were, “blessings par excellence”? Or does he consider them to be, if not actually “random,” essentially isolated wishes for specific beneficent acts with which priests are to express the hope that Israel will be blessed?

Before proceeding directly to Rashi’s interpretation, we ought to consider the nature of Rashi’s commentary as it has come down to us through the ages. Whatever Rashi’s intent when he began the process of Torah exegesis, and whatever the specific social circumstances in which he did so, in many ways it is appropriate to think of Rashi’s commentary as a twelfth-century “Renaissance project” more than as a singularly authored text—and it is a “century” that in a sense lasted hundreds of years, into the age of printed editions (i.e., the fifteenth century and beyond). Although there is in popular imagination (and in the world of the yeshiva, in particular) widespread agreement on the text of most of Rashi’s Torah commentary, this was by no means always the case. With hundreds of medieval manuscripts and printed editions in existence, some with remarkable variants, it is virtually impossible to imagine a truly “critical” edition of the commentary. For the most part, I have relied in this essay on what is generally considered the most accurate medieval manuscript, ms. Leipzig 1.4

As we shall see, Rashi does not approach these verses as initially conveying any sense of a summa of divine beneficence, but rather understands them to speak of specific, concrete measures of goodness. He begins, however, with what amounts to an exhortation of God, as it were, by Israel:5

So shall you bless. A midrash aggadah:6 Said Israel [to God]: “To the priests You say that they shall bless! We have no need to be blessed by anyone except Your mouth! Look down from the abode of Your holiness and bless [Your people Israel] (Deuteronomy 26:15). So, too, does David state: And now undertake to bless the house of Your servant… (2 Samuel 7:29).” The Holy One said: “With them do I stand and bless, as it is said: …but I will bless them (Numbers 6:27).”Therefore the priests spread their hands, as though to say that the Holy One stands behind them, as it is said, There He stands behind our wall, gazing through the window (Song of Songs 2:9)—from between the fingers of the priests.

By citing this midrash, Rashi addresses an obvious question that might undermine the very ritual the Torah mandates: if God is the source of all blessing, what need is there for the priest to take any role in the ritual? To be sure, Rashi’s citation anticipates his interpretation of the end of the biblical passage (Numbers 6:27), to which we will return. But it also serves to explicate his understanding of the word “bless” right at the outset: what does it mean for any human being, priest or otherwise, to “bless”? In reality, Rashi would aver, all blessing emanates from God, and when people employ the verb “to bless” with themselves as the subject, it is either to invoke the blessing of God or to serve as a conduit through which God’s blessing may pass. That is certainly the clear message of the midrash that Rashi invokes.

Following this introductory comment, Rashi then addresses the manner in which the Torah prescribes how the priests should deliver the blessings and how the people ought to receive them7: “Say to them: so that they can all hear.” Rashi roots this brief initial gloss on our actual text in the soil of ancient rabbinic midrash. In and of itself, this is not surprising: in approximately 70% of his Torah commentary, as he does with regards to Numbers 6:22–27, Rashi refracts his understanding of Scripture through rabbinic midrash. While he drew on Midrash Tanḥuma in his introductory comment, in the body of his actual explication of the words of the blessing he mainly (although not exclusively) adduces the early midrash called Sifrei Bemidbar.8 What might be surprising to the casual reader of Rashi’s commentary, however, is the degree to which Rashi adduces only particular midrashim in his reading of Scripture. In addition to various other sundry observations, Sifrei Bemidbar derives no fewer than five important lessons from the specific wording of Numbers 6:23: that the priests stand when reciting the blessing; that they must raise their hands; that they must express the fully spelled out name of God; and that they must directly face the people at the moment of blessing.9 However, Rashi ignores all of these other interpretations and selects only one, namely: “that all of the congregation will hear.” He does this probably because most of Sifrei’s interpretations reflect no specific scriptural language and thus do not fit the selection process he outlines most famously in his methodological comment on Genesis 3:8: “…whereas I have only come for the plain sense of Scripture and the aggadah that settles a word of Scripture and its sense…”10 As is his way, Rashi modifies the language of the midrash, and glosses “so that all of them hear”; the midrash employs the term “congregation” (kahal), whereas Scripture merely uses a pronoun (“to them,” lahem). Rashi’s comment thus hews even more precisely to the language of the Torah than does that of the midrash.

The continuation of Rashi’s comment in many manuscript versions and printed editions contains an additional gloss on the word “say,” this time rooting his midrashic interpretation in a Tanḥuma tradition:

Say: The word amor is written in its full form [i.e., including the Hebrew letter vav, which functions here as a vowel], indicating that they should not bless them hastily or in a hurried manner, but with concentration and with wholeheartedness—in order that the blessing should have dominion over them; therefore it is written to them.11

One may wonder why Rashi offers more than one interpretation of the same word. Generally, this is due to Rashi’s desire to offer the fullest possible accounting of scriptural language, and if he knows of multiple midrashic insights that root themselves in the actual language of Scripture, he may choose to offer more than one; similarly, if he intuits a plain-sense meaning (p’shuto) of a word or phrase, he may choose to present this alongside of his midrashically channeled insight.12 On the other hand, sometimes an additional interpretation may originate through the hands of a glossator later than Rashi, whose comment was subsequently incorporated into the manuscript traditions. In this case, since ms. Leipzig includes both glosses, I will choose to think of them both as originating within Rashi’s own purview. In any case, Rashi interprets the plene13 form of the verb via the midrash to mean that the priests should pronounce the divine blessing with a high degree of deliberation and intentionality.

Rashi next turns his attention to the initial word in the Priestly Blessing itself (y’varekh·kha, “may [the Eternal] bless you”) and again bases himself on Sifrei, commenting “may your possessions be blessed.” One could not imagine a more prosaic interpretation, in a sense, and he seconds it with a similar interpretation of the following verb (v’yishm’rekha, “may [the Eternal] protect you”), though this time rooted in the Tanḥuma, a different midrash:15

May [the Eternal] protect you: that robbers should not come upon you and take your money, for one who gives a gift to a servant is not able to protect that servant from any person, and since bandits may come upon the servant and take the gift away, what benefit does such a servant have through the gift? Rather, the blessed Holy One gives and protects.

Thus, Rashi sees divine blessing as resulting in divine protection.16 Although Rashi may not address what might be the ethereal or “spiritual” blessings that our culture might aspire to find in this initial expression of the Priestly Blessing, he does interpret as a man of his own dangerous world, where the roads were not safe and material possessions were often difficult to secure. Moreover, Rashi accurately represents what is likely the concrete nature of this blessing in its own ancient Israelite context. As Jacob Milgrom writes, “Generally in the Bible, God’s blessing comprises mainly material bounty,” and he specifically enumerates examples of these: posterity, possessions and wealth, land, fertility, health, victory, strength and peace.17 Coincidence or not, in this circumstance, Rashi’s interpretation of the opening of the Priestly Blessing is remarkably similar to the conclusions of Milgrom’s presentation of modern historical-critical scholarship.18

In the version of Rashi’s commentary contained in ms. Leipzig 1, Rashi concludes his exegesis of the first blessing with an interpretation that some in our day would not consider to be politically correct. Nevertheless, in the service of accurately representing the tradition, let us examine it here: “May [the Eternal] bless you—with [regard to] sons, and may He protect you—with [regard to] daughters, for daughters require protection.”19 There are a number of rabbinic statements that underlie Rashi’s sentiment here. For example, with reference to the verse with which we began our investigation of blessing, Genesis 24:1 (“the Eternal had blessed Abraham in everything”), recall that one of the commentators, Ramban (Naḥmanides), offered an interpretation that God had not deprived Abraham even of grandchildren! As it happens, Ramban offered an additional interpretation that is similar to the one Rashi expresses here, and it is based in what the Babylonian Talmud relates in Bava Batra 16b: “Rabbi Meir said that [Abraham was blessed in all things in that] he didn’t have a daughter. Rabbi Judah said that [he was blessed in all things in that] he did have a daughter.” Now, it’s quite possible to interpret that Rabbi Meir saw male children as a greater blessing than females, whereas Rabbi Judah couldn’t imagine that God could have blessed Abraham without having “arranged” for Abraham to know the joys of fathering a daughter! In his commentary on Genesis 24:1, Ramban teases out what really may have motivated the ancient rabbinic debate:

Rabbi Meir explained that not having a daughter was a blessing, in that [Abraham] didn’t have to marry a daughter to one of the cursed Canaanites, and if he had sent her back to Mesopotamia she would also there end up worshipping idols, since [in those days] a woman was in the domain of her husband [and would have to do what he did]. Rabbi Judah explained that he had a daughter, and that God did not deprive Abraham even of the blessing of having a daughter…

In other words, since at most times in human history up to our present day women were generally considered to be under the authority of the most important man in their life (typically either a father, brother, or a husband), that person held the responsibility of “protecting” them. For the various rabbinic arbiters of earlier biblical traditions, this meant (inter alia) ensuring that Jewish women married Jewish men, and were also “protected” against the possibility of social interaction with gentile men and any dangers associated with that contact. We should, therefore, understand Rashi’s additional comment about women needing protection in the light of those circumstances. Whether we approve of those standards in our society is a different matter altogether!

Rashi next turns to the second verse of the three-part blessing, that God should “shine His face” upon the Israelites. Unlike the very material way in which he understood the first blessing, Rashi interprets this phrase to express the hope that God will “show you21 a face of laughing, a face of radiance.” But he does not elaborate beyond this somewhat surprising locution.22 One might have imagined that Rashi would have chosen to illuminate his explanation, as he does so often, with reference to a biblical verse—for example: “May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He show us favor” (Psalm 67:2).23 Indeed, such a verse might help us find in the Priestly Blessing the kind of connection between “blessing” and “deliverance” for which we may have originally hoped. (The fuller syntactic unit of Psalm 67:2–3 also includes the following verse: “May God be gracious to us and bless us; may He show us favor…that Your way be known on earth, Your deliverance among all nations.”) But that is not “Rashi’s job,” so to speak; rather, he wants to help us see the immediate meaning of the biblical passage in question, insofar as his intuition and his knowledge of midrash enable him to do so.

Turning to the final word of verse 25 (vi-unneka, a single-word verbal phrase that consists of a prefix, a verb, and a suffix that serves as its object), and again drawing on Sifrei Bemidbar, Rashi explains that this means “may He give you grace.” Thus, for Rashi, the wish is not, as is generally interpreted, that God should “favor” or “show graciousness” to the recipient of the blessing.24 Rather, Rashi states that the blessing will be that God will bestow (the quality of or the capacity for) “grace” on the Israelites, interpreting the word as a nominal, not a verbal, phrase. Thus, before we move on to the third blessing, we should pause to consider that, whereas Rashi explained the first blessing as conferring material benefits, he understands the second blessing to express the hope for more ethereal blessings, a kind of “altered state,” as it were, though Rashi himself does not define precisely what that might mean.25

Rashi approaches the third blessing in legal terms. Whereas he explained the expression l’ha·ir panim, “to shine the face” in rabbinic Hebrew as God will “show” a favorable countenance to the Israelites, he understands the biblical Hebrew idiom la-seit panim, “to lift the face,” as an action that would take place “before the decree of judgment. But after the decree of judgment, He [=God] will not ‘lift the face.’” What was Rashi thinking of with this interpretation? The underlying midrash (Sifrei Bemidbar 42) helps us understand Rashi more fully:

One verse states that He will lift up His face (Numbers 6:26) while another verse states that He will not lift up His face (Deuteronomy 10:17).26 How may these two verses be reconciled? When Israel does the will of the Omnipresent, He will lift up His face; when Israel does not do the will of the Omnipresent, He will not lift up His face. Another interpretation: until the decree is sealed, He will lift up His face; after the decree is sealed, He will not lift up His face.

As we see, the midrash understands the biblical expression to constitute a legal idiom: “to lift the face” means to pardon or show mercy, whereas “to refuse to lift the face” essentially means to convict. Given the midrashic predilection for homogenizing any and all conflicts and contradictions between biblical verses, the midrash needs to determine in what circumstances God would agree to “lift His face” and show mercy in a courtroom, while refusing to do so in other circumstances. Therefore the midrash suggests two possibilities to resolve the conflict, and Rashi chooses to include one of these in his commentary:27 while “court is still in session,” as it were, God will take every opportunity to “lift His face” and forgive/show mercy to the defendant. Once God issues His decree, and it is “sealed,” however, then there is no deviation from the judgment.28

It may be over-reading, but I cannot help but think that Rashi is deliberately contrasting the role that the Torah mandates for human judges, and the way in which he imagines the priests hope that God acts when he functions as Divine Judge. When it comes to considering how a human judge ought to decide a case in an Israelite courtroom, the Torah is quite clear: “You are not to commit corruption in justice; you are not to lift-up-in-favor the face of the poor, you are not to overly-honor the face of the great; with equity you are to judge your fellow!” (Leviticus 19:15).29 Another iteration of the expectation that human judges must decide cases before them with an utter dedication to the facts is found in Deuteronomy 16:18–20:

Judges and officials you are to provide for yourselves, within all your gates that YHWH your God is giving you,for your tribal-districts; they are to judge the people (with) equitable justice.
You are not to cast aside a case-for-judgment,you are not to (specially) recognize (anyone’s) face, and you are not to take a bribe—for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and twists the words of the equitable.
Equity, equity you are to pursue,in order that you may live    and possess the land that the Eternal your God is giving you!

Thus, the biblical Hebrew idiom “lifting up the face” means “to show favor.” Moreover, both from the perspective of priestly Torah and Deuteronomy, the Torah commands as complete a dedication to impartiality as can be aspired to when it comes to functioning in an Israelite court of law. However, paradoxically, when it comes to entering the divine court, as it were, the rabbis expressed the hope (both in midrash and in liturgy) that God would not function with impartiality! As is completely natural, when facing God and when considering one’s misdeeds, one hopes for a merciful judge, one who does “lift up the face,” and not one who assesses only the facts of the case! Thus, in presenting the third blessing (in which the priests express the wish that God “lift up his face”) in a juridical context, Rashi wishes readers to think that—following both a material and a spiritual blessing—the recipients of the Priestly Blessing will also receive the best gift of all: shalom (peace), here construed as a pardon for past sins.

Rashi follows this legal interpretation, as is his custom, with a second interpretation (somewhat related to the preceding) that understands this last part of the Priestly Blessing as a wish that God will “conquer His anger.”31 It is not immediately clear what Rashi means precisely, or why he chooses this specific explanation (in addition to the previous selection) in lieu of all the others he might have adduced. However, the significance may become clear by considering the midrashic context from which Rashi has culled this brief comment. The midrash states that “God will lift up His face to you,” meaning that God “will cause His anger to pass away from you”—a formulation close in sentiment to Rashi’s gloss, although not identical in exact wording. However, what is striking is that it comes at the very end of a long passage that tries to harmonize a series of contradictory verses (as we have already seen) that depict Israelite sin as the cause of the rupture between God and Israel, that urge Israel to repent for its crimes, and that mention more than in passing the possibility of the death penalty for Israelite trespasses. Rashi’s comment that in “lifting up His face” God will in fact be “conquering His anger” now makes perfect sense: in the eyes of the midrash, the people had committed sins that had caused a distancing between them and God’s presence—and God has every right to be angry with them! Therefore, Israel is in great need of a blessing that will result in God “lifting up His face” and “conquering His anger” so as not to punish them, but instead bring them peace—the final result of the divine blessing.

Ironically, Rashi has nothing to say about that final blessing of peace! The primary midrash upon which Rashi relies in commenting on the Priestly Blessing has a great many things to say about the importance of peace—in fact, it repeats the pronouncement “Great is peace…” no fewer than twenty times in the remaining thematic half of its discourse; nonetheless, Rashi seems to be true to the game plan he outlined in his comment on Genesis 3:8 (above), and will only resort to midrash to “settle” the meaning of biblical language, to offer “the fullest possible accounting of it,” but will not present midrashim, however great the values they teach, only for the sake of teaching those values. That is, simply put, not his purpose in composing his commentary. We are left, therefore, to intuit how he imagines this shalom/peace, based on his own formulation, as “the feeling of well-being when one exits from a court room, vindicated or pardoned.”32

So it is that Rashi turns to the final verse in the biblical passage: “So shall they place My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27). With regard to this verse, Rashi is interested in clarifying two of its aspects. The first of these is: what does it mean for the priests to place the name of God upon the people of Israel? Once again, Rashi relies on Sifrei Bemidbar and explains that the priests must “bless the Israelites using the divine name,” YHWH.33 There is power in the name, and the priests must not invoke God using any euphemism or substitute. The second item on Rashi’s agenda for this verse is to clarify the referent to the pronoun (in Hebrew, a pronominal suffix only) at the end of the verse: when the Torah states, “and I will bless them”: to whom does it refer? The immediate antecedent is, of course, Israel—and to our ears this is, perhaps, obvious.34 Rashi states, “And I will bless them, i.e., Israel, and I shall agree with the priests.” However, as Rashi’s ancient rabbinic predecessors acknowledge, it is also possible to read the pronoun as a reference to the priests themselves—that is, God states “I will bless the priests” and, by implication, they shall transfer that blessing to the Israelites.

We can summarize Rashi’s exegesis of the Priestly Blessing as follows. Rashi primarily interprets the passage according to ancient rabbinic midrash, which frames the pericope (Numbers 6:22–27) as a dialogue between Israel and God, with Israel initially objecting to priests blessing them at all, and preferring to be blessed only, and directly, by God personally, who then reassures Israel that the divine intention is for God to continue to be the source of all blessings, including the ones spoken by the priests. Rashi references this dialogue both at the beginning and end of his exegesis, analogous to the way in which the biblical text itself (Numbers 6:22–23 and 27) frames the blessing formula (Numbers 6:24–26). In his interpretation of the individual components of the blessing, Rashi proceeds along the lines suggested by the midrash, and treats the first blessing (Numbers 6:24) as one in which the priests invoke God to bestow material well-being, and the second blessing (less grounded in concrete imagery) as one that speaks more to an emotional or ethereal state of being. In the third and final blessing, Rashi depicts Israel in a juridical setting, the priests expressing the hope, actually, that God will not function as a good human judge is expected to function, with an eye only to justice and not to the particular circumstances of the defendant, but will pardon the Israelites for any and all sins, granting them the “peace” of a favorable verdict.

We have traversed the length and breadth, as it were, of Rashi’s commentary on the Priestly Blessing. We now return to the questions we posed at the beginning of this essay: how does Rashi construe these blessings, and why does he think ancient Israelites (or his contemporary Jewish audience) would wish to be blessed with these specific blessings? In a sense, perhaps, we were asking the wrong questions of Rashi, though they seemed logical enough to us at the outset. Let us recall what Rashi himself states quite clearly about the goals of his Torah commentary (at Genesis 3:8), “I have only come for the plain sense of Scripture and the aggadah that settles a word of Scripture and its sense.” When Rashi states his interest in “plain sense” interpretation, he could not have had in mind what ancient Israel thought—because the very notion of a fixed, historical/contextual interpretation had not yet been invented in European Jewish circles. As the late, great Israeli scholar Sarah Kamin demonstrated, for Rashi, the terms p’shuto and midrasho (“plain sense interpretation” and “midrash”) had not yet achieved the degree of interpretive categories that they did later in the twelfth century, and it is highly misleading and anachronistic to apply to Rashi as sophisticated a distinction among levels of interpretation and methodologies as developed two and three generations after him.36

In order to more fully appreciate Rashi’s achievement in his own time, let us briefly contrast his commentary with that of another northern French rabbinic exegete of the Bible who, at a remove of three generations from Rashi, presented what we might think of as an accurate contextual understanding of the Priestly Blessing. This commentator, Rabbi Joseph Bekhor Shor, was a disciple of another of Rashi’s grandsons, Rabbeinu Tam (the younger brother of Rashbam, discussed above). When writing about the blessing’s opening verse, Bekhor Shor interprets as follows:

May the Eternal bless you and keep you: May God bless you with children,37 with a [healthy] body, with wisdom, with length of days, and with wealth;38 and [may God bless you] in your going forth and in your returning, and in the city and in the field, in your basket and your kneading-bowl (see Deuteronomy 28:3–6)—that your heart may be joyful in your portion/lot-in-life. For in all of these belongs the language of blessing.39

One can distinguish at a glance between the type of contextual commentary Bekhor Shor provided (in the late twelfth century) and the very distinctive style of Rashi (in the eleventh). Rashi does not think of “blessing” in the abstract, and then apply that notion to his interpretation of the Bible; nor does Rashi first scan all of the various biblical contexts in which a notion of blessing occurs (although of course he knows all of those verses!)—but Bekhor Shor does both of these things before his pen hits the page. Instead, Rashi does just what we would expect him to do, given what he says about the goals and methodology of his enterprise: rooting his understanding primarily in ancient rabbinic midrash, Rashi conveys that meaning in a clear-flowing and lucid prose. To be sure, that is no mean achievement, and one that has lasted some 900 years as the fundamental, first reading of the Bible for Jews all over the world.

One might ask: Why should we care about what Rashi had to say, if commentaries that show greater fidelity to literary and historical context have been written since? My response to this question comes from several different directions. First, because of the exceedingly prominent role that study of Rashi’s Torah commentary has played in the lives of Jewish communities all around the world and from the Middle Ages until our very day, Rashi has become what may be considered a self-validating source. We no more ask this question about Rashi than we do about the Torah itself, or about any other Jewish classic composed since the day the Israelites are first said to have gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. These works, Rashi among them, are the life-blood of the Jewish people. In a sense, we live to study these works. True, we transform their finest thoughts into our ongoing and reinvented Jewish civilization and we discard elements that we no longer consider worthy of retaining in our contemporary understanding and practice of Judaism. But we preserve the sources and make them all available for study—and perhaps we live precisely because we try so hard to maintain the fullest possible library and accounting of Jewish civilization.

Rashi was himself one of the great exemplars of this process, and this observation leads me to my second response to the question of why we should study Rashi. Rashi refracted all of ancient rabbinic wisdom in his Torah commentary—Talmud and midrash, law and lore, Targum and piyyut, and more—but cast his learning in what was in his time a completely new genre of literature for the Jews of his day: the ad locum gloss.40

I will illustrate what I mean by this via a personal story. I was once lecturing at a university in Israel, attempting to explain what I found to be utterly new in Rashi’s Torah commentary. Frustrated that I could not convince one of the members of my audience, I exclaimed, “Don’t forget—Rashi didn’t study ‘Ḥumash (Pentateuch) with Rashi!” While the vast majority of the content of Rashi’s Torah commentary was ancient midrash, the form in which Rashi presented his exegesis—the commentary or gloss—was all but utterly new. I have always been bothered when rabbis and professors alike refer to “ancient biblical commentaries” in the Talmud and other rabbinic works. These works are replete with interpretations, to be sure; however, the genre through which the rabbis cast these interpretations are not “commentaries” per se, and are completely midrashic in nature and form. Indeed, midrash is “the original” rabbinic form of “reading” or, rather, “interpreting the biblical text.”41 What Rashi did in creating a running interpretation right there on the page was nothing short of extraordinary (at least in a Jewish cultural and intellectual milieu).42 Rashi was in many ways the originator of what I call the “two-finger method of reading,” requiring one finger following along the reading of the biblical text, while another finger followed along in the interpretive gloss. Jews did not read that way before Rashi—and they have hardly read any other way (at least when reading traditional and “authoritative” texts) ever since.

My second response to the question “Why study Rashi?” leads to a third observation. What is even more startling and revolutionary was that, in employing the commentary form (both in his biblical and in his talmudic exegesis), Rashi essentially adopted what was for all intents and purposes a Christian hermeneutic. Christians had employed the commentary form, in one iteration or another, for hundreds of years, essentially adopting and adapting Greco-Roman literary conventions that preceded them. Yet even Christians in Rashi’s time and geographical locale, sharing the same cultural and intellectual world, were changing the ways in which they used the form to interpret the Bible.43 Let me mention only one remarkable analogy to Rashi’s interpretive works, the Glossa Ordinaria (“Ordinary Gloss”). The Gloss is a remarkable and vast work of Christian biblical scholarship and, roughly speaking, was a project that took hundreds of years to complete. Moreover, the Christian scholars who composed the Gloss essentially “lived down the street” from Rashi and his family (in medieval Paris, Champagne county and the Loire River valley).44 But perhaps the most telling point of comparison with Rashi’s commentary is its composition; approximately 70–80% of its contents were culled from ancient patristic works of Christian homily and allegory, while a smaller percentage were ad litteram (“according to the letter”) comments that by the eleventh and twelfth centuries had developed into a “plain sense” commentary (especially as this developed outside the bounds of the Gloss, but existed even within its pages). This is not the place to elaborate further, but the analogies to Rashi’s exegetical program (or Rashi’s to the Gloss) are abundant enough to see.45

My point in addressing the points of contact between Rashi and contemporary Christian exegesis is not to try to determine precedence or even influence—it is clear beyond debate that Christians and Jews were in close cultural and intellectual contact and learned from one another; indeed, it almost defies belief to imagine it could be otherwise—but only to help us understand the ingenuity of Rashi in adapting ancient Jewish content to the new forms of literacy and cultural presentations that were current in his time and locale. And I think that matters. To truly appreciate Rashi’s genius, we need to consider not only the words in the commentary itself, but we also need to imagine the world in which he lived and the challenges that he faced. And the fact remains: studying “Ḥumash with Rashi” is today universally recognized as a quintessential Jewish act of both erudition and piety. And yet our very ability to engage in this study is due to Rashi’s own creative and brilliant adaptation of Christian intellectual and religious mores—and that is as timeless and important a message as one can imagine, as Judaism faces its own contemporary challenges.

I wish to conclude with one final thought about Rashi, as man and as exegete. Anyone who has ever studied Rashi’s commentary knows that there are many verses for which there is no comment. Apparently, Rashi felt that those verses were self-explanatory and did not require any elaboration on his part. However, on other occasions, Rashi will confess about some matter or another, lo yadati peirusho, “I do not know its explanation.” Rashi was well-known as an extremely humble man, and he did not hide behind the veneer of learning’s prestige (and he surely could have)! Instead of allowing his students and readers to think that that reason he did not provide commentary for a given verse because its meaning was “self-explanatory,” he went out of his way to call attention to his lack of knowledge—and this was one of the ways in which he opened the door for critical thinking among his disciples and followers. But Rashi’s dedication to truthful investigation went even further than this. It is relatively well known that Rashi rewrote and changed his commentaries during his lifetime (which is one of the many reasons that it is virtually impossible to arrive at “an original text” of the commentary). What is not as well known is the pride of place he gave to new interpretations that were proffered in his community. His grandson, Rashbam, famously wrote in his own commentary (on Genesis 37:2): “…Our Master, Rabbi Solomon, my mother’s father (i.e., Rashi), who illumined the eyes of all those in exile, and who wrote commentaries on the Torah, Prophets and the Writings, also set himself the task of elucidating the contextual meaning of Scripture [p’shat]. And I, Samuel, son of his son-in-law Meir, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, argued it out with him (Rashi, i.e., privately) and in his presence (i.e., publicly, in the beit midrash). He admitted to me that if he had the time he would have written new commentaries in accordance with the fresh interpretations of the contextual meaning that are innovated day by day….” But this is not merely Rashbam “telling tales” that vindicated his own approach over that of his illustrious grandfather, for we also have contemporary evidence that suggests that what Rashbam claims was true. In reviewing such poetic passages as Genesis 49 and Exodus 15 that he had glossed as a younger man, Rashi saw fit to incorporate some of the insights that his grandson, Rashbam, had proposed about parallelistic syntax that are an essential marker of biblical poetry. (Recall that although we consider those chapters to be poetic compositions, this distinction was only being rediscovered in northern European Jewish circles in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.) In drawing upon Rashbam’s methodologically sophisticated understanding, Rashi did not do so stealthily, but proudly proclaimed his indebtedness to his grandson by calling those new interpretations “Samuel’s verses.”46

Thus, the image of Rashi is one of a brilliant scholar; dedicated to transmission of Torah; and open to the virtue of new ideas and incorporating them into his world view; humble in self-consideration; and selfless in seeing the broader purpose of the pursuit of truth and the survival of an ancient covenant.

Insofar as the Priestly Blessing itself is concerned, Rashi matters here as well. Think of Rashi’s commentary on Birkat Kohanim as a microcosm of the macro-importance of Rashi for which I have just argued. The blessing of Numbers 6:22–27 continues to function as a kind of liturgical fulcrum—daily, in the prayer services; familially, in the parental blessing of children each Shabbat eve; and in a host of other prayer-filled and cultural contexts. These liturgies balance divine beneficence and human gratitude for God’s blessings. Rashi provides us with a way of understanding how exactly that works, and taking his thoughts into account can help a modern person interpret the concept of being blessed with those ancient words in a way that might otherwise elude even the most savvy modern reader. Through Rashi’s commentary, we learn that we needn’t feel guilty for hoping for material blessings alongside those of a more spiritual nature; that we may imagine God as smiling or even “laughing” with delight at us human creations, an image that few of us may have received through institutional religious representations; and that whatever our relationship with those who claim to represent God through traditional religious structures, we may imagine God’s own blessing showering down upon us directly, as the power to bless ultimately resides in God alone. This—and much more! As was originally stated about the Bible itself, generations of students have discovered about Rashi’s biblical commentaries: hafokh bah va-hafokh bah, d’khulla bah, “Turn it over and over, for all is in it.”47

 

 

 

 

 


 

NOTES

1 The translation is taken from the NJPS, although rendering the four-letter name of God as “the Eternal” (rather than “Lord”), in keeping with the conventions of this volume.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all translations of ancient sources (including biblical passages) are those of the author.
3 I do not address here the approach to this distinction taken by advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis, who assign different authors or sources to these two passages. I first became aware of the distinction between the material blessing of Genesis 27 and the covenantal blessing of Genesis 28 in 1976, in a course I took with Nehama Leibowitz; see Nehama Leibowitz and Aryeh Newman, Studies in Bereshit (Genesis): In the Context of Ancient and Modern Jewish Bible Commentary (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organisation Department for Torah Education and Culture, 1981), pp. 275–279.
4 I am grateful to my student Dr. Yedida Eisenstat for providing me with a digital edition of the manuscript she obtained in the course of writing her dissertation, Rashi’s Midrashic Anthology: The Torah Commentary Re-Examined (Jewish Theological Seminary, 2014). There is a prominent recent scholarly debate about the importance of this commentary, in particular by two Israeli professors, Avraham Grossman and Elazar Touitou; unfortunately for the English reader, all of this research is published in Hebrew only. For now, about Rashi’s life and works, see Avraham Grossman, Rashi, trans. Joel A. Linsider (Oxford and Portland, OR: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2012); for particular reference to ms. Leipzig 1, see pp. 77–78. By far the best edition of all medieval rabbinic commentaries on the Bible are the ones published in Mikra·ot G’dolot “Ha-keter”: A Revised and Augmented Scientific Edition of Mikra·ot G’dolot Based on the Aleppo Codex and Early Medieval Mss: Numbers, ed. Menachem Cohen (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press, 2011). This series now covers much of the Hebrew Bible. The classic study of the historical period in which Rashi produced his masterpiece is Charles H. Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1927). A crucial and much more recent study is Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).
5 Please note that none of the printed editions incorporate Rashi’s introduction to the Priestly Blessing, which I present here in English for the first time, based on ms. Leipzig 1.
6 A version of the midrash that Rashi brings is found in Tanḥuma Naso 8.
7 Actually, Rashi initially addresses the grammatical form of the verb “say” (amor), and notes that it is not an imperative but rather an infinitive, analogous to the form of the verbs zakhor, “remember” (Exodus 20:8) and shamor, “observe” (Deuteronomy 5:12), in the so-called “Fourth Commandment” to remember and observe the Sabbath. As is his oft-practiced custom, Rashi also proposes an Old French equivalent (disant), for the benefit of his contemporary, French-speaking Jewish audience. I am grateful to my colleague, Dr. Kirsten Fudeman, for confirming that this is the OF present participle for “saying” (related to the Modern French verb “dire”). However, Rashi does not appear to tease any broader observation, either theological or otherwise, from any perceived grammatical connection between Numbers 6:23 and the Sabbath commandment.
8 For an English translation of this midrash, see Jacob Neusner, Sifré to Numbers (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).
9 See Neusner, Sifré to Numbers, pp. 187–190.
10 This translation incorporates a slight conjectural emendation I have advocated (see Robert A. Harris, “Rashi’s Introductions to His Biblical Commentaries,” in Shai L’Sarah Japhet: Studies in the Bible, Its Exegesis and Its Language, eds. Moshe Bar-Asher, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, Emanuel Tov, and Nili Wayzana, 219*–241* (Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 2007, p. 294, n. 17). Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 3:8 does not survive in ms. Leipzig 1, and I have transcribed it according to my corrected reading of the version found in Mikra·ot G’dolot Ha-keter. To this version, I have added one letter (a mem) in order to make greater sense of the comment. Thus, in place of Haketer’s reading of v’la-aggadah ha-m’yashevet d’var ha-mikra u-sh’mu·o, I read: v’la-aggadah ha-m’yshevet d’var ha-mikra u-mashma·o, ועמש[מ]ו, noting that elsewhere (e.g. in his introduction to the Song of Songs) Rashi employs the term mashma as a synonym for p’shat. Moreover, the midrashic tradition that Rashi goes on to cite, in close proximity to this methodological question, asks the rhetorical question mah sham’u, “What did they [Adam and Eve] hear?” with reference to the Hebrew verb va-yishm’u, “and they [Adam and Eve] heard” in Genesis 3:8. On Rashi’s methodology, and the manner in which he navigates between reliance on ancient midrash and the presentation of his own intuitive sense of the “plain meaning,” see Edward L. Greenstein, “Sensitivity to Language in Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah,” in The Solomon Goldman Lectures (vol. 6), ed. Mayer I. Gruber (Chicago: The Spertus College of Judaica Press, 1993), pp. 51–71.
11 This last phrase (“in order that the blessing…”) is found in ms. Leipzig 1, but not in the standard printed editions.
12 For the observation about Rashi wishing to offer the fullest possible accounting, see Greenstein, “Sensitivity to Language,” p. 54 and passim.
13 In this context, the Latin word plene refers to a word being written out “fully,” with helping letters that stand for vowels. Here, for example, emor is written out as alef-mem-vav-resh; since the vav is not, strictly speaking, necessary, the midrash (and Rashi, in its wake) fleshes out its apparent superfluity with extra meaning.
14 Alternatively, one might see the influence of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which translates as “May the Eternal bless you in all your [business?] matters….”
15 For English translations of the Tanḥuma midrashim, see Avrohom Davis and Yaakov Y. H. Pupko, The Metsudah Midrash Tanchuma (Lakewood, NJ: Metsudah Publications, 2004); and Salomon Buber, Midrash Tanhuma, trans. John T. Townsend (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 1989).
16 See Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), p. 51: “The first part of each line invokes the movement of God toward His people, the second, His activity on their behalf…God initiates six actions: bless and protect; shine and be gracious; bestow and grant peace. However, the transitional and may indicate consequence: blessing results in protection; God’s shining face results in grace; the bestowal of God’s favor results in peace. Thus the Priestly Blessing may actually express three actions.”
17 Milgrom, p. 51, cites a series of biblical verses that substantiate his assertion, and points to Deuteronomy 28:3–14 as a text that encompasses what “blessing” might generally mean in ancient Israel.
18 For a definition of what is meant by the term “modern historical-critical scholarship,” see Marc Zvi Brettler’s How to Read the Bible (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2005), p. 3.
19 The source for Rashi’s comment is likely Tanuma Naso 10.
20 NJPS renders idiomatically, “The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!”
21 Rashi has confused two biblical Hebrew roots, employing here a word whose root is resh-alef-hei (actually resh-alef-yod), whereas the biblical root is alef-vav-resh. Whether these roots are related bi-literally is beyond the scope of our discussion.
22 Rashi’s formulation, “a face of radiance,” is an idiom in rabbinic, not biblical, Hebrew; see, e.g., B. Ḥullin 7b, Pesaḥim 113b, etc. Ironically, the root for radiance can also indicate anger in rabbinic Hebrew (e.g., B. Sanhedrin 105a). However, Rashi indicates his contextual use of the phrase to mean “happy” by including the explanatory expression “a face of laughing.”
23 See also Psalms 31:17 and 80:4, 8, 20; Daniel 9:17.
24 See, e.g., Targum Onkelos and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which both choose different verbs to render “be compassionate.” Among the various midrashim found in ancient through early medieval literature, one source, nearly contemporary with Rashi, comes closest to him. That is one of the interpretations found in Bemidbar Rabbah (11:6), which states: “May God grant you the capacity/understanding to show grace to each other, and show compassion to one another…”
25 In both ms. Leipzig 1 and in many of the printed editions, Rashi concludes his gloss of the second blessing with the notice that the rabbis have “expounded many facets (Hebrew: panim)/midrashim about this in Sifrei.”
26 In fact, many editions of Rashi cite this very verse here in this comment, as well as the conclusion of the midrash.
27 It is likely the legal language of Deuteronomy 10:17 that leads Rashi to incorporate into his commentary the more overtly juridical interpretation of the two possibilities the midrash offered.
28 A different tack was taken by Rashi’s grandson, the great p’shat commentator Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam). Here, as throughout his plain-sense commentary on the Torah, Rashbam covertly critiques his grandfather’s reliance on midrash to make sense of biblical composition, and instead interprets solely on the basis of his intuition of the Bible’s contextual meaning. Rashbam holds that the so-called contradiction that Rashi attempted to resolve via the midrash is, in reality, no contradiction at all. Thus, Rashbam comments: “May the LORD lift His face to you: [This is similar to what] is written, I will turn [My face] toward you (Leviticus 26:9), i.e., that [God] will not hide His face from you. And regarding that which is written [God] will not lift up a face (Deuteronomy 10:17), this means that the blessed Holy One will not lift up the face of a person to wipe him or clean him from all sins. But God does lift up His own face toward one whom He loves, in that He will turn to face such a one to pardon him, as it is written, I will turn-my-face toward you and multiply you; and I will maintain My covenant with you (Leviticus 26:9).” For further reading about Rashbam’s Torah commentary, see the fine translation by Martin Lockshin, which contains many explanatory notes and essays: Martin I. Lockshin, Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir’s Commentary on Genesis: An Annotated Translation (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989); followed by companion volumes on Exodus (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997); Leviticus and Numbers (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2001); and Deuteronomy (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2004).
29 Translation according to Everett Fox, The Schocken Bible: Volume I: The Five Books of Moses (New York: Schocken Books, 1995).
30 Ibid.
31 Again, Rashi bases himself on Sifrei Bemidbar §42. In many editions, the order of Rashi’s two interpretations is reversed; in general, there is no significance to the order of interpretations in the commentaries, whether between plain-sense (p’shuto) interpretations and midrashim, or between multiple midrashic explanations.
32 Jacob Milgrom defines “peace” in its biblical context as follows: “Hebrew shalom means in its negative sense the freedom from all disasters (Leviticus 26:6; Job 21:9). But in its broadest scope it encompasses the positive blessings of prosperity (Deuteronomy 23:7; Proverb 3:2); good health (Psalm 38:4); friendship (Jeremiah 20:10; 38:22); and general well-being….” (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, p. 52). For an English translation of the midrashic formulations that Rashi here ignores, see Neusner, Sifré to Numbers, pp.197–199.
33 By this Rashi means the divine name pronounced according to its four Hebrew letters, not with any of the traditional ellipses or circumlocutions (e.g., Adonai, “Lord,” and the like).
34 It was also obvious to Rashbam. He disagrees with Rashi’s contention that the pronoun is ambiguous, and instead claims that what God has stated in verses 23 and 27, God has stated clearly: “I will hear your (priestly) voices when you say those words, and then I will bless the Israelites….When the priests bless the Israelites in My name, not in their own name, then I will bless them, i.e. Israel, as the priests prayed for when they said “May the Eternal bless you (Numbers 6:24).” Rashbam’s insightful and pithy comment also has the virtue of connecting the Priestly Blessing’s framing verses (Numbers 6:22–23 and 6:27) and framing the literary sense of the entire pericope.
35 The sentiment for Rashi’s gloss is found in Sifrei Bemidbar 43, although a more direct source may be B. Ḥullin 49b.
36 Kamin mostly wrote in Hebrew. The English abstract of her great monograph on Rashi’s Torah commentary may be found in Sarah Kamin, “Rashi’s Exegetical Categorization With Respect to the Distinction Between Peshat and Derash” in Immanuel 11 (1980), pp. 16–32. A posthumous collection of her essays, some in English, may be found in Sarah Kamin, Bein Y’hudim L’notz’rim B’farshanut Ha-mikra (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2008).
37 Literally, Bekhor Shor writes banim, that is, “sons,” though I think he has in mind both male and female children.
38 Literally g’dullah, “greatness.”
39 I have translated only a brief portion of Bekhor Shor’s very long comment, according to the text provided in Cohen, Mikra·ot G’dolot Ha-keter.
40 As I have already noted, a full English presentation of this idea in book form will have to await the publication of the dissertation of my doctoral student, Yedida Eisenstat.
41 For several years I have been reconsidering the distinction between what it meant “to read” in rabbinic antiquity, as opposed to what it meant as a result of developments that took place in the twelfth-century Renaissance. These changes essentially mark the transition “from d’rash to p’shat.” See, e.g., Robert A. Harris, “Twelfth-Century Biblical Exegetes and the Invention of Literature,” in The Multiple Meaning of Scripture: The Role of Exegesis in Early Christian and Medieval Culture, ed. Ienje van’t Spijker (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), pp. 311–329 ; and idem, “The Reception of Ezekiel Among Twelfth-Century Northern French Rabbinic Exegetes,” in After Ezekiel: Essays on the Reception of a Difficult Prophet, eds. Andrew Mein and Paul M. Joyce (New York, London: T&T Clark International, 2011), pp. 71–88.
42 Of course, the fact that there was “a page” to begin with (as opposed to an aural interaction between master and disciple) is itself a crucial development in the history of “reading.” See, for example, what David Stern has observed: “The one element which has not yet been included in this discussion, however, is the adoption of the codex. Just as aurality was a basic condition for midrash, so too—I venture to propose—the reading of the text on a page is the basic condition for all types of medieval exegesis, especially for those traditionally characterized under the rubric of p’shat. This is the case whether p’shat refers to the colloquial or popular sense (as in Saadiah), the grammatical sense (as in Abraham Ibn Ezra), or the contextual sense (as in Rashbam). In all these interpretive approaches, the text is read as it appears visually and spatially on the page.” David Stern, “The First Jewish Books and the Early History of Jewish Reading,” in Jewish Quarterly Review 98:2 (2008), pp. 163–202 (quoted material appears on p. 199). For a recent provocative thesis about how twelfth-century study of the Talmud factored into the changes I am describing with respect to Bible study, see Talya Fishman, Becoming the People of the Talmud : Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), especially pp. 91–155.
43 The classic study of this phenomenon remains Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), although much has been written since, as would be expected.
44 A recent and brilliant book on the composition of the Gloss is Lesley Smith, The Glossa Ordinaria: The Making of a Medieval Bible Commentary (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2009). For a different, yet still insightful, approach to the Gloss in the context of medieval literary theory, see David A. Salomon, An Introduction to the Glossa Ordinaria as Medieval Hypertext (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012).
45 A recent attempt to systematically compare Rashi and the Gloss is Devorah Schoenfeld, Isaac on Jewish and Christian Altars: Polemic and Exegesis in Rashi and the Glossa Ordinaria (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).
46 For a more detailed accounting of this, see Robert A. Harris, Discerning Parallelism: A Study in Northern French Medieval Jewish Biblical Exegesis (Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies, 2004), pp. 35–40.
47 The famous teaching of Pirkei Avot 5:21: “Ben Bag Bag would say: turn it over and turn it over (perpetually), for all is in it; see with it; grow old and worn in it; do not budge from it, for there is nothing better.”