These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on December 16, 2011 by Barer

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This week’s parsha is full of the narrative action we have become familiar with in Bereishit, with this parsha in particular being so great as to be turned into a Broadway musical (Joseph and the Amazing Coat of Many Colours).  However, a less-known fact is that the Rashbam chooses the beginning of this parsha to elucidate the methodology of his commentary.  I won’t bore you with the details, but he does add an incomparably authentic piece to the puzzle of his commentary in its relationship to Rashi’s, and the goal of both.  He says:

“And our Rabbi, Shlomo the father of my mother, Me’ir Einei Golah [a phrase connoting great respect, lit. ‘the one who illuminates the eyes of the Exile], who interpreted the TaNaCh, paid attention to explaining the simple meaning of the text [pshat], and so too me, Shmuel the son of Rabbi Meir ZaTzaL [an abbreviation for Zecher Tzaddik Livracha, may the memory of this righteous man be for a blessing] the son-in-law of Rashi, with and before whom I argued [I believe he means that he argued before and with Rashi, not his father], admitted to me that, had he had the time, he would have needed to create further interpretations according to the various pshat interpretations that arose each day.” (37:2, translation mine)

This is in the context of the Rashbam explaining why he has largely diverged with the general rabbinic tradition of commenting on Torah more in the language of drash (more homiletic, though a full definition would require a book-length treatment) than pshat.  He makes it clear that Rashi himself told him that he too ought to have provided a more exclusively pshat explanation of Torah, had he had the time.  The question, then, is why does the Rashbam wait 37 chapters to explain what he views his project as being?

One explanation I saw was that the Rashbam brings this clarifying methodological statement here in order to prepare his readers for the (radically) different interpretation that the Rashbam gives of the stories to follow.  I do not find this explanation particularly pulling, as the Rashbam offers explanations of verses before this that diverge from general rabbinic opinion.  A wise chevruta of mine offered a subtler explanation.  While the comment is completely methodological in content, it comes under a specific heading at the beginning of our parsha, where the verse reads: “These are the generations of Yaakov; Yosef was seventeen years old…” (37:2).  The explanation for why the Rashbam comments as he does here, and not, like one might imagine, at the beginning of the Torah, is that he views himself as continuing the specific project of Rashi his grandfather, just as the Torah singles our Yosef as continuing the ‘project’ of his father Yaakov in a special way.

Follow one’s father

Or grandfather, furthering

Their own legacy