I want to focus on a brief comment in Rashi that caught my attention, that may teach us how to look at Rashi and how we understand the Torah.
What is פשוטו כמשמעו? ”The simple meaning is what it sounds like“? That’s what “simple meaning” means, right? How do we interpret the words of the Torah?
פרדס is often taken as an acronym for four levels of interpretation of the Torah: פשט, רמז, דרש and סוד. The four tannaim entered into the deepest levels of understanding Torah and some could not handle it.
What is פשט? Rabbi Hayyim Angel defines it as “the primary intent of the author”. I think that this begs the question; how are we to know the multiple intents of the author (or especially, for כתבי קדש, the Author) and which one is primary? I would define the various “levels” of interpretation in terms of how much “outside” information is brought in: פשט is interpreting the text based on that particular text itself; רמז is an interpretation based on a knowledge of all תנ״ך; דרש adds the תורה שבעל פה; and סוד adds what we call קבלה. But the boundaries are fluid; it’s all one Torah and the categories are just the way our human minds like to understand things. One can argue about a given interpretation, whether it is פשט or דרש.
What is משמעות? תוספות on קידושין מט,א translates המתרגם פסוק כצורתו as כמשמעתו. There is a talmudic concept called משמעות דורשין איכא ביניהו, when two tannaim or amoraim agree on the halacha but derive it from different psukim. משמעות means the actual words of the text, the literal meaning.
The difference is clear from a discussion of carrying on שבת:
The פשט is the meaning of the text. For a metaphor, this is not the same as the literal meaning of the words; when יעקב blesses נפתלי (בראשית ט:כא) as an אילה שלחה, he clearly did not mean that he had hooves and antlers. רש״י interprets it as זו בקעת גינוסר שהיא קלה לבשל פירותיה כאילה זו שהיא קלה לרוץ. That is the פשט.
Similarly, in our gemara, I not would read this as an agreement on the underlying principle, אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו. The argument is determining פשוטו. Is the psalm literally praising the warrior (as רד״ק reads it, מלך המשיך) or is it a metaphor for the sharpness of the Torah scholar? About the משמעות there is no question; the verse says חרבך, your sword.
So what is Rashi telling us with פשוטו כמשמעו? Is he just letting us know that יבשת המים is not a metaphor? Why would we think that?
We need to understand what Rashi’s commentary is meant to teach us. We often think of Rashi as emphasizing the פשט of the פסוק, but that isn’t really true. There’s a well-known Rashbam that describes his conversation with his grandfather:
And Rashi clearly does not always give us the פשט; for instance on the first פסוק of the Torah:
אין המקרא הזה אומר אלא דרשני, כמו שדרשוהו רבותינו ז״ל בשביל התורה שנקראת (משלי ח כב) ראשית דרכו, ובשביל ישראל שנקראו (ירמיה ב ג) ראשית תבואתו.
ואם באת לפרשו כפשוטו כך פרשהו בראשית בריאת שמים וארץ והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך ויאמר אלקים יהי אור.
ולא בא המקרא להורות סדר הבריאה לומר שאלו קדמו, שאם בא להורות כך, היה לו לכתוב בראשונה ברא את השמים וגו׳…
Rashi felt there that the פשט, while it existed, was an inappropriate interpretation for what he was trying to accomplish.
We do not have an explicit introduction to Rashi’s commentary on the Torah (unlike many commentators), but he did write one for שיר השירים outlining his goals:
And he says similar things in the commentary on Torah:
So Rashi is not coming to explain פשט or דרש; he wants to explain אופניו of the text, to establish the Torah on its bicycle.
Actually, Rashi’s phrase is a quote from משלי:
Unfortunately, אָפְנָיו in this sense is a hapax legomenon. Elsewhere in תנ״ך, אופן means wheel or angel, but that doesn’t fit this text. Rashi’s explanation is:
Like decorative gold buttons on a silver-plated vessel, so are words spoken on their bases. Rashi is trying to teach us the “basic” interpretation of the text, which will allow us to appreciate all the other seventy facets of the Torah. פרוש רש״י is meant to be the פרוש to have when you’re having only one. He combines all the levels of interpreting the Torah as he sees fit, with the didactic purpose of teaching us the basis for being educated Jews (this analysis is largely based on Rabbi Eisemann’s For Rashi’s Thoughtful Students).
And he succeeded. We talked last week about Targum Onkelos and how it was the authorized translation of the Torah for those who could not understand the original. Rashi has now supplanted that, even in the הלכה:
So how to understand our Rashi? I think he is saying that to understand the pasuk, we need both interpretations. The raven did exactly what it sounds like: it circled the ark until the waters dried up. But to understand the narrative, we have to see the connection between Noah and Eliyahu. The story that Rashi refers to is at the beginning of Eliyahu’s career:
Eliyahu was fire-and-brimstone prophet, a zealous fighter for G-d but was notably unsympathetic to his people. He came to punish, not to coax. He was unable to see G-d in the “still, small voice”. He was, ultimately, unsuccessful at weaning the kingdom of Israel from idol worship and was eventually called to Heaven, to be replaced with Elisha.
Rashi presents a narrative of Noah that is similar. He an איש צדיק, תמים בדרתיו but not able—even, not trying—to influence his generation.
(The wording here is significant; Rashi chose to use the Midrash, not the gemara (סנהדרין קח,א) מלמד שהיה נח הצדיק מוכיח בהם ואומר להם עשו תשובה ואם לאו הקב״ה מביא עליכם את המבול, which portrays Noah in a more active role.)
The משך חכמה puts it this way (with a contrast to a different צדיק):
Rashi hints at this as well:
Noah has fallen from a master of צדקות to a master of dirt.
Rabbi Sacks called Noah a tzaddik in pelz, “a righteous man in a fur coat”. Rather than light a fire to warm others, he kept himself warm. His righteousness did not extend to helping or saving others.
Rashi, by his choice of דרש, shapes our understanding of the text of the Torah and prepares us for the coming of a truer צדיק, אברהם אבינו.