Why is Rashi Right?

Question

Dear Rabbi, an 8th grade, 13-year-old student asked me why I accept what Rashi says in his commentary on Chumash. “Couldn’t his commentary be wrong?” Why do we adhere to Rashi so much?

10 months

Answers

  1. I once heard a clever idea: Since Rashi didn’t have Rashi’s commentary, whose commentary did he learn? The answer is Rashi learned “roshi” – which means “one’s own head.”

    Use this idea to encourage your student to apply his own thinking to understand what he learns before consulting any commentary. Train him to ask questions, apply critical thinking, explore many possible approaches and explanations, while simultaneously searching for proofs or refutations for all the possibilities he’s pondered. In short, convey to him the importance of learning “roshi” before looking into Rashi.

    That being said, an essential part of Rashi’s approach was the tremendous amount of information he acquired by constantly applying himself to learn in depth the entire Torah – Chumash, Talmud, Midrash, Halacha. In fact, Rashi knowledge of the entire Torah is said to be an anecdotal reason for his name as an acronym: Rashi, “Rabban Shel Yisrael” — the Rabbi of all of Israel.

    Therefore, after a person ponders his own ideas about the possible meaning of a Torah statement, he should defer to the scholarship of Rashi’s commentary which is culled and distilled from sources which most people don’t even know exist, and will probably never even see, let alone understand. He delved with such depth and breadth into the traditional Torah sources and received a tradition or the explanation from his great Torah teachers.

    Nevertheless, a very legitimate question is to ask why Rashi did not explain the way that I understand the simple meaning of the text. There is an excellent series of books that beautifully address this subject, called “What’s Bothering Rashi?” by Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek. I highly recommend that you and your student try to acquire it and I am sure you will find it both educational and enjoyable.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team