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Rashi's Method: A Model For Students

Rashi's commentary does not maintain an internal consistency. For example, in one comment on the binding of Isaac, Rashi quotes a midrash that explains the story as God's answer to a challenge from Satan. Yet a few comments later, Rashi offers that Abraham misheard God. He suggests that God's command was to take Isaac up to witness a sacrifice. Because of this lack of consistency, it's probably not a good idea to try to argue what Rashi believed about a certain text. What Rashi does well is to give permission to ask many questions and pose different answers without having to claim any of them as the only valid question or answer. In this way, Rashi's methodology models a pluralistic approach to Torah study.

It's helpful to point out Rashi's implicit questions as a way of affirming our students' own questions. It's probably more important for students to be able to relate to Rashi's questions than his answers. This is ironic, because Rashi's questions are rarely stated explicitly in the text. In the example above, some implicit questions are:

  • How did Sarah feel about the whole binding episode?
  • Did she know?
  • When did she know?
  • Did she try to stop Abraham?

These are questions that our students might also be asking. Though Rashi isn't comprehensive in his answers, our students can resonate with tradition in knowing that they weren't the first ones to ask. Sometimes Torah study can be alienating for students; the stories are odd with lots of troubling tales as well as missing information. Commentary and midrash are ways to make the experience of Torah study something that draws kids in, especially when they have tough questions. To share Rashi's questions is to be intellectually close to him. In this way, our students will feel a camaraderie with Jews of all time who have asked difficult questions.

Type: Essay

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