Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak – Rashi

Born in the town of Troyes, France in 4800 (1040), Rabbi Shlomo ben Itzchak, better known as Rashi, stemmed from a prestigious line of rabbis that included the Tanna Rabbi Yochanan HaSandler, himself a descendant of King David. After having studied in the yeshivas founded by the disciples of Rabbeinu Gershon (the “Light of the Diaspora”), Rashi went to Mayenne, Germany to the yeshiva of Rabbi Yaakov ben Yakar. Following the death of the latter, Rashi traveled to the yeshiva of Rabbi Yitzchak ben Eleazar Halevi in Worms. There he continued to study, after his marriage, in conditions of extreme poverty.

Rashi, widely recognized as the leader of Jewry at the time, never accepted the post of rabbi. He preferred to gain his livelihood as a wine merchant. He returned to Troyes and founded a yeshiva that attracted students from France and Germany. Among his students, three would end up becoming his son-in-law: Rabbi Yehuda ben Nathan (who completed the commentary on the Talmudic Tractate Makot, which Rashi had been working on when he died); Rabbi Meir ben Shemuel (who married his second daughter and fathered three illustrious Torah commentators: Rabbi Meir [the Rashbam], Rabbi Yaakov [Rabbeinu Tam] and Rabbi Yitzhak ben Meir [the Rivam]); and Rabbi Ephraim (who married his third daughter).

Rashi commented on the written Bible (the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings), as well as on the Oral Law (which is to say, on the Talmud). Thanks to his writings, Jewish children acquire a good understanding of the Biblical text at the beginning of their education, an understanding according to the perspective of the oral tradition, just as it has been transmitted without interruption from generation to generation from the time of Moses our Teacher.

In our days, the study of the Talmud without Rashi’s explanations would be absolutely unthinkable, to the extent that Rabbi Yitzhak bar Sheshet (the Rivash) and Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi (the Shitah Mekubetzet) have affirmed that without Rashi, the Talmud would be a “sealed book”.

Rashi died on Tammuz 29, 4865 (1105), yet because of the fact that Jews the world over learn and comment on his work day and night, we may say that “his lips move in the grave” (Yebamot 97a), on which Rashi simply remarked: “It’s as if he’s alive.” Rashi’s work remains alive in the mouths, the hearts, and the minds of students, which is the reason why the name Rashi also means Rabban Shel Israel (the teacher of the Jewish people).

In Calabria in southern Italy, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah was the first Jewish book to be printed in Hebrew. The year was 1475. Owing to its simple and precise language, this commentary can be understood by a five-year-old who just beginning to study Torah. Jewish tradition acknowledges that Rashi’s commentary was written with Divine inspiration (Ruach Hakodesh). Every expression, every word carries an importance of its own. Concerning Rashi the Chida wrote: “Rashi fasted 613 fasts [according to the number of Torah commandments] before beginning his work.” He also asserted that once this commentary was completed, Moses our Teacher appeared to Rashi in a dream and told him, “Rejoice, for your commentary has been approved by G-d Himself!” Moreover, Rashi wrote in his commentary on the book of Ezekiel, “As for me, I had neither Rav nor any help for this entire undertaking. Rather, I only wrote what was shown to me by Heaven.”




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