R"Y Kara & Rashbam

Interactive Learning Module

1. Introduction

  • לגרסה בעברית של יחידת לימוד זו, לחצו כאן.‏
  • One of the hallmarks of Northern French Peshat exegesis is a recognition of "דרכי המקראות" ("the ways of the text") and a sensitivity to literary phenomena and patterns in the Biblical text.
  • One such phenomenon is the principle of "Hakdamot" or literary anticipation, the idea that certain statements appear in the text not because they are needed at that point in the narrative, but rather to prepare the reader for what is to come.
  • How do various commentators apply this principle? How might it help resolve certain difficulties in the text?

2. "וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן"

  • We'll begin by illustrating the principle through a classic example of the phenomenon, the phrase "וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן" in Bereshit 9:18. Access the Mikraot Gedolot on Bereshit 9 and scan the story of Noach's drunkenness in verses 18-27.
  • What is difficult about the presence of the words "וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן" in verse 18?
  • According to Ibn Ezra, why does the text share this fact? How, in contrast, does Rashi explain the presence of the phrase in the story's introduction?
  • Scan the other commentaries on the page. Who agrees with Rashi's reading? Who concurs with Ibn Ezra? Why might that be?

3. Development of the Principle: R"Y Kara

  • While Ibn Ezra suggests that the phrase "וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן" serves to compare the evils of father and son, Rashi suggests that it plays a purely literary role. Rashi employs here the principle of "Hakdamot", though without referring to it as such. Since Canaan is to be cursed in the continuation of the story, the text needs to introduce him already at the beginning so that the reader will know who he is.
  • Rashi does not apply this approach of "Hakdamot" methodically throughout his commentary, but subsequent Northern French commentators such as R. Yosef Kara (Rashi's student/colleague) and Rashbam (Rashi's grandson) develop the idea, turning "Hakdamot" into a principle of exegesis.
  • Let's look at R"Y Kara's comments to Shemuel I 1:3 ("ד"ה "ושם שני בני) where he describes the principle, noting that it is "דרך מקראות רבים", applicable in many verses throughout Tanakh. How does he define the concept?

4. Chofni and Pinechas

  • R"Y Kara suggests that anticipatory phrases or verses come "to condition the ear" (לשבר את האוזן), introducing information needed for later, lest the reader be perplexed and not understand something in the continuation of the narrative.
  • How does he apply the concept to Shemuel I 1:3? What seems out of place in the verse? Why is this information, nonetheless, relayed here?
  • How is this case similar to the case of "וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן"? What nonetheless distinguishes the two examples?
  • In the Sefer Shemuel case, is there no other place that the information could have been relayed? What, then, is the advantage of stating it here?

5. Chofni & Pinechas: Other Explanations

  • According to R"Y Kara, the reader is introduced to Chofni and Pinechas already in Chapter 1 so as to understand their presence in Shiloh in Chapter 2.
  • The example differs from the above in that there is a full chapter between the anticipatory statement and what it serves to introduce. Moreover, there seems to be ample room in Chapter 2 to introduce the characters (see verse 12 there), making it difficult to understand why the fact needed to be presented earlier.
  • What alternative explanation does Malbim give to explain the mention of Chofni and Pinechas? Is this approach more convincing? What assumptions must it make?
  • What does Radak suggest? How is his approach similar to that of R"Y Kara? How, though, might he be attempting to address our difficulty?

6. "וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל"

  • Let's now explore a second case where R"Y Kara makes use of the concept, this time suggesting that the literary anticipation serves to introduce narratives that will be discussed only many chapters later. Click here to access the Mikraot Gedolot on Shemot 13:18.
  • Commentators are troubled by the phrase "וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל", questioning both the meaning of the word "וַחֲמֻשִׁים" and why this fact is being mentioned specifically now, as the nation leaves Egypt.
  • Look at Rashi's second explanation (beginning "דבר אחר"), where he adopts the interpretation of Mekhilta DeRabbi Yishmael (accessible by pressing the "Show Additional Commentaries" button on the bottom of the verse). How does he explain the phrase and its placement?
  • In contrast, what does R"Y Kara suggest?

7. Concordance Work: "וַחֲמֻשִׁים"

  • Rashi and the Midrash suggest that the word "וַחֲמֻשִׁים" means 'a fifth' and that the verse is stating who merited to leave Egypt, an immediately relevant point.
  • R"Y Kara, in contrast, asserts that the word means 'armed' and that the verse is introducing this fact already now only so that when we later read of the nation's military victories in the Wilderness, we will not be perplexed as to how they had become equipped to wage war.
  • Which definition of "וַחֲמֻשִׁים" matches the simple sense of the text? Click on the word "וַחֲמֻשִׁים" to access the One Click Concordance to see how the word is used throughout Tanakh.
  • Whose explanation do your findings support? [To exit the concordance, click outside of the popup or click on the corner x.]
  • Given this, what appears to be driving the debate between the Midrash and R"Y Kara?

8. Derash vs. Peshat

  • The Midrashic approach assumes that every verse in Torah must have value in and of itself, and therefore prefers to explain the phrase "וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" in a way in which it will have inherent relevance and lessons to teach, even if this means employing a somewhat creative reading of the word "וַחֲמֻשִׁים".
  • The Midrash might also not be bothered by the question of provenance of military equipment, as the Midrash may be assuming that the battles were completely supernatural.
  • R"Y Kara, in contrast, having identified a general literary pattern of "Hakdamot", is not bothered by the lack of immediate relevance, allowing him to maintain the simple meaning of the word. It is also likely that he prefers to explain that Hashem performs most of his miracles through natural means.
  • This difference of opinion regarding whether the Biblical text is omnisignificant and to what extent it can be said to employ standard literary methods, is a key point of dispute between Midrashic and Peshat exegesis.
  • Can you think of other examples where this general difference of opinion affects the reading of a verse or story?

9. "שלא תתמה"

  • When explaining the principle of literary anticipation, R"Y Kara often employs similar language, saying "לשבר את האוזן" and "שלא תתמה". As such, searching for these terms is a helpful way of finding other cases in which he utilizes the methodology. Highlight the words "שלא תתמה" in his commentary, and press "Search", or press here.
  • Scroll down to scan the results relating to R"Y Kara (beginning with search result #12). Click on the link on top of each result to see the full comment.
  • In which cases does the anticipatory comment serve to introduce a fact which is relevant later in the same story, and how often does it refer to something in a totally different chapter or even book?
  • How frequently does R"Y Kara employ the principle of "hakdamot"? Does the quantity of examples make his case for the existence of such a literary phenomenon more convincing?

10. Rashbam's Application of Hakdamot

  • Let's now move to Rashbam who develops the principle of "Hakdamot" even further.
  • Rashbam defines the concept in his comments to the very first verse of Torah. Access his commentary to Bereshit 1:1, and scan the paragraph beginning, "אך זה הוא עיקר פשוטו".
  • How does Rashbam's definition compare to that of R"Y Kara? [Note, too, where their language overlaps.]
  • What are the first two examples that he brings to explain the principle?

11. "וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל"

  • As we analyzed above the case of "וְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן", let's explore Rashbam's second example: Yaakov's reaction to Reuven's misdeed with Bilhah.
  • In order to compare Rashbam with other commentators, let's access the verse in the Mikraot Gedolot on Bereshit 35:22. What difficulties are raised by the second half of the verse, "וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר"?
  • According to Rashbam, why does the verse share that "Yisrael heard" if it does not include his response? What relevance does the fact that "Yaakov's sons numbered twelve" have for the story?
  • What does Ibn Ezra (in his third commentary) suggest? How does Ramban's explanation compare?

12. Evaluation

  • While Rashbam asserts that the text shares Yaakov's recognition of Reuven's act only to prepare the reader for Yaakov's later rebuke in Bereshit 49, both Ibn Ezra and Ramban assert that the words "וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר" themselves reveal Yaakov's reaction, hinting either to his ensuing abstinence or forgiving of Reuven.
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?
  • Does the fact that Yaakov's rebuke will be discussed only at the very end of the book make this example of Rashbam less convincing than others? Why or why not? How is it different from the case of Chofni and Pinechas above? How does it compare to the case of "וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל"?
  • For further discussion of the story of Reuven and Bilhah and how commentators understand Yaakov's reaction, see Reuven and Bilhah.

13. Creation

  • Let's now return to Rashbam on Bereshit 1:1, where he brings a third, somewhat more radical example of the phenomenon. We'll resume from the last paragraph beginning, "גם כל הפרשה הזאת".
  • What verses does Rashbam suggest constitute a "Hakdamah"? What do they serve to introduce?
  • How does this example differ from previous examples?
  • What in the text is troubling Rashbam and motivating him to make his claim?

14. Superfluous?

  • Rashbam maintains that the entire Creation story comes only to testify to the truth of Hashem's statement in the Decalogue: "כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים עָשָׂה י״י אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת הָאָרֶץ". The entire chapter, and not just an individual phrase or verse, comprises a "Hakdamah".
  • Is it problematic to suggest that an entire chapter might be included in Tanakh only so as to provide background to but one verse (which appears over a book away)?
  • Moreover, why does Rashbam think that the story of Creation is otherwise superfluous?
  • Scan the opening paragraph of Rashi's commentary to Torah. Where does Rashi suggest the Torah should really begin? What does this imply about how Rashi views the ultimate focus of Torah? Might Rashbam agree?

15. Torah's Focus

  • Though not explicit, Rashbam, like Rashi, might assume that the narrative portions of Torah are subservient to the halakhic sections. If so, Rashbam disagrees with his grandfather only regarding why the Torah nonetheless begins with the story of Creation.
  • Whose answer do you find more compelling, Rashbam's literary approach, that the chapter serves to verify that Hashem created the world, or Rashi's argument that it serves to buttress the nation's claims to the Land of Israel?
  • Compare both Rashi and Rashbam with Shadal on verse 1. According to him, why does the Torah open with Creation? What does he think is the primary goal of Torah?

16. Summary

  • Northern French Peshat commentators such as R"Y Kara and Rashbam methodically employing the principle of "Hakdamot" to resolve difficulties in the Biblical text.
  • They note how "Hakdamot" might serve many functions, preparing the reader by introducing characters, places or concepts, explaining verses, confirming later information, and preventing possible misconceptions.
  • While some "Hakdamot" are obvious expository statements, appearing at the beginning of a unit to introduce information which will be needed later in the same story, others are less obvious as they might refer only to a much later narrative, chapters or even books away.
  • Similarly, while many assume that a "Hakdamah", by nature, is a brief statement, meant to elucidate a unit of equal or larger length, Rashbam claims that the opposite is possible as well. At times, an entire chapter or more might serve to introduce but one verse or phrase.
  • Though a fairly simple concept, employing the principle of "Hakdamot" when learning and using it as a foil to more Midrashic types of explanations, often yields new readings and insights, enriching one's Torah study.

17. Additional Reading