Monday, June 11, 2012

This Shabbat at Beth Israel - Rashi

I like to think of myself as a creative Rabbi.  I am always trying to introduce new things to my shul and build them into the culture.
Among the ideas that I am most proud of is the Great Rashi Initiative.
This year at Beth Israel we have focused on Rashi's commentary of the Torah every week in shul.

Why Rashi?

Rashi wrote the most classic of all Torah commentaries.  Every standard edition of the Torah comes with his running commentary printed in its distinct script.  But there are many other commentators that we could have focused on this year.  There are two main reasons why I felt that Rashi was the most appropriate to begin with.

1. Rashi lived through the crusades.  When he lived the Jewish people faced the most perilous time in our history since the destruction of the Temple and expulsion of our people one thousand years before.
Today in the post Holocaust world that we live in we take Jewish persecution for granted.  But for the thousand years between the destruction of the Jewish community in Israel and the crusades, the Jews had not experienced wholesale destruction of communities.
Although you would never know it form the way that Rashi writes, it is quite possible that the Jews of Rashi's time thought that the world was coming to an end.  I contend that Rashi was trying to collect as much of our tradition as possible and condense it into something that would be portable that would survive the destruction.  Almost like Jews converted their wealth into diamonds before the war so that they could travel with them to safety and then rebuild when they escaped.
Rashi's comments are those diamonds.  By the time you finish his commentary you have read through a condensed comprehensive survey of the most important ideas in Jewish thought.  His commentary made it possible for Jews to maintain the ancient traditions so that they were preserved and rebuilt after the persecution of the crusades had passed.

2. Rashi's commentary is particularly famous for being concise.  An idea that would take others an entire page to write Rashi somehow managed to fit into a few words.  It is almost as if Rashi had some kind of limit of - say - 140 characters or something.  In other words, Rashi was a pioneer in tweeting!  My recent affinity for social media ha given me a new appreciation for Rashi.

This week we are going to have Rabbi Yisrael Herczeg as a scholar in residence at Beth Israel.  Rabbi Herczeg is a world renowned expert on Rashi's commentary.  He has written a number of books on Rashi's commentary and he wrote his own translation of Rashi that we use to study at Beth Israel.
By the end of Shabbat you will understand the greatness of Rashi and develop skills that will elevate your weekly study of the Torah portion.