What's Bothering Rashi? Parshat Tzav: The Anointed One
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Tzav(Leviticus 6-8)

The Anointed One

 

The following is a puzzling comment that is a brainteaser. This is really a complex Rashi-comment. Because of the difficulty of explaining it clearly, I had grave doubts about using it in cyberspace, where byte-size comments are de rigueur. But I like it because it shows how sensitive Rashi is to the subtleties of the Torah's language.

Leviticus 6:15

"The priest who is anointed in his stead from his sons, shall perform it; it is an eternal decree for Hashem, it shall be completely burnt."

 

RASHI

Who is anointed [hamashiach] in his stead, from his sons -Rashi: Who is anointed [hamashiach] of his sons, in his stead.

 

WHAT HAS RASHI DONE?

This is a very strange comment; its strangeness is more obvious in the original Hebrew. The Torah says "hamashiach tachtav mibanav." Rashi adds nothing to the Torah's words; he only re-arranges them and says : "hamashiach mibanav tachtav." In English the two versions look like this:

 

The Torah's version:

"And the priest who is anointed in his stead, of his sons, shall perform it" etc.

Rashi's version:

"And the priest who is anointed of his sons, in his stead, shall perform it" etc.

Why has Rashi made this switch?

In order to analyze and understand this very subtle Rashi-comment, we must first provide some background.

 

WHAT IS THE VERSE SPEAKING ABOUT?

Our verse is a continuation of the laws which began in verse 13. There it tells us that on the first day of a newly installed High Priest he is to bring a special meal-offering. In this verse we learn that the same offering is also brought by each succeeding High Priest (who is chosen from among the sons of the previous High Priest) on the day of his installation.

 

QUESTIONING RASHI

The obvious question is: Why does Rashi make the switch in word order? Can you make sense out of this puzzling comment?

Your Answer:

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

Some additional information is necessary to make sense of Rashi. The words in Hebrew "hakohen hamashiach" can have two slightly different meanings. The word "hamashiach" can mean either:

 

  1. The one who is anointed. In that case it is a passive verb, or

     

     

  2. The Anointed-One (as we use the word Mashiach). In that case it is a noun, a title.

 

Rashi takes the word as a noun, like a title, i.e. the Priest, the Anointed-One or in Hebrew it is one-name-phrase: "The Kohen-Hamashiach."

Now let us read the verse according to Rashi: "And the Kohen-Hamashiach, from his sons, in his stead" etc. This makes better sense than the order in the Torah: "And the Kohen-Hamashiach in his stead, from his sons..."

In order to have this verse make sense we would have to add the underlined words: "And the Kohen- Hamashiach who is appointed in his stead, from his sons."

If, on the other hand, the word "hamashiach" were a verb i.e. "the priest who was anointed," then the words "in his stead" would fit in well. "The kohen who was anointed in his stead from his sons..."

So Rashi indirectly tells us to translate the word "hamashiach" as a noun, ("the annointed one") and thus he must change the order of the words of the Torah to have them make the best sense.

But then you should have a serious question to ask of the Torah itself.

Your Question:

 

QUESTIONING THE TORAH

A Serious Question: If Rashi's order is the best and, in fact, the word "mashiach" is meant as a title, then why doesn't the Torah use that order, instead of the order it has? Why does the Torah say "The Kohen-Mashiach in his stead, of his sons"? This sounds awkward.

This is a difficult question.

Some help can be derived from another Rashi-comment. On the verse in Exodus 29:30, we have a similar Rashi-comment. Look it up. Maybe that can help you.

Your Answer:

 

A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING

There (Exodus 29:30) Rashi says the true, basic meaning of the word Kohen means "to work" or "to serve." It is a verb which also can be used as a noun. We are most familiar with the word Kohen as a noun, meaning a person of the priestly family. A word having two meanings, one as a noun the other as a verb, is similar to a word like "shomer," which means "watchman." But it is also a verb, "hu shomer" means "he watches."

Perhaps, in a way similar to Kohen and shomer, Rashi uses the word "mashiach" as a noun, because he realizes that this is the way it is commonly understood. So he makes his comment on that basis, on the basis of how we, the student of the chumash, would understand it.

However, the Pshat, basic, meaning of the word is "the one who is anointed" as a passive verb. (As Rashi had said about the word "kohen" - "one who serves.") Therefore, the Torah, itself, uses the word mashiach in its basic sense, meaning "the one who is anointed," thus the appropriate phrase is "The kohen who is anointed in his stead, from his sons."

 

RECONCILING RASHI'S WORD ORDER WITH THE TORAH'S WORDS

Thus, the Torah's order is correct as it uses the word; and Rashi's order is correct as he uses the word. Rashi takes the word as a noun, because that is its familiar meaning ("the anointed-one"), so the student can easily understand the verse. Rashi was first and foremost a teacher and his commentary is written so the student can grasp the concepts he is teaching.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: March 27, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Ady, March 22, 2013 12:11 PM

As l was re-reading this article on this fine night, the thought came across to me about this verse in Leviticus 6:15. Can this verse be taken both ways? That is as a verb and a noun dependent upon circumstances at the time. Interesting.

(3) Ady, March 26, 2012 6:11 AM

This is magical in more ways than one. Thanks for your insights on the topic.

(2) Miriam Vinicur, March 28, 2007 10:38 PM

A new student at almost seventy years trying to understand difficult concepts.

(1) grisha, March 31, 2004 12:00 AM

i am 13 years old

i love this website

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