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Rashi, a Missing Yud, and R. Moses Isserles

This morning I started working on a blog post and saved it with the intention of finishing it tonight or tomorrow. I now see that R. Josh Waxman at Parshablog has posted on the same topic, adding more than I ever intended to write. I wanted to mention a few different things so read Josh’s post and here’s mine.

In this week’s Torah reading we read the following verse, (Deut. 1:13)

הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבנים וידעים לשבטיכם ואשימם בראשיכם

“Pick from each of your tribes men who are wise, discerning, and experienced, and I will appoint them as your heads.”

On this verse Rashi wrote the following on the word ואשימם,

חסר יו”ד, למד שאשמותיהם של ישראל תלויות בראשי דייניהם, שהיה להם למחות ולכוון אותם לדרך הישרה

“The word ואשימם lacks the letter yud. This teaches that the guilt of Bnei Yisroel is placed on the heads of their judges for it is their duty to admonish and direct them onto the right path.”

The source for Rashi’s comment can be found in the midrash Sifrei on Deuteronomy, piska 13. (See Josh’s post on this point.) This rabbinic interpretation is based upon the the “defective” spelling of the word ואשימם, yet if one looks in just about every single humash or Tanakh the word is written “full/plena” with a yud. See here for the Westminster Leningrad Codex. Not surprisingly, in some editions of Rashi a comment was added saying that in most Tikkunim and Sifrei Torah the word is written with a yud.

First of all, this just shows how ridiculous it is to try and find hidden messages in the Torah by counting letters, numbers, etc. See this article by Jeffrey Tigay which I have linked to before. Secondly, whether a word is written “full” or “defective” may have halakhic implications when determining if a Sefer Torah contains a mistake which will invalidate it or not. In the Shulhan Aruch, OH 143:4 the Rama wrote that even if a mistake was found in a Sefer Torah, we only take out a different one if it is a “real mistake” and not one of full vs. defective spelling.

והא דמוציאין אחר, דוקא שנמצא טעות גמור, אבל משום חסירות ויתרות אין להוציא אחר, שאין ספר
תורה שלנו מדוייקים כל כך שנאמר שהאחרת יהיה יותר כשר

The Mishnah Berurah amplifies the Rama’s comment.

כגון ווי”ן או יודי”ן מלאים או חסרים שלא נשתנה בהם הענין והמבטא כגון במקום שהיה צריך לכתוב אבותינו מלא וי”ו ונמצא חסר או להיפוך וכן במקום שהיה צריך לכתוב מלא ביו”ד שימושית ונמצא חסר או להיפוך אבל טעות שנשתנה במבטא אף שלא נשתנה הענין כגון כבש שהיה כתוב במקום כשב או שלמה שמלה צריך להוציא אחרת וכן ×””×” אם כתב מגרשיהן במקום מגרשיהם דהא איכא שינוי לשון וכן אם כתב רחבה במקום רחבו צריך להוציא אחרת אע”×’ דנוכל לקרות בחולם כמו אהלה וכן בפסוק והנה תומים בבטנה אם כתב תומים מלא באלף תאומים אע”×’ שהענין אחד צריך להוציא אחרת שהרי נרגש במבטא וכן בתיבת ונחנו מה אם כתב ואנחנו מה וה”×” אם נשתנה הענין ×¢×™”×– אע”×’ שלא נשתנה במבטא כגון בתיבת ונמצה דמו כתב ונמצא דמו או בתיבת מאן יבמי שהוא שרש מיאון כתב מאין ביו”ד וכן כל כיוצא בזה צריך להוציא אחרת ועיין בדה”×— ובשערי אפרים שהאריכו בפרטים אלו

Moses Isserles was also a scribe and in Alei Sefer, no. 19, there are a number of articles on his Sefer Torah.

8 Responses to “Rashi, a Missing Yud, and R. Moses Isserles”

  1. 1
    lion of zion:

    i have the earlier volumes of alei sefer. are the later ones online anywhere?

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    I don’t think so. They have just started republishing it with volume 20.

  3. 3
    Joachim Martillo:

    Doesn’t it almost seem that there was an existing interpretation of the verse, but the commentators did not understand the original logic behind it? As a consequence, they resorted to developing a somewhat questionable justification for the interpretation.

    If one knows koine Greek, one hears asimam as a sound anagram of miasma to wit taint of guilt.

    We may here have an example of a homiletic interpretation that passed from Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jewish traditions of Biblical hermeneutics to Aramaic-speaking Jewish interpretative traditions while the underlying logic was lost.

    Examples are actually fairly common, but today’s Jews not familiar with koine or Hellenistic thinking often miss key aspects of texts or concepts dating to the Greco-Roman period.

  4. 4
    Joachim Martillo:

    I elaborated my comment on my blog in .

    BTW, I am not the only person that looks at RASHI in this way. See .

    I believe Banitt and I came to similar conclusions around 1973-4. I was searching for a link between Greek-speaking and Aramaic-speaking Judaism while Banitt was looking at RASHI carefully within the Old French context.

  5. 5
    Joachim Martillo:

    Oops wrong URL:

  6. 6
    Menachem Mendel:

    The Greek aspect sounds very interesting and I wonder if Saul Lieberman in his Greek in Jewish Palestine or a similar work discusses this question.

  7. 7
    Michael Satlow:

    Mr. Martillo’s suggestion is intriguing, but probably doesn’t work in this case. The Septuagint (which you expect the Greek-speaking Jews to use) offers a straightforward translation of the word into Greek: katasteso.

  8. 8
    Joachim Martillo:

    Actually, there were several Greek translations of the Hebrew bible, but I was not really looking to explain the exegesis via translation but through paretymology and perhaps paronomasia because in this way the recourse to a hypothetical scroll with defective spelling is not required.

    I try to explain in my blog entry at: .

    Pagan Greeks of the Greco-Roman period loved this sort of analysis, and we have every reason to believe that Greek-speaking Judeans did as well.




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