Choosing the Rashi to study in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s commentary on Rashi

Sunday, 13 November, 2022 - 7:10 pm

With the closing of the chapter of the explaining a Rashi based on the system of selecting the beginning and final verse in each Parsha, what method did the Rebbe use to decide which Rashi to dwell on and incorporate in his commentary? On most occasions, the Rebbe would unilaterally choose a comment of Rashi to explain. There are other factors that also had influence on the particular Rashi that would be discussed. On occasion it was related to a topic that was being discussed at that time and fit well with the theme. This can be found in 1966 (Pinchas, 21 Tammuz 5726), when the Rebbe linked the discussion on the Exodus as a case of coming out of danger, which would require a blessing of thanksgiving, to an internal exodus from spiritual ailments. In the context of the steadfastness to avoid spiritual ailments and find a personal exodus, the Rebbe discussed the comment of Rashi related to the display of steadfastness of the daughters of Zelophehad to receive a part of the land of Israel (Numbers 27:5).[1]


A further rationale in the selection of which comment of Rashi to study was presented in 1967 (Parshat Ha-azinu, 5727). The argument presented was that, as the farbrengen when a study of Rashi took place was typically on Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, corresponding to the seventh reading in the weekly Torah portion, the study of Rashi should be from that section of the Torah reading, and furthermore, when possible, from the opening passage in that section or, even better, from the opening section of the Maftir of the Torah reading.[2]


In 1967, the Rebbe’s appears to want to re-establish the custom to study the first and last verse, when applicable, in cases when either for some reason it was not studied, or required further explanation from previous years. The Rebbe opened his discussion on Parshat Todot with the introduction; in order not to change the custom, the comment of Rashi at the beginning and end of the Torah portion will be explained. This however seems to be an exception as most studies of Rashi, going forward, were selected not by this model any longer, unless there were reasons to re-open a previous study that had not be dealt with fully.


In 1967, for Shabbat on Parshat Beshalach, that coincided with the tenth day of Shevat, the anniversary of Rebbetzin Rivka, the wife of the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel, known as the Maharash, the Rebbe chose the comment of Rashi on the verse that discusses the role of Jewish women leadership and the importance of Jewish education for girls, based on the verse in Exodus (15:20): ‘Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took.’[3] On the Shabbat before the 1st of Av, 1967, when Aaron passed away, the verse related to that subject was studied (Numbers 33:38). On another occasion, the Rebbe spoke about the challenge of searching for a ‘good Rashi’ to study.[4] 


In 1967, on Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev (20 Kislev), the comment of Rashi about the jealousy of Joseph by his brothers (Genesis 37:11) was chosen due to the proximity to 19th Kislev, when Rabbi Shneur Zalman was release was Czarist prison, who was also envied by his colleagues due to the special relationship he had with their teacher, the Maggid of Mezrich.[5]


On occasion, as occurred in 1969 and 1970, the Rebbe encouraged someone privately to submit a question and the Rebbe would select the comment of Rashi to address in response to their question.[6]


On Shabbat Parshat Beha-alotecha, in 1969,the Rebbe opened by saying there are a number of comments of Rashi that can be addressed, before selecting the comment of Rashi on Numbers 10:35: ‘May those who hate You flee from You,’ due to the verse being related to a similar verse found in Psalm 68:2 - the chapter of Psalms corresponding to the age the Rebbe had recently entered into (67 years old, i.e., 68th year): ‘[7] The Rebbe justified this selection by quoting the Talmudic dictum:[9] Similarly, for Shabbat Parshat Naso, 1970, the Rebbe selected Numbers 6:23, related to the comment of Rashi on the priestly blessing: ‘saying to them’ (amor la-hem), due to the question posed by a private person, who the Rebbe asked to submit a question[10]


Reflecting the challenge of selecting a comment of Rashi to study in a particular Torah portion, in 1972 (Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev), the Rebbe says there are ‘several reasons for selecting which verse to discuss in this week’s Torah portion,’ before proceeding to select the verse and its analysis.[11] On occasion, the Rebbe would choose a Rashi to analyse based on the fact that a particular Rashi is pertinent to derive from it a principle in the commentary of Rashi as a whole. As there are very few principles articulated about the methodology of Rashi in his commentary, besides for the fact that he aims to explain the biblical text according to the p’shat, principles must be judiciously derived from the commentary itself. The Rebbe would therefore choose a comment of Rashi to analyse based on the fact that one may derive from it a principle regarding methodology of Rashi as a whole.


One such example is in 1972, on Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev, choosing to study the Rashi on Genesis 38:13: ‘[13] bringing three reasons why the Torah writes that Judah went up to Timnah, as opposed to down, as found by Samson in Judges, Rashi selects only the answer that appears third in the Talmud – Timnah was situated in a the slope of a mountain and depending on one’s starting point, one may be ascending to descending to Timnah. Selecting this answer demonstrates that the aim of this information that Judah ascended to Timnah was not to let us know that there are two Timnas, which is not relevant to this biblical text, or that ascending is figurative, that also irrational that the townspeople would know about the eventual progeny of Judah and convey this to Tamar but its rationale is contained within the biblical text itself and pertinent to Tamar who simply needed to know from which direction Judah will be coming from so as to position herself in the right location to attract Judah’s attention. For this reason, Rashi argues, the biblical text writes uncharacteristically a detail about the type of journey Judah was making – ascending, as opposed to just going.


In 1978, two comments of Rashi were chosen to analyse due to their connection with redemption. In Parshat Chukat, 5778, a verse was selected related to the route the Jews took when they entered Israel: ‘the route of the spies’ (Numbers 21:1),[14] and, similarly, the following week, in Parshat Balak, the verse pertaining to the Messianic promise about the destruction of the biblical enemy of the Jewish people, as related to in the verse: ‘When he saw Amalek (Numbers 24:20).[15]


In 1981, a comment of Rashi was selected due to a question that was submitted, prompting the Rebbe to say that he did not have search for a suitable Rashi to study, since a question on a particular Rashi was submitted. However, he lamented that the questioner only posed a single question, when there were many questions that could have been asked.[16]


In 1984, the choosing of a comment of Rashi seems to have settled on two criteria: a comment of Rashi that required explanation or a verse that required explaining, sometimes in fact addressed by many of the other commentators, but neglected by Rashi. On Parshat Bereishit, the criteria was to select a comment of Rashi that required explanation and a second verse entirely that was neglected.[17] On the following Shabbat, Parshat Noach, a verse was selected that had within it both issues related to one verse: a comment of Rashi that required much explanation, and also an overall question about the verse that seems to have been neglected by Rashi.[18]


In 1986, the system of selecting a comment of Rashi to study at a farbrengen on Shabbat changed. Instead of the Rebbe choosing a comment of Rashi to address, the participants at the farbrengen would write a question pertaining to a particular comment of Rashi before Shabbat in one of the scholarly journals of the Yeshiva (Kovetz Ha-arot u-bi-urim), and the Rebbe would select from this journal which Rashi to address at the farbrengen.[19]


A further method for choosing a comment of Rashi to study was based on the verse that was also used as the basis for the Chassidic discourse delivered at the same farbrengen. This occurred on Purim, 1976, when a study was delivered on Esther 3:5: ‘[20]


Continued commentary from week to week


Occasionally, a study on a verse that took place in one week would be followed up during the following week. An example of this can be found in the portion of Masei, 5765, that began on the Shabbat and continued on the following Tuesday.[21] Similarly, the study on Deuteronomy (30:19) for the portion of Nitzavim continued the following week on Rosh Hashanah.[22] Similarly, the discussion on Beha-lotecha (Numbers 9:10) was reopened and continued the following week on Shelach.


On some occasions, a continuation of a study in a comment of Rashi was because people had questions on what was discussed previously. This occurs on Naso, 5766 when the Rebbe reopened the discussion the following week, on Shabbat Beha-alotcha, due to questions people had on what was discussed the previous week. In such instances, despite of the unfinished business from the previous discussion, the Rebbe would first discuss the new comment of Rashi that is relevant to that week’s parsha, before re-opening the discussion on the previous comment of Rashi, and to answer the questions that were posed. The reason for this was because the discussion on the new Rashi would be of broader interest, as opposed to the reopening of the previously discussed Rashi that is of narrow interest; in response to the one who asked the questions.[23] Nevertheless, the Rebbe would answer these questions at a public farbrengen, indicating the interactive style the Rebbe had initiated for his study series of Rashi.


This was not a rule, however, as in 1967, on Shabbat Parshat Chukat, (1 Tammuz, 5767), before studying the new comment of Rashi for that week, the study from the previous week was reopened and completed, since fourteen or fifteen questions were submitted, and the Rebbe commented that one can add other questions also. In this case, it would seem that due to the number of questions that were asked on the subject discussed the previous week, as well as the acknowledgement that there are other questions that needed dealing with, suggesting a broad interest, the Rebbe first completed the previous study on Rashi, before proceeding with the new Rashi.[24] The pattern may have however shifted later in 1967, when on Shabbat Parshat Noach 5768, the Rebbe reopened the study on Bereishit (Genesis 2:2), due to questions posed, without saying how many questions, before proceeding with the study on the current Torah portion. The reason given was because it is important to follow the order of the weekly Torah portions.[25]


On occasion, without the apparent stimulation of a question from the audience, a study of a Rashi from one Shabbat nevertheless was followed up and completed on the next Shabbat, when usually a new Rashi would be studied. In such cases, the old Rashi would be continued and completed first, before the new Rashi was studied. This can be found in Shabbat of Parshat Re’eh, 1966, when the study in the Rashi from the previous week, Parshat Ekev, was first completed, before the new Rashi on Parshat Re’eh was studied.[26] The reason given for this was since, as opposed to when one forgot to say a daily prayer and later remembered, the new prayer is recited before making up for the prayer that was missed, in a case when the previous was recited but just not completed, as on the fast of the 9th of Av, when parts of the morning prayer is omitted, in the afternoon, the Chabad custom is one first finishes the morning prayers that was left out, before proceeding with the afternoon prayer.[27] Due to this custom, the Rebbe would first finish aspects of the previous study of Rashi that may not have been completed the previous week before proceeding to study the new study of Rashi, relevant to that week.[28]


The custom to first finish the previous study before the new study was not fixed and in 1977, both orders were enacted simultaneously: the Rebbe began with the new study on Parshat Mishpatim on Exodus 21:32, which was also connected with Parshat Shekalim, but left it unfinished, then completed the study ffrom the previous week on Parshat Yitro, related to Exodus 10:20, and then completed Parshat Mishpatim. This seems to have given precedent to both, the current week and the completion of the previous week combined.[29]


This dilemma of which verse to study first, when there was unfinished aspects from a previous study, remained an issue and in 1981, the Rebbe repeated this issue, arguing there are reasons to argue both cases: to first study the new verse, based on the law[30] regarding one who missed one of the daily prayers, whereby one must first pray the timely prayer and only then catch-up the missed prayer, or finish the study of a verse from a previous week first, based on the order of the prayers in the afternoon of Tisha B’av, when one first completes the missing parts left out in the morning prayers.[31] An additional rationale for this model – first complete unfinished business - is from Abraham, when he returned from Egypt to Canaan, it states: ‘And he went on his journeys.’ The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, comments that before going to do any other things,[32] ‘on his return, he paid his debts.’ It is also most common for a person to complete an earlier project before starting something new. Conversely, an additional rationale for the opposing model – to start with the new study – is from the principle stated in the context of explaining the view of Beit Hillel in the Mishna regarding the order of the blessingsrecited in the Kiddush: ‘One recites the blessing over the wine and thereafter recites a blessing over the day of (Shabbat).’ The rationale in the Talmud for this is the general principle: ‘When a frequent practice and an infrequent practice clash, the frequent practice takes precedence over the infrequent practice.’[33] Based on this, since the frequent practise is in fact to study a comment of Rashi on a verse for the current week, and less frequent from a previous week, the study relating to the current week should take precedence. Without resolving the dilemma in principle,[34] but necessary the decide in practice, the Rebbe proceeded to study first the new subject relating to Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:23): ‘but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings,’ before completing the study of the verse from the previous week from Parshat Va-era (Exodus 6:9): ‘because of [their] shortness of breath.’


On occasion, a juxtaposed but unrelated Rashi from the previous portion would be studied, as a continuation from the previous week, before proceeding with the current week’s Rashi. This can be found on Shabbat Parshat Ki Tavo, 1967. The ‘excuse’ for this exception is since in any case the Rebbe interrupted the theme of the week’s Torah portion related to the first fruits with an unrelated discussion about Tomchei Temimim, the tangent can be extended to finishing off the discussion from the previous week’s discussion on Rashi, before proceeding with the week’s new Rashi.[35]


In 1967, a commentary on a Rashi (Genesis 49:6) began in one week with only the questions, and informed that the answers will be given in two weeks, due to lack of time at the farbrengen. In that case, the verse was an additional verse to the one selected for that week and was studied due to questions that people had posed but for some reason the Rebbe chose another verse as the main subject to study at the farbrengen.[36] On another week, due to lack of time, a comment of Rashi was studied (Genesis 27:1: were too dim) and began posing questions also on the following comment of Rashi (Genesis 27:2: I do not know the day of my death) but informed that because of lack of time the continuation of the second study on Rashi would be discussed at the following farbrengen.[37]


There were times a study in Rashi would continue for more than two weeks. In 1967, the study in Rashi on Shabbat Parshat Toldot on Genesis 27:1: ‘were too dim’ continued for three weeks in close proximity, including on Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach and Miketz. On occasion, a study in Rashi in connection with a particular broader theme would continue over an extended period. This occurred in 1967, regarding the subject of the statues of the Torah observance of the patriarchs, that began related to Genesis 32:5, on Shabbat Parshat Toldot, 5768, and continued on four subsequent weeks, drawing on various other verses on Shabbat Parshat Vayeshev, Miketz, Va-era and Beshalach, related to the same subject.[38]


On occasion the Rebbe would reopen a study on a comment of Rashi from many years previously. In 1983, the Rebbe reopened a study on a comment of Rashi in Numbers 5:9: ‘Every offering of all the children of Israel's holy things which is brought to the kohen, shall be his,’ that was studied in 1969, and published in Likkutei Sichot in 1974 (vol. 8, p. 29), due to the fact that there were further details that needed explaining that were not be explained previously.[39] In 1981, the Rebbe clarified that a reason for reopening a study on a comment of Rashi may be due to an addition to the explanation that had been previously presented, may be due to an entirely new explanation on the subject and may also be due to a need to correct and change a previous explanation since questions were raised on the previous explanation.[40] The latter was the case in 1981, pertaining to the explanation given in 1977, regarding the need for the comment of Rashi on the first part of the priestly blessings in Numbers (6:24): ‘May the Lord bless you: that your possessions shall be blessed.’[41] Finally, in 1988, on Parshat Noach, 5749, a study on a comment of Rashi, on the opening verse of the portion of Noach:These are the generations of Noah,’ was reopened to explain a single additional detail that had not been addressed previously. The footnote reference[43] to the earlier study refers to a study on Rashi on the opening verse of Parshat Noach from 1965, the first year of the studies on Rashi.[44] The Rebbe opened the study, saying: ‘In this comment of Rashi, the commentaries on Rashi discuss at length with much back and forth, and we have already discussed this at length in another place; therefore there is no need to discuss this (again) at length, other than to add one idea.’ The additional detail referred to the second half of the comment of Rashi: ‘Another explanation: To teach you that the main generations [progeny] of the righteous are good deeds.’ The question posed is: how is this different than what was already stated in the biblical text in the previous verse:But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord,’ which refers to good deeds of the righteous. The explanation given is that the second statement refers to the details of the building of the ark and inspiring the people to repentance, as opposed to general good ethical behaviour. The Torah is implying that the main aspect of righteous person is the details of their actions.[46]


A further case is the study on Genesis (38:27-30): When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb! While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand, and the midwife tied a crimson thread on that hand, to signify: This one came out first. But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother; and she said, “What a breachHeb. pereṣ you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. Afterward his brother came out, on whose hand was the crimson thread; he was named Zerah. Rashi cites a midrash (Genesis Rabbah 85:14): ‘That had the shining red thread upon his hand: The word ‘hand’ - ‘yad’ is written here four times corresponding to the four acts of sacrilege which Achan, who was a descendant of Perez, committed with his hand. Others say these correspond to the four things which he took with his hand of the spoil of Jericho: a Babylon garment, two hundred shekels, and a wedge of gold.’ In 1971, Shabbat parshat Vayeshev,[47] the Rebbe’s raises the question: why is Rashi citing a midrash about unnecessary repetition of words, which does not seem to be relevant to p’shat. The Rebbe answers that Rashi is not addressing repetition of words, but rather the narrative about the stretching out of the hand of Zerah, before the birth of Perez, since they were both righteous. A question about the general narrative of the biblical text is indeed part of p’shat. Regarding this question, Rashi cites the midrash, explaining that the reason why Zerach was not born first was due came Achan who stole to the fact that, as alluded to by the four times the word ‘hand’ is used, his descendant committed four acts of sacrilege. In 1986,[48] this study was reopened and questioned: why would the Torah hold Zerach – a righteous man[49] – responsible for a sacrilege committed by his descendent years later. This phenomenon is not found by any other righteous people! In the unedited work, this question was not answered, stating merely that it will be addressed on another occasion. However, in the published and edited version of this study, found in Likkutei Sichot,[50] it does give an answer: Since the sin of Achan was of a communal nature, his ancestor, Zerach, was impacted by forfeiting the firstborn to Perez.[51]



In conclusion, the commentary of the Rebbe on Rashi, while it’s not a classical verse by verse supercommentary, as other commentaries, like Mizrachi, Gur Aryeh, Maskil l’david, it represents a complete work that spanned 25 years with each study part of a whole singular project, in its methodology and scope.



[1] Torat Menachem 5726, vol. 47, p. 232.

[2] Torat Menachem 5727, vol. 48, p. 40.

[3] Torat Menachem 5727, vol. 49, p. 9.

[4] Torat Menachem 5727, vol. 50, p. 347, footnote 89.

[5] Torat Menachem 5727, vol. 48, p. 370-1.

[6] Zalmon Jaffe’s Encounters with the Rebbe, 5729 and 5730:

[7] Torat Menachem 5729, vol. 56, p. 335.

[8] Talmud Yevamot 25b.

[9] Zalmon Jaffe claims that this verse was selected due the fact that he submitted a question on this verse at the Rebbe’s suggestion ahead of the farbrengen. This may not be a contradiction, as the Rebbe may have perceived the reason for Zalmon Jaffe selecting this verse was in fact due to the Rebbe’s age. This however is not evident from Jaffe’s account in his Encounter. He attributes the idea to Rabbi Yitzchok Sufrin’s suggestion. In his account it mistakenly says: ‘that Yitzchok Sufrin suggested that I asked the Rebbe his opinion on ‘Mesanercho’ Chapter 11, verse 36.’ Numbers 11 ends, however, with a verse 35, but there is no verse 36. He must have, then, been referring to ch. 10, verse 35, where one can indeed find the word: Mesanecho,’ though withoutthe ‘r,’ and a talk on this subject in Torat Menachem 5729, vol. 56, p. 335.

[10] Torat Menachem 5730, vol. 60, p. 419. See also Zalmon Jaffe’s Encounters with the Rebbe, 5730:

[11] Sichot Kodesh 5732, vol. 1, p. 241.

[12] Sichot Kodesh 5732, vol. 1, p. 242.

[13] Talmud Sotah 10a?

[14] Sichot Kodesh 5738, vol. 3, p. 57.

[15] Sichot Kodesh 5738, vol. 3, p. 139.

[16] Sichot Kodesh 5741, vol. 2, Parshat Tzav/Shushan Purim, p. 726.

[17] Torat Menachem 5744, vol. 1, p. 349.

[18] Torat Menachem 5744, vol. 1, p. 408-9.


[20] Sichot Kodesh 5736, vol. 1, p. 638.

[21] Torat Menachem 5725, vol. 44, p. 155.

[22] Torat Menachem 5725, vol. 45, p. 16.

[23] Torat Menachem 5726 vol. 47, p. 99.

[24] Torat Menachem 5767, vol. 50, p. 133.

[25] Torat Menachem 5768, vol. 51, p. 260.

[26] Torat Menachem 5726 vol. 47, p. 270; 292 In Sichot Kodesh, 5726, Re-eh, p. 590, one can see how the study on Deuteronomy 11:6: ‘in the midst of all Israel’ is spread over the two weeks. In this case, a question that was not addressed about why Korach is not mentioned in the verse was the subject of the following week.

[27] Sefer Haminhagim, p. 47. See also Mishneh Torah, Temidin uMusafim 9:13.

[28] Torat Menachem 5726 vol. 47, p. 292.

[29] Sichot Kodesh 5737, vol. 1, p 495, 497 and 502.

[30] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 108:1.

[31] Sichot Kodesh 5741, vol. 2, p. 136-7.

[32] Genesis Rabba 41:3. Rashi on Genesis 13:3.

[33] Talmud Berachot 51b. Rashi on the Talmud (ibid) comments that this principle is derived in the Talmud tractate Zevachim (10a) from the verse in Numbers (28:23): ‘You shall offer these up besides the morning burnt offering which is offered as a continual burnt offering’ - applied to the order of the frequent daily morning sacrifice (tamid) that come before the less frequent additional sacrifice (musaf).

[34] Sichot Kodesh 5741, vol. 2, p. 137: ‘es zeinene tzedadimn l’kan u’lkan mit vos tzu on-heiben.’

[35] Torat Menachem 5726 vol. 50, p. 370 (5), footnote 121. This rule does not seem to have been consistent as n Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach, 5768, the new Rashi was taught before continuing with the previous Rashi on Genesis 27:1: ‘were too dim.’ The same thing occurs the following week on Shabbat Parshat Miketz, 5768. It’s possible that since this Rashi continued for three weeks, either this indicates that a single questioner may have posed the question, thus making it only narrowly relevant or since it continued for three weeks, it was studied after the Rashi on the current Torah portion. Torat Menachem 5728, p. 300 and 444.

[36] Torat Menachem 5727, vol. 48, p. 411.

[37] Torat Menachem, 5728, vol. 51, p. 275, f.62.

[38] Torat Menachem 5728, vol. 1, p. 299, 431, 443, 462 and vol. 52, p. 11.

[39] Torat Menachem, 5743, vol. 3, p. 1603.

[40] Sichot Kodesh (Beha-alotecha) 5741, vol. 3, p. 658-9.

[41] Sichot Kodesh (Naso) 5741, vol. 3, p. 574-582.

[42] Genesis 6:9.

[43] Torat Menachem, 5749, vol. 1, p. 307, f.2.

[44] Likkutei Sichot 5:36.

[45] Genesis 6:8.

[46] Torat Menachem, 5749, vol. 1, p. 307.

[47] Sichot Kodesh 5731, vol. 1, p. 325-330, 336-337, 362-368.

[48] Torat Menachem 5747, vol. 2, p. 117-118, 157-159. The study on Rashi on 38:27 in 1986 appears in the sicha as a stand-alone study – not initially as a continuation from 1971. The link between the two studies is presented by the Rebbe as a contribution made by a yeshiva student, who attempted to answer the initial question in Parshat Vayeshev, 1986 that this had already been discussed in a study in the same verse in 1971. The Rebbe, however, goes on to dismiss this as a suitable answer, since the question remains: an ancestor should not be punished by have the firstborn removed from him because of the sin committed by a descendent. Nevertheless, the link between the two studies and the highlight of the first explanation being inadequate, requiring a further explanation is relevant. In Likkutei Sichot 30, the study of the two years is in fact combined as a single study.

[49] Rashi on Genesis 38:27.

[50] Likkutei Sichot 30:184-189.

[51] Likkutei Sichot 30:188.


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