Envisioning Chazal

Mr. Rebibo makes some very compelling points in his article, “Inviting Rashi Into Our Homes.”

Indeed, Chazal (Mesechet Shekalim 2:5) teach us that when a Torah teaching is taught in the name of its author, the listener should imagine that the author is standing before him.

However, I feel it is important to add one crucial aspect to this topic: Mr. Rebibo wrote that the Rishonim were “real people.” Indeed, they were mortals, but we can’t possibly fathom their greatness. They were on such a lofty spiritual level that were we to merit to see them, we would be overcome with awe. Rashi and the Rashbam weren’t simply a grandfather and grandson with a differing view on a pshat of a passuk; they were for all practical purposes fiery angels.

On a related note: What is the source for the claim that the painting that appeared alongside the article is Rashi?

Thank you,

Shia Eilen

Mr. Rebibo replies:

Thank you for your letter and for sharing the beautiful Chazal on the need to imagine that the author we are citing is standing in front of us.

I hesitated to use the term “real people,” because as you point out, Rashi and the Rashbam were so much more. They were on lofty spiritual levels that we can’t even imagine. My point was that if we can take them off the page and imagine them personally telling us their insights, we can better understand how every single word is important, deserving of reverence. If we see something they’ve written that doesn’t seem to add anything to the obvious meaning, then we have to go back and learn it again.

I think we have a tendency, when learning the writings of recent Gedolim like Harav Eliyahu Dessler, Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, and Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, to hunt out the fascinating question or approach we’d never thought of. But that’s a mistake. We shouldn’t need “razzle-dazzle” to make us stop and pay proper attention to the words of our Gedolim.

Insofar as the painting of Rashi, I confess that I don’t know where it comes from, other than that I grew up with that image on my notebooks in school. But that hardly makes it a reliable source.