Friday, November 02, 2007

Rashbam on Creation Days Before Creation Nights

Rashbam - the great rishon and tosafist, Rashi's grandson, author of the standard commentary on most of Bava Batra and part of Pesachim - writes in his peshat-oriented commentary on the Torah that the words "Vayehi erev, vayehi boker" in the first chapter of Genesis mean that during the six days of creation, daytime preceded nighttime - in contrast to the general view. This interpretation does not imply that Rashbam contested the halachic principle that (for most purposes) a halachic day consists of nighttime followed by daytime, as Rashbam himself affirms; elsewhere he explains that his Torah commentary is not at all intended to serve as a source or explanation of halacha, or indeed to function on the halachic plane at all. He advances his interpretation exclusively as the simplest - not the halachic - meaning of the verse.

To my astonishment, I recently discovered that this piece of Rashbam has been edited out of some editions of the Mikra'ot Gedolot Chumash, seemingly because it has been misconstrued as a challenge to accepted halacha and is thus considered offensive. I find it shocking (or, perhaps more accurately, I wish I found it shocking) that someone would edit the words of one of the great rishonim because he found them distasteful. I cannot fathom how anyone today could with such confidence judge himself, and not Rashbam, the greater arbiter of exegetical propriety, particularly if one has already decided to print Rashbam's commentary alongside those of Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, etc. Even more atrocious than cutting out part of the commentary is the dishonesty of the publisher/s in not noting that portions of the work have been omitted; the reader is given the impression that he is being provided with Rashbam's entire (extant) commentary, when in fact he is not. This is destructive to scholarship and the pursuit of truth; perhaps it is theft as well.

In the interests of setting the record straight and helping provide access to that which has been so brazenly censored, what follows is the omitted piece of Rashbam, plus other related excerpts from the commentary. I have used the text of Mikra'ot Gedolot Hama'or (Jerusalem: Hamo'or, 1990).

בראשית א, ה - ולחשך קרא לילה. לעולם אור תחילה ואח"כ חשך: ויהי ערב ויהי בקר. אין כתיב כאן ויהי לילה ויהי יום אלא ויהי ערב, שהעריב יום ראשון ושיקע האור, ויהיה בקר, בוקרו של לילה, שעלה עמוד השחר. הרי הושלם יום א' מן הו' ימים שאמר הקב"ה בי' הדברות, ואח"כ התחיל יום שני, ויאמר אל[ק]ים יהי רקיע. ולא בא הכתוב לומר שהערב והבוקר יום אחד הם, כי לא הצרכנו לפרש אלא היאך היו ששה ימים, שהבקיר יום ונגמרה לילה, הרי נגמר יום אחד והתחיל יום שני: עכ"ל

א, ו - ויאמר אל[ק]ים יהי רקיע. לאחר שנגמר יום ראשון לבוקרו, ויאמר אל[ק]ים: עכ"ל

א, ח - ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום שני. שנטה היום לערוב, ואח"כ ויהי בקר של יום שני. הרי נגמר יום שני מששת הימים שאמר הקב"ה בעשרת הדברות, והתחיל עתה יום שלישי בבקר: עכ"ל