In this week’s reading, Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, says something truly profound. He says: “I don’t know.” He says this in other places, for example about certain species that were unknown to him. But I don’t remember him saying this in a case similar to this one.

The Torah describes Moshe sanctifying Aharon and his sons, and the Tabernacle and all the utensils and holy objects used within it. And then the Torah says, “and he sprinkled from [the Anointing Oil] on the Altar seven times.” [8:11] And Rashi comments, “I don’t know where [Moshe] was commanded concerning these sprinklings.”

Rashi was an incredibly prolific teacher. His commentaries span the entirety of Torah and Tanach (the Bible), and almost all of the Talmud. He explains concisely and clearly things which we would otherwise never understand. And he could have simply omitted comment here. He could have presented a theory. But no… he didn’t know, and he wanted us to know that he didn’t know.

The Ramban, Nachmanides, has an extensive commentary about a possible source for the sprinkling, but then finds a contradiction to his idea. And rather than leaving it out, he describes his idea and why there’s a possible contradiction to it.

They are both telling us that it’s perfectly acceptable to not have all the answers. Their objective was not their own honor, to be seen as experts in their field, but simply to arrive at the truth. Rashi tells us, don’t be disheartened if you can’t understand or find the source for this sprinkling, because I can’t either. And that’s okay, let’s keep learning.

In the Chapters of the Fathers [2:16] Rebbe Tarfon says, “It is not upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to separate from it.” No one will ever understand all of Torah; we continue growing, we continue learning, all the while recognizing that we don’t know, and may never know, a great deal more than we do. That’s not a defect, it means that we have an endless opportunity for continued growth in our understanding! Rashi himself recognized and shared with us that he did not know, saw nothing wrong with that, and continued to grow in his learning. And we would do very well to follow his model!

2 Comments

  1. I was wondering if there may be a cross reference with Parashat T’Tzaveh. We read in chapter 30 instructions for the building of the altar. And in Parashat Ki Tissa psukim 26 and on specific instructions for the oil, including Al bassar adam lo yisach, sprinkle yes.

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  2. THANK YOU RABBI MENKEN. I DO HAVE A QUESTION. SINCE MOSHE WAS SANCTIFYING EVERYTHING, WOULD HE HAVE HAD TO BE COMMANDED TO SANCIFY THE ALTAR, BUT RATHER WOULD HAVE KNOWN SINCE EVERY THING WAS GOING TO HAPPEN HERE, OF COURSE HE WOULD HAVE TO ANOINT. SORT OF LIKE BETZALEL KNOWING WHEN TO PLACE THE SCROLLS IN THE ARK AS HE WAS BUILDING THE MISHKAN.
    CHAG PESACH TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY…A FULFILLING ONE.

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