Excerpted from For Rashi's Thoughful Students
This is not the sample chapter you were expecting. It is, in fact, an endnote to the Introduction. The reason for the substitution is technical. This section of the book is unable to handle Hebrew type and every single chapter is full of that. I think that this note will give you a feel for what I am trying to do in this book and can serve as well as a regular chapter.
Herewith, a word to Chumash teachers who may be looking at this book and wondering whether it can be any use to them.
Please do not be turned off by the sheer amount of information that is being offered. It was never my intention that you should pass all this on to your students. It was designed to provide background material for teachers who feel that they can enhance their teaching if they themselves have a better grasp of what is really going on in Rashi. After that, it will be a matter of picking out the raisins that you can actually put to use in your "real-time" classroom situation.
For example, let us assume that you are teaching Bereishis 1:1 to an intellectually inquisitive and motivated tenth grade. (N.B. Please do not be cynical. There are such things as intellectually inquisitive and motivated tenth graders. If you challenge them with interesting and inspiring material, you will find that out soon enough.)
There is no reason why you should not come to the first shiur equipped with a Midrash Rabba and a Tanchuma showing them "inside" how Rashi has wedded the two sources, dealing with different issues, together.
At this point of your teaching, there is no need to analyze Rashi's motivations. The purpose of this shiur is simply to introduce the talmidim graphically to the fact that, for the most part, Rash's commentary is based on quotations from Chazal. Can you be an ehrlicher Yid if you do not know this? Can you get to olam haba if you never found this out? Of course I do not know the answer to either of these questions; still I would not be surprised if the answers to both of them were an emphatic "Yes!" However, if the question were phrased, "Can you learn Rashi intelligently and productively without being aware of this?" well, you know the answer to that one.
I can hear your objections to this suggestion. The time allotted to Chumash Rashi in the average yeshiva high school curriculum is, anyway, impossibly inadequate. How can we justify taking up an entire lesson (in practice that is what will happen - the talmidim will be so interested that they will bombard you with questions for the entire period) without even finishing a single pasuk?
There is a very simple answer to that question. It is true that you have not finished a single pasuk; it is true that there will be a lot more to do on Bereishis 1:1. But don't forget that you will have opened the door of the entire Rashi corpus to your talmidim. That is no mean accomplishment. You will have taught them truths that will impact their entire learning career. You will have guided them to the kinds of questions they ought legitimately to ask on practically every Rashi they are going to learn: What is the source for his assertions? Why did he choose this Chazal over a number of others that are available? What does this reference add to our understanding of the pasuk? Why was Rashi interested in providing us with this particular understanding? And so on and on and on.
I have a feeling that if Rashi is watching you from his throne in the olam ha'emes, he will smile in relief. At last he will have found a teacher after his own heart, one who cares about what he intended when he invested his prodigious efforts in his commentary.