‘Visit’ with Rashi gives insights into forgiveness

By Rabbi James Stone Goodman

With Rashi, Bible scholar, (1040-1105 CE), Troyes, France

I was visiting with Rashi, the poet on a hillside in eastern France. It was winter. Snow on the ground. We were sitting on bales in a circle as the sun began to set.

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Rashi opened with the first verse of the portion, And Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. When? Rashi asked. Rashi’s daughter (I think her name was Miriam) was speaking in quiet tones from behind a screen to her father. My daughter reminds me — Rashi used a word in medieval French for reminds — that Moses assembled the community the day after Yom Kippur, when he came down from the mountain. What’s the significance of the day? Rashi asked us.

It was getting dark so Rashi lit some candles. He also gave us grapes about then. They were translucent dark, blue black, almost lapis. I had never seen such grapes. Rashi continued, the Mishkan (Sanctuary) is the symbol of forgiveness, God’s gift to Israel signifying that the sin of the golden calf had been forgiven. This Torah, this Mishkan — these gifts from God all signify forgiveness.

There was whispering all around. It’s all about forgiveness, isn’t it? said the one sitting to my left. We ate more grapes.

It’s all about forgiveness, said Rashi’s daughter. We all asked for God’s purifying forgiveness as we prepared ourselves for our liberation saga, this being the last of four special Shabbes portions before the month of Pesach, our freedom story.

Soon, we will mark the beginning of our freedom saga, of this we were all aware. There is a long way to go, we have come so far already.

By this time it was dark. The candles had burned down. There were no candles left. Rashi asked me to get some icicles from across the field. I brought back four or five icicles, Rashi put them in the candle holders, lit them, and we continued learning.

Rashi said, the first light, created day one, was specially created, the light that sustains but it was hidden away for the future. The future, said Rashi, we will have to be cautious, he was looking at his daughter. As he spoke I saw him gather the light with his hands, like he was moving the air around above the flames, as if he was gathering light into his arms.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman of Congregation Neve Shalom prepared this week’s Torah Portion.

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