Rashbam

Rashbam: Power Pasuk (Emor)

In Rashbam’s commentary, he often uses language borrowed from other parts of the Tanakh or from the Talmud, weaving together different parts of the tradition. Those who are not familiar with the quotes won’t be missing any of the interpretation, but those who do know the allusions find his commentary all the richer for it.

Here’s an example.

Leviticus 23:39 HOWEVER, ON THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF THIS SEVENTH MONTH: [The text introduces the holiday of Sukkot using the word “however,” because] even though [the previously-mentioned holidays of[ Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement are meant [respectively] for “remembrance” and for “atoning,” Sukkot, on the other hand, is meant for rejoicing and for giving thanks for the fact that [God] filled their houses with all good things during the harvest. (Translation Martin Lockshin)

The bolded text alludes to Deuteronomy 6:11, which begins with the quoted phrase. Rashbam’s larger commentary on this passage in Leviticus about Sukkot reveals his understanding that the joy of Sukkot should be tempered with humbling recognition of all the forces beyond our control that have allowed for such joy. The context of the verse in Deuteronomy reinforces this message:

Deut. 6:10-12 And it shall be, when Adonai your God shall bring you into the land which God swore unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you great and goodly cities, which you did not build, and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, vineyards and olive-trees, which you did not plant, and you shalt eat and be satisfied – then beware lest you forget Adonai, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Gratitude is everything.

Martin Lockshin notes that Rashbam seems to particularly like this phrase. He uses it in his commentary to Lev. 23:43 (where it appears four times!), Gen. 1:1, and Num. 13:19.

This reminds me of Rabbi Mike Comins, who has taught me a lot about Jewish practice in nature. One practice he calls a “power pasuk” – the Hebrew word for a verse or phrase is pasuk. A power pasuk is a short phrase that you carry around with you in nature, or to work, or on vacation, or while commuting, and allow it to slowly open up its meaning(s) for you. It becomes a mantra or teacher, a companion on the journey, a singular piece of wisdom that somehow keeps communicating deeper advice when you return to it in new contexts.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a power pasuk, find a line in Tanakh, a prayerbook, or even a favorite poem or novel. Print it out, put it in your pocket, and remind yourself of it every so often. What does this line have to teach you today?

If you want to adopt the Rashbam’s power pasuk, here it is in Hebrew / English.

וּבָתִּים מְלֵאִים כָּל טוּב

Oo-vah-TEEM meh-lay-EEM kole toov.

And houses full of all goodness.

For more about Rashbam, see my introduction.

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