Rashbam: The Torah of Poetry (Vayeilech)

I’m a fan of poetry (about a third of the podcasts I subscribe to are related to poetry). And after a year of studying Rashbam, I’ve become a fan of his keen close reading of Torah. So as we draw close to the end of this year of Rashbam, I’m delighted to see Rashbam comment on what poetry is.

Deuteronomy 31:19 THIS POEM: A “poem” means words that have been arranged [with a specific structure]. (Translation Martin Lockshin)

Amira Meir in a 1997 article “notes that Rashbam made many comments that constitute structural analysis of poetry – paying particular attention to the phenomenon of parallelism – but, she says, he paid no attention to other elements of poems, such as rhythm, the use of metaphors, anthropomorphisms or rhyme” (from Martin Lockshin’s commentary on Rashbam).

The word poetry is derived from the Greek poiesis, or “making”. Arranging is a form of making. And in fact, there are strands of Jewish thought that suggest that the original Creation was not “something from nothing” (ex nihilo) but rather a forming, manipulating, ordering, arranging of the primal chaotic material of the universe (tohu vavohu). God – the first poet. Torah – the sacred Jewish poem. Rashbam – an interpreter of the poem. You and I – students of the students and readers of the readers, inheritors of meaning made and meaning-making.

For more about Rashbam, see my introduction.