I Appeared to the Forefathers
Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )
This parsha is central in the events of the redemption from Egypt. The first seven plagues are related.
The parsha begins with a very significant prophetic message from Hashem to Moses. In it we learn of the different meaning of God's different names in the Torah. I will focus on a "non-Rashi Comment".
"And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as Almighty Shaddai, but my name Hashem I did not make known to them."
And I appeared - RASHI: To the forefathers.
This comment has lead to much discussion. The verse says "And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob" - in place of this Rashi comments "to the forefathers." The comment itself does not seem to add much, if anything, to our understanding of the verse.
The Gur Aryeh offers a complex interpretation of Rashi's intent, while the Mizrachi says simply that Rashi does this just to shorten the verse and get to his main commentary on the verse – that God's appearance to them was in the form of a promise (see the next Rashi-comment).
But according to the Mizrachi what could we ask?
QUESTIONING THE MIZRACHI
What need is there to shorten the verse? Rashi could have simply began his comment with the words "as Almighty Shaddai." If the Lead Word "Va'eira" ("And I appeared") and the names of the forefathers is unnecessary to his main comment, why cite it at all?
Can you answer this?
An Answer: Sefer Zicharon, an early commentary on Rashi, suggests that Rashi had no comment here at all. He cites the Ramban who quotes Rashi and in the Ramban's version he had, "And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob." In the Ramban's Rashi text it names the forefathers (Abraham, etc.) and does not short-cut anything. On this basis Sefer Zicharon suggests that this was a copyist change introduced after the Ramban's time. (The Ramban lived two hundred years after Rashi.)
So we have no need to interpret Rashi's intent in this strange comment. He never wrote it and therefore he never intended anything. All commentary here would thus be just "pilpul" (hairsplitting deliberation) for the sake of "pilpul."
But as you think of Rashi's words, even as the Ramban quotes them, you may still have a question.
THAT QUESTION AGAIN
Again we ask, why does Rashi cite all these words at all since he does not comment on them?
UNDERSTANDING RASHI'S LEAD WORDS
An Answer: There is a rule about Rashi's use of Lead Words (Dibbur HaMatchil). At the beginning of every parsha Rashi writes a Dibbur HaMastchil which contains the words that include the name of the parsha. Sometimes (usually) he has a comment on these words – but sometimes he does not! That is, sometimes he will write these words without commenting on them. It is as if he wants to demarcate the beginning of a new parsha by writing Lead Words that contain the parsha's name. Rashi cites the name of the parsha about a dozen times in his Torah commentary without any commentary on these words! See for example parshiyot Vayelech in Devarim and B'shalach in the book of Shmot for two examples.
So here too, Rashi writes "Va'eira to Abraham, etc.," even though he has no comment on these words – just for the sake of demarcating the beginning of a new parsha.
By the way, Rashi does this as well (and so does Tosafot) in his Talmud Commentary. He will cite the first words of the new Mishnah, even if he has no comment to make on them.
Rashi has cited the words "Va'eira to Abraham, to Isaac", etc, even though he has no comment on them, because they contain the name of the new parsha. Then he goes on to cite words on which he does have a commentary - "The Almighty Shaddai."
Rashi has thus written "Va'eira to Abraham etc." ("And God appeared to Abraham, etc.") not because he has a comment on these words, but because they contain the name of the parsha – "Va'eira."
A simple point, not particularly profound. But one that helps us understand Rashi's Torah commentary. You will find many Rashi commentaries attempting to understand these Rashi "Lead Words" (at the begining of the parsha) even though they have no real "meaning." So knowing this rule gives us an important clue as to Rashi's style; thus we won't attempt to comment on his Lead Word, when no comment is necessary.