Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon gives a clear exposition of the parameters of

By Elizabeth Gonzales,2014-04-17 23:13
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Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon gives a clear exposition of the parameters of

    Rabbeynu Saadia Gaon gives a clear exposition of the parameters of peshat and when

    and how the conventional, primary meaning of a word can and may be abandoned:

    From the Introduction to Rabbeynu Saadia Gaons Full Commentary on the Torah:

    It is impossible to interpret the Torah without mastering the three pieces of

    information that bring loyal Jews (baalei emunah) to perfection in their

    performance (shleimus ha-avodah): the muskal, the kasuv, and the mekubal. I will

    now establish how to interpret the Torah and the other prophetic works.

    These three items are [also] the basis understanding Scripture [itself]. Now, in

    any language, every statement may contain words that tolerate a single meaning,

    and words that tolerate multiple meanings. The statements in the Torah, being

    written in one of the worlds languages, are no exception. This being so, an

    obligation (chovah) rests upon anyone attempting to expound upon the Torah, to

    explain all its words according to their conventional/primary meaning (kpashtan),

    as they square with the muskallos that preceded it and the mesorah that came after

    it, as words that have absolute meanings (kmillim sheh-hein baalos masmaos

    muchlatos). Any word whose attributed meaning contradicts one of these [two]

    factors unquestionably has another meaning.

    If I would further clarify this, I would add that it is proper for every person of

    understanding to always grasp the sefer Torah according to the peshat of the

    words that is mefursam [conventional/widely-known/familiar] among those who

    use that language, and [take the meaning that is] used more. For the goal of every

    written work is that its ideas be wholly grasped by those who hear it [read]. The

    only exception is if the chush (sensory perception) or the seichel contradicts that

    terminology, or if the peshat of that terminology clearly contradicts another verse,

    or contradicts the mesorah of the prophets. If one sees that letting the words retain

    their peshat meaning would lead to one of those four things I established [denial

    of muchash or muskal, denial of peshat of other pesukim, or denial of the

    mesoress], one is obligated to know that the statement in question is not meant

    kepashto, but has a word or words not meant to be true in all aspects. And [one is

    obligated to know that when correctly interpreted, utilizing one of the several

    categories of figures of speech, the verse must agree with the muchash, the

    muskal, the pashtei hapesukim [i.e., of the other pesukim which can retain their

    pashut meaning without objectionZL] and the mesoress.

    RSG then brings examples to illustrate the four factors, each of which is necessary to

    allow, and forces, one to relinquish the conventional/primary meaning of a word:

    Eve described as the mother of all life in the conventional/primary sense contradicts the

    muchash, because the words would then imply that the lion, ox, donkey and all the other

    creatures are offspring of Eve. Therefore the word lifemust be modified to mean human life.

    Hashem is a consuming fire (Devarim 4:24) in the conventional/primary sense

    contradicts seichel.

    In the conventional/primary sense, Hashems saying that when giving maaser you shall

    test me through this (Devarim 6:16) contradicts the pesukim prohibiting testing Hashem.

    In the conventional/primary sense, Do not cook a kid goat in its mothers milk implies

    that only cooking a kid goat in its own mothers milk is prohibited, whereas the mesorah teaches

    us that we are prohibited not only to cook, but also to eat, other animals, together with other milk. This requires us to search the verse for some borrowed forms of words by which we can explain how the verse can match the mesoress

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