Appreciation is a weird thing. It defines the quality of a human being. One who shows gratitude to the gifts and blessings he receives, is a humble and decent person. And the opposite is one who feels entitled. The ironic twist to all this, is that we tend to appreciate the rather smaller gifts than the bigger ones. In nature for instance, most of us consciously appreciate butterflies and peacocks, but forget to thank for the miracle of oxygen. In our bodies, we feel good about our outer appearance and nice cloths, but hardly ever think of our kidneys. We sometimes focus more on a career that will make us a lot of money, and neglect our families.
The tragedy is, that we all understand that kidneys are more important than dresses, and that children are more precious than green bills, but we do not live in constant appreciation for them. Until they neglect us. And that is when we start feeling indebted and grateful. However, by then it is too late.
Therefore, I would like to express my utmost gratitude to my shepherd, my father, my teacher, the love of my life – Rashi. Like oxygen I cannot survive without you, like water if not for you my blood would dry out. Yet, like oxygen, I appreciate your gift only when you are absent. When I recently opened the Yerushalmi, I realized what you’ve done for me, for our nation. Unlike its Babylonian counterpart, whose pages radiate light, whose conversations are sensible and codes are deciphered, the Yerushalmi is a sealed book; its dialogue and style are shrouded in a cloud of mystery, it dwells in the dark. We were taught that for some reason the Babylonian Talmud is the dominant of the two, but we were never told why. Now I know why, because Rashi did not have the time to inscribe his heavenly ink on this holy book.
All the tens of thousands of commentators that based their works and derived their conclusions from the Babylonian Talmud are testimony to the crucial work of Rashi. While they went far and explored new worlds, they could only walk where Rashi left footsteps. Where Rashi put down his pen so did everyone else. Not of respect, rather of handicap, for without the torch of Rashi, we are blind in the dark.
When I was five years old and learned Leviticus for the first time, my teacher looked to Rashi as a guide. Rashi made sense of the Torah to a five-year-old. When I was ten and learned Judges for the first time, it was Rashi who taught it to me, indeed the holy words of the prophet echoed through Rashi’s quiet, forever clear voice. When I was thirteen and opened the Talmud, at first I could not make it through the first line of its strange Aramaic sentences and outdated style. Then at the right side of the page, I discovered Rashi. Like a loving mother, like a compassionate teacher he sat with me and explained every word. He taught me concepts and ideas that were prevalent two thousand years ago, and I understood them as if I had been there myself. He did not leave my side until he was confident that I comprehended the difficult passages and confusing debates.
Rashi deprived himself from the joy of contemplating the deep wisdom of the Talmud and philosophizing on its hidden treasures, in favor of holding the hand and guiding the five-year-old boy and young teenager. Rashi does not confuse us with high vocabulary words; he does not overwhelm us with information unnecessary for basic understanding. That is why Rashi is personal to us.
We love Rashi for he is the epitome of the selfless teacher, the teacher that wants his student to understand. He is the guide who leads his followers to their own destiny, even at the expense of his own pleasure. He is the shepherd who sweats in the desert to bring water to his flock, and while they drink he sits on a rock beside them, and plays the most beautiful and heavenly music they will ever hear.