Why does this Rashi use לשון נקבה instead of לשון זכר?

Home Forums Grammar – דקדוק Why does this Rashi use לשון נקבה instead of לשון זכר?

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    QUESTION: I have a bit of a technical question, I hope you can help me out here. Basically, there is a Rashi (to Isa. 41:2) where he explains how the righteous deeds (צדק) that a person does “greet his feet” wherever he may go (i.e. their merits are awakened before any possibly damaging situation arises). But my question is that if you look closely at Rashi’s wording, he treats the word צדק as though it was in feminine form, instead of treating it as a masculine word as it ought to be. Here’s Rashi’s exact wording:

    ישעיהו מא:ב – צֶדֶק יִקְרָאֵהוּ לְרַגְלוֹ; רש”י – וצדק שהיה עושה היא היתה לקראת רגליו בכל אשר הלך.

    So my question is, basically, why does Rash write היא היתה instead of הוא היה when talking about צדק?

    ANSWER: Very interesting question. I’m not sure if I have a good concrete answer, but I came up with two possibilities:

    1. First of all, it could be that Rashi viewed the words צדק and צדקה as essentially interchangeable, so even though he wrote the word צדק and was commenting on the word צדק in the passuk, he was still thinking about the word צדקה. We find elsewhere the Navi uses the word צדק and in his comment, Rashi switches it to צדקה:
    הושע י:יב – וְיֹרֶה צֶדֶק לָכֶם; רש”י – ויורה צדק לכם וימטיר צדקה לכם.
    Indeed, in a parallel passage, the prophet seems to say the same thing about צדקה as he does about צדק, so perhaps that led to Rashi to assume their interchangeability:
    ישעיהו כח:יז – וְשַׂמְתִּי מִשְׁפָּט לְקָו וּצְדָקָה לְמִשְׁקָלֶת; רש”י – צדקה אשים שתהא משקולת המיישרת בנין הבונין בחומות כלומר שתהא צדקה מהלכת לפניהם ומיישרת דרכיהם.

    2. Secondly, it could be that Rashi understood the verse at hand as though there was an unspoken missing word. This is because we don’t literally mean that the righteous deeds will greet a person wherever he goes, but that the “merits” of those righteous deeds will get there before him. If that’s true, then perhaps Rashi read the verse in question as though it said זכות הצדק even though it only said צדק, and so since the word זכות is of the female gender, Rashi too continued to explicate the verse as though referring to something feminine. We find this sort of thing in Rashi in a few other places:
    קהלת ה:יד – וּמְאוּמָה לֹא יִשָּׂא בַעֲמָלוֹ; רש”י – כשימות לא ישא בידו שום זכות צדקה שעשה בממונו בחייו. בבא בתרא י: – בִּיבֹשׁ קְצִירָהּ תִּשָּׁבַרְנָה נָשִׁים בָּאוֹת מְאִירוֹת אוֹתָהּ (ישעיהו כז:יא); רש”י – ביבש קצירה תשברנה – כשתכלה זכות שבידן וייבש לחלוחית מעשה צדקה שלהן אז ישׁברו. שם יא. – וְצֶדֶק מִשָּׁמַיִם נִשְׁקָף (תהלים פה:יב); רש”י – נשקף – זכות הצדקה מביט ומסתכל למטה.

    Rabbi Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg


    Check out this related article about tzedek/tzedakah (צדק/צדקה) on the blog of the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

    Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

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