About the Project

1. Purpose  1 2. Target Audience  1 3. Format 1 4. Peshat 1 5. Apologetics  4 6. Chassidic Insights  5
7. Inner Dimensions  5
8. Style  5 9. Poetic License  6 10. Sources  6 11. Hebrew Text 6
12. Final Caveat, and Request for Feedback  6 

1. Purpose

The Chabad of California Chumash is intended to answer the need for (1) a text of the Chumash that can be comfortably used by a beginner and addresses what he or she is likely to be looking for in a Chumash, and (2) presents the insights of Chabad Chassidus in general on the Chumash (and the Rebbe’s teachings in particular) in a form easily accessible to a beginner.

2. Target Audience

Although this Chumash should have something for everyone, it is intended to be suitable for an English-speaking beginner in Torah studies, who has at best only a rudimentary command of Hebrew and minimally, none at all.

We do, however, assume some level of sophistication of the reader in terms of vocabulary and ability to grasp concepts. We are assuming a fairly intelligent, high-school/college-educated reader.

3. Format

This Chumash will probably come out in 5 volumes.

4. Peshat

The beginner needs first and foremost a straightforward translation and an exposition of peshat—the basic, plain meaning of the text,[1] according to Rashi, for the following reasons:

·        As we all know, the Torah cannot just be “read,” even in a good translation that is faithful to Rashi. There are just too many loose ends and unanswered questions that remain. There are, of course, English translations of Rashi’s commentary, but Rashi’s commentary is not suitable for a beginning student of the type we have described above,[2] and in any case it does not explicitly answer many of the questions today’s reader is likely to have.

As a result, such a reader is left in no-man’s land between a simple translation and the world of explanation available for the intermediate and advanced student. This type of reader can unfortunately develop an attitude of “cognitive dissonance,” learning to ignore questions that occur to him as he reads. This attitude may persist even after he learns to accept homiletical and allegorical teachings based on the Torah.

(Indeed, the Rebbe often complained how people overlook glaring questions in peshat, and devoted a great deal of time and effort raising and answering these kinds of questions.)

·        Although it would seem that peshat is the least inspiring level of the text since it is the simplest, “poetic license” has run amok in our generation and there are those (both in the frum world and outside it) who use the Torah to prove or support theses that are in fact opposite to the Torah’s intention. It is necessary precisely nowadays to establish a solid anchor of meaning that the additional levels of meaning may add to (and even contradict on the allegorical level, for there are “seventy facets to the Torah,” etc.) but never uproot or supersede.

To this end, the Rebbe uses Rashi as the final authority on peshat. The Rebbe chose Rashi as the final authority presumably because tradition has enshrined him as the first and most widely studied explanation[3] and because Rashi himself states that the purpose of his commentary is to explain and only to explain the peshat of the text.

·        Finally, many of the Rebbes’ and Chassidus’ homiletical comments are based on this understanding (rather than on the literal sense of the text), so providing the peshat separately allows us to save words in the Chassidic commentary.

Therefore, we have provided a peshat-commentary interpolated into the translation of the Torah-text. The reader can read this and at once see the Torah’s text, the “story” according to Rashi, and how the latter fills our the former.

We have not included any of the reasoning behind Rashi’s explanations (such as how such explanations explain linguistic irregularities or nuances in the text, or how they avoid later contradictions, etc.). This unfortunately robs the reader of experiencing the dialectic process that characterizes Rabbinic exegesis and its inherent geshmak. But we felt that since our target audience is the neophyte in Torah-study, the dialectics would both obscure the plain reading of the text and disorient or confuse the reader. Although it is our experience that most beginners in Judaism can accept the fact that the Torah has many dimensions and levels of meaning, when it comes to peshat—what “really happened”—it is very disorienting for the beginner to think that there are differences of opinion on this. (“If you guys don’t know what the Torah means, what do you want from me?”)

This consideration has also forced us to ignore the Rebbe’s famous pilpulim on Rashi. In many of his sichot, the Rebbe explains and illustrates the way Rashi works in his explanations, even demonstrating how the lack of a comment by Rashi on a particular passage is significant. In these “Rashi-sichot,” the Rebbe analyzes the issues Rashi addresses (or does not address) in peshat and deduces many basic understandings of peshat. Also, Rashi’s aim is often to help the reader understand the reason why the Torah chooses a particular word or expression, etc.

Since our goal is to give our target audience an understanding of the Chumash overall, according to how Rashi understands it, we have not included any of these analyses. We have only incorporated those comments of Rashi (and the Rebbe’s explanations of Rashi’s comments) that affect the reader’s understanding of the Torah’s narrative/exposition, not those that help the reader understand the expressions the Torah uses. Therefore, for example, we have put many of Rashi’s understandings of what happens in the Chumash into their appropriate place in the narrative, instead of putting them, as Rashi does, at the point in the text where the textual nuance implies them.

For example, the Rebbe explains that the reason Rashi discourses on “Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor” on Numbers 3:29 is because the Torah uses the expression mishpachot benei Kehat instead of mishpachat haKehati, which is the form it uses later for the clans of Gershon and Merari. The Torah is here alluding to some untoward behavior of the Kehat clan that makes it reluctant to describe their lineage as originating with the righteous Kehat himself, just as Jacob does not want to be mentioned in Korach’s lineage in the context of his rebellion. So, Rashi’s explanation, as the Rebbe explains it, is all based on a diyuk in the idiom of the Torah. It does not come to answer any question the reader has in the continuity of the narrative or the exposition. Therefore, we have not included this explanation in our exposition of the peshat (although the lessons the Rebbe derives from this comment are included in the Chassidic commentary).

We have, for the most part, included Rashi’s understandings of the text even in those instances where Rashi seems to complicate matters rather than simplify them by his explanations. A random example: Exodus 2:12, “And he turned this way and that, and saw that no one was there, so he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” We would naturally assume that the words “and saw that no one was there” mean that Moses saw that no one was looking, so he proceeded to kill the Egyptian. Indeed, a few verses later, we are told that Moses was upset that the matter had become known. But Rashi says: ‘“he saw that there was no man’ destined to convert from his descendents.” Why does Rashi prefer this explanation (which imputes prophetic powers to Moses that we until now have had no reason to assume he possesses) over the more “obvious” assumption about what the phrase means? The Rebbe has taught us that there certainly must be a reason for this, and that taking the peshat at face value in this instance will in some way boomerang and prove inconsistent.[4] Unfortunately, as far as we can tell, the Rebbe never addressed this specific question. Where possible, we have used explanations from the classic meforshim (Mizrachi, etc.)—but this is chancy, for who knows if the Rebbe would have accepted their explanation had he addressed the issue? Unfortunately, the Rebbe never sat down to write a comprehensive commentary on the Chumash or on Rashi’s commentary, so there are many passages where we can only conjecture how the Rebbe would have explained them.

In order to further impress the reader with the veracity of the Torah, we also provide the reader with a chronological framework for the narrative of the text. This helps bring the text to life, as the events chronicled in it fall into their relative place and assume historical reality. The Rebbe himself noted that this is an important aspect of Torah study.[5] We have followed the chronology Rashi gives; when additional details are needed, we have followed generally the chronology of Seder Olam Rabbah. The dates, however, are approximate to within one or two years, since there are different ways of reckoning when the year 1 was,[6] and so on, so the reader should not be surprised if there are discrepancies here and there with other sources that cite dates for the same events. The chronological remarks are woven into the rubric of the peshat commentary.

For the peshat commentary, we are imitating the way this was done in the English edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud, i.e., a rubric that stands on its own and does not require the reader to move his eye constantly back and forth between the real text and the peshat text. All the peshat explanations are Rashi’s unless noted otherwise. Therefore, we do not indicate that a specific explanation is Rashi’s unless there is more than one explanation given on a specific phrase or verse and it is necessary to distinguish between Rashi’s explanations and the others.

5. Apologetics

We have sought to address the issues the modern reader is likely to have when confronted with the text. An untutored reading of the text of the Chumash is, as is known, likely to leave the reader with false impressions regarding many issues, so we try to address these. Although the Rebbe seems to be against apologetics in general, there are times when he addresses these questions himself.

6. Chassidic Insights

We have provided a sampling of the Rebbe’s and, occasionally, the preceding Rebbes’ comments on the text, in which they derive many lessons and applications relevant to our lives and times. This is intended to give the reader a glimpse into how a follower of Chassidism “lives with the times” and make the text into a living document that forges the way he lives.[7]

Obviously, there is no way a work under the space-limitations this one is under can possibly be comprehensive in its presentation of these teachings, so we have had to pick, choose, combine, etc. Although the choice of what to include is subjective, we think we have selected the most representative and “classic” pieces. Sometimes the same point is made in several contexts, in which case we have not included them all. Since the primary purpose of this work is to help the reader understand the Chumash per se, we have not included, for example, any of the Rebbe’s explanations as to how a particular parashah fits in with the holidays that fall around the time of the year it is read. However, since Jews for millennia have been studying the Torah as it is divided up in to parashiot, we do include (and given prominence to, in the overviews) the Rebbe’s explanations as to why seemingly diverse elements of the text are included in the same parashah, why the parashiot are split where they are, and so on.

Furthermore, we are not including Chassidic aphorisms (vertlach) and homilies (derashos) that are not meant to elucidate the text in some way. Our purpose here is to understand the Chumash from the Chassidic perspective, not to present the Chumash as a vehicle or excuse (a heichei-timtza) through which to convey a potpourri of Chassidic teachings whose connection with the text (superficially, at least) rests only on a linguistic twist.

7. Inner Dimensions

Finally, we have provided the reader with a sampling of mystical insights into the text as culled from the works of the Rebbe and his predecessors. These are set off in a different typeface within the Chassidic layer of commentary.

8. Style

In the interest of making the material palatable to the modern reader, we are attempting to couch the Torah’s teachings in terms that don’t carry a lot of negative psychological “baggage.” For example, we have tried to avoid phrases like “our Divine service” or terms like “evil,” “repentance,” and “salvation” and opted for more “New-Agey” terms, or at least to use the classic terms in contexts that take some of the negative bite off of them. On the other hand, we are not attempting to be politically correct or avoid issues, and when the Torah and/or the Rebbe are unequivocal about some issue, we do not skirt it.

9. Poetic License

Also, in the interest of “words that issue from the heart find[ing] their way into the heart,” we present here the Rebbe’s or other Rebbes’ teachings often in a somewhat “digested” form, i.e., the way the teaching has spoken to us and how we think it could speak to the target audience. In this process, we have run the risk of inadvertently distorting the Rebbes’ teachings in some way. We hope that if this is at all so, it is minimal, and that the Rebbe will forgive us. In any case, this is why this Chumash is subtitled “with a commentary based on the teachings of.” The responsibility for the presentation of the teachings herein lies solely with the editorial committee.

10. Sources

Footnoting sources has been kept to a minimum. Rashi’s sources are documented elsewhere, and of course the sources in the sichos are well-documented. Only on rare occasions, e.g., when some reference is made to a source in the text, is an external source noted.

11. Hebrew Text

Regarding the text of the Chumash (in Hebrew), we are obviously not out here to produce a “scientific” or “critical” edition, so we have used the standard texts found in the standard Chumashim.

We did not want to lend exaggerated importance to the non-Jewish numbering system by starting new chapters with a new paragraph, etc. (especially since in many cases the way the non-Jews broke up the text does not follow thematic breaks). On the other hand, breaking up the text into smaller paragraphs following the thematic flow would not work in the present context, because the amount of text on each page is too small and it would look too choppy. So what we did was break the text whenever there is a break in the real Hebrew text (petuchot u’setumot, although we did not distinguish between the two types). In this way, the text does not continue uninterruptedly but is not overly broken, and homage is paid to the traditional, Jewish way of breaking the text.

Secondly, the beginning reader is presumably not yet comfortable with Hebrew letters used as numbers. So we have used numerals in the Hebrew text to mark the chapters and verses.

Keri & Ketiv is indicated in the Hebrew text using braces {}.


The Hebrew text of Onkelos and Rashi is also based on the common printings. Particularly with regard to Rashi, there are many variances in the various editions, manuscripts, etc. We have relied on the general editions, but we have also taken note of the variances mentioned in some of the more recent editions, such as the Artscroll Rashi, Rabbi Weinfeld’s Shai LaMora edition, and a few others mentioned in the bibliography.

12. Final Caveat, and Request for Feedback

We of the editorial committee do not purport to be seasoned talmidei chachamim, and at every point in our work have felt our under-qualification for the task we have undertaken. It is by sheer Divine providence (rather than fitness for the task) that we have found ourselves doing this. This is graphically illustrated by the attached list of unresolved questions we have encountered in writing the explanations and have not yet found the answers to.

This, in essence, is why we are presenting our work on the web: in order to avail ourselves of others’ experience and expertise. Please look over the material presented here and let us know what you think about it, where you think we’ve made mistakes, and how you think it could be improved.

Bear in mind that the ideas expressed above and their applications are not etched in stone; feel free to raise issues we have overlooked and take issue with our reasoning. We are open to suggestions and all input will be greatly appreciated.

Thank-you for your time and consideration.


The editorial staff

[1] In many instances, peshat is not the literal meaning of the text, since, when taken literally, the text is often self-contradictory or leads to contradictory implications.

[2] Rashi’s commentary includes not only peshat but often how the peshat is deduced or derived, either from the Talmudic dialectic or the principles of grammar, etc., as well as straight grammatical explanations that make sense only to someone who understands Hebrew.

[3] We are (trying) purposely avoiding the use of the term “commentary” since this term also means “opinion,” as if these sages in their works are simply voicing their own private ruminations on the text, God forbid, rather than ruach hakodesh. Still, it seems like it is next to impossible to avoid using this word! If anyone has any really good alternatives for it, please let us know.

[4] On the other hand, Likutei Sichot, vol. 36, p. 1, note 8, seems to imply that the Rebbe also accepted the verse at face value, i.e., as meaning that Moses intended to kill the Egyptian without anyone seeing him do it.

[5] See Likutei Sichot, vol. 20, p. 29.

[6] See, inter alia, Frank: Talmudic and Rabbinical Chronology and The Artscroll History of the Jewish People: The Second Temple Era, p. 213.

[7] Keeping in mind our target audience, we have avoided as much as possible explanations based on linguistic details or alternative readings of the Hebrew text. However, it is impossible to avoid this altogether, as will be seen.