In the beginning of midrash rabbah we read from rav Oshaya :

וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית אֶלָּא תּוֹרָה There is no "Reshit" except Torah

and there, just after :

וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית אֶלָא חַלָּה There is no "Reshit" except Khalla

So what do we choose ?

Thanks !

  • 1
    Choose what? The "correct" definition? What forces us to choose? Why can't they all be right?
    – DanF
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 20:03
  • 1
    If you go through Shas with this as a question you'll have many more to keep you busy. There are a couple of אין אשה אלא's and a host of אין איש אלא. It's all about context.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 13:22
  • Is the question about the choice of language "There is no ... except ..." or is it that "Reishit" is being used to say it means two different things in two different statements? (So unlike Rashi who uses two different "Reishit" and connects it to the first letter Beit). cc @HaLeiVi
    – Yishai
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 13:40
  • Drashot Chazal on Reshit:וּמִנַּיִן שֶׁיִּקְדְּמוּ הַבִּכּוּרִים לַתְּרוּמָה, זֶה קָרוּי תְּרוּמָה וְרֵאשִׁית, וְזֶה קָרוּי תְּרוּמָה וְרֵאשִׁית, אֶלָּא יִקְדְּמוּ בִכּוּרִים, שֶׁהֵן בִּכּוּרִים לַכֹּל. וּתְרוּמָה לָרִאשׁוֹן, שֶׁהִיא רֵאשִׁית. וּמַעֲשֵׂר רִאשׁוֹן לַשֵּׁנִי, שֶׁיֶּשׁ בּוֹ רֵאשִׁית: in trumot chapter 3
    – kouty
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 5:37

4 Answers 4


R. Eliyahu Mizrachi and Maharsha both write that that the term "ein___ela___" (x is only y) doesn't mean that is the only thing that it means, but rather that this is how it is being interpreted there.

R. Mizrachi in his commentary to Rashi on Lech L'cha (15: 3):

אין הבט אלא מלמעלה למטה...ואינו רוצה לומר שכל הבטה היא מלמעלה למטה...אלא הכי פירושא אין הבט האמור פה אלא מלמעלה למטה, דומיא ד"אין עמידה אלא תפילה" ו"אין פגיעה אלא תפילה" וכו

See also Mizrachi to Vayera (22: 2).

Maharsha writes in Chiddushei Aggadot to B'rachot (26b):

אין שיחה אלא תפילה וכו' רצה לומר במקום הזה אינו אלא תפלה כמש"כ הרא"ם

Rabbi Saul Lieberman writes the expression can have to meanings; a strict interpretation of a word in context, or a Midrashic interpretation.

It appears that comments formulated אין ... אלא which are incorporated in the Halakhic Midrashim have their origin in a very ancient commentary of the Law. Most of these comments undoubtedly provide the plain meaning of the text. In course of time this vigorous assertion (i.e., it is nothing but . . .) was extended even to Midrashic exposition, but as such it was almost exclusively limited to the narrative parts of the Bible. The use of this emphatic formula for a Midrashic comment therefore becomes one of the characteristic exaggerations of the Aggada; it degenerates into a mere literary phrase, and the Rabbis themselves will not take a comment introduced by these words more seriously than any other Midrashic interpretation in the Aggada.[2]

See also this post on the Parshablog which argues that "ein__ela___blank" is often used as a poetic overstatement.

[2] Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1962). Page 51.

  • This is true and important. However it doesn't address the fact that here they are both about the same Passuk.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 13:26
  • 1
    @HaLeiVi There is only a small step from the Mizrachi to the parshablog (sequentially rather than chronologically). Accordingly, one poetic overstatement does not invalidate another. Only on a level of pshat are two contradictory explanations mutually exclusive.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 14:58
  • "Let us please turn now to some of the midrashim on parshat Behaalotcha involving the word נא." That's a nice play on words.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 21:15
  • @HaLeiVi Additionally, R. Lieberman z"l states explicitly that last step which Maharsha and R. Mizrahi leave unsaid.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 6:18

The Maharal in Netzach Yisroel chapter 3 has as full discussion on this Medrash.

I don't think there's a point in trying to translate the whole piece but I can try to relate the crux of it:

This Medrash is addressing the problem of how we get plurality from One. This question caused many theories to abound. Some suggested multiple causes and others have an initial creation that created the rest.

The answer of this Medrash is that in truth there was one point to the creation. This is the Reishis. Once there was this Reishis, Hashem went on to supply it and expand it as necessary.

These things that are mentioned are all based on the same Reishis aspect. Yisrael is the point of the creation; Bikurim, Maaser and Challah are all taken from the first in honor of the first input in the world, in our lives and in our Parnassa.

It is indeed a Machlokes, or at least each one is adding another point. But they are all coming off the same idea and applying it differently.

  • @Yishai what did you change about the link? Thanks for the fixes.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 17:05
  • Stackexchange is weird about links with hebrew characters in it (the link wasn't working for me). I copied and pasted the link from a different tab into the "make link" dialog in the editor, and it did the relevant character escaping and worked. Don't know all the details of how stackexchange parses, but that is how I work around it.
    – Yishai
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 17:10

The Ramban on Bereishis 1:1 says that the multiple things called ראשית that Chazal speak about are an allusion to the 10 Sefiros.

  • Actually, to one of them in particular.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 13:23
  • @HaLeiVi, because all sefiros come through Chochma, but he goes into how each one represents a Sefira. He certainly means that Yisroel represents Bina (with the idea of mother), for example.
    – Yishai
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 13:31
  • Yes, you're right. He seems to be saying that it is a Remez to the idea that it was created with the Sefiros, and Chochma in particular.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 16:40
  • Just want to point out that by Yisroel he meant Knesses Yisroel, Atteres. By Moshe he was referring to ת"ת.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 16:42

These quotes come from 2 different people. Rav Hoshaya said the first. Rav Huna in the name of Rav Matna said the other. As a matter of fact, Rav Huna listed three things called Reishit.

These are different opinions by different people, so there is no contradiction. It is also possible to have three "firsts" similar to the idea of having 10 books on the "best seller" list. (By strict definition, doesn't the word "best" imply just one?)

  • 1
    It's called "best sellers" plural, with the whole thing being a phrase. nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/overview.html
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 20:42
  • @DoubleAA ah. Thanks for the correction. That would explain the plurality. Of course, I'm still confuse about the phrase "Put your best foot forward."
    – DanF
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 2:59

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