Rabbi Fishel Todd
Did Rashi rely only on Onkelos’ translation?
nis’ah venelechah (Gen. 33:12) This phrase means either ‘we will travel and we will proceed’ or ‘Travel! and we will proceed.’ The problem is that the Nun of nis’ah may be a prefix (as the Nun of venelechah certainly is and means ‘we will’) or it may be part of the root of nis’ah (in which case the verb is an imperative, Travel!). R’ A. ibn Ezra and R’ D. Kimche mention both possibilities. R’ Levi ben Gershon seems to opt for ‘we will.’ Rashi however writes nis’ah like shim’ah tefilati (Psalms 102:2) ‘Listen to my prayer,’ shilchah hanaar (Gen. 43:8) ‘Send the lad’ which is like shema, shelach, so too here nis’ah is like nesa and the Nun of nis’ah is part of the root and the translation (quoting Onkelos) is ‘Travel! and we will proceed’ Esav said to Yaakov: Travel from here! and we will proceed.
At first sight it is attractive to read the two Nuns as parallel, both to be read as future first person plural ‘we will.’ Of the classical commentators who deal with the phrase, one prefers this interpretation, while two others give both meanings equal weight. Why does Rashi give preference to the other possibility?
R’ E. Mizrachi (15th-16th cent.), Mira Dachya (discussion of grammar in Rashi, 18th cent.), Meirat Einayim (quoted by R’ Chavel), and Leshon Chayim (discussion of grammar in Rashi, Jerusalem, 1970), each in his own style, argue that it is because there is no Dagesh in the Samech of nis’ah. They state that if the Nun were a prefix, the Nun of the root would be missing, and there would need to be a Dagesh in the Samech of nis’ah.
However, R’ M. Yaffe (16th-17th cent.) in Levush Ha’Orah, answers R’ E. Mizrachi by pointing out that we never find a Dagesh in the Samech of vayisa when the Samech has a Sheva (i.e. vayis’u). It would seem that the later authors who took the same view as R’ E. Mizrachi overlooked this point in the Levush. Thus the original question stands. Why does Rashi give preference to the possibility that nis’ah means ‘Travel!’? My original answer was that Rashi followed Onkelos. However that only pushes the question back to Onkelos. ‘Why does Onkelos give preference to the possibility that nis’ah means ‘Travel!’?’ The answer in the Levush is based on the text itself. The word ‘travel’ is relevant to Yaakov who was on his way from one place to another. But for Esav who had only come to welcome Yaakov and was returning home, the word ‘travel’ was not appropriate. Therefore Onkelos and Rashi prefer the option by which the word nis’ah is in the singular and refers only to Yaakov – ‘Travel!’
R’ Chanoch Oppenheim wrote ‘It bothered me that the word Raban that was only used for a few generations and only in reference to the Nassi, should be used as the shoresh [of rabbanim]. By the time of Rebbi, the Nassi was no longer given this title. Therefore, why should such a limited word be used for the plural of “Rav?” An ‘adam chashuv’ suggested that the meaning of “Raban” means “our teacher.” If the plural would’ve been “Rabim” it would simply mean Rabbis. Perhaps chazal were stressing the idea that these are not simply a group of learned scholars, rather they are our teachers. It is with this perspective that chazal desired that we view our Rabanim’.
Further to last week’s discussion of vayifga bamakom, R’ M. Eisemann of Kiryat Sefer wrote: Regarding R’ A. ibn Ezra’s comment there that nowhere in the Tenach does makom mean Omnipresent, he refers to ‘Derech Hachaim’ in the verse ki kol shulchanot male’u ki tzoah beli makom (Isaiah 28:8) which states that although all the commentators on the Tenach explain the verse as did R’ A. ibn Ezra, nevertheless elsewhere there are many who explained makom as meaning the Holy One Blessed be He. The verse is quoted in Pirkei Avot (3:4) and there it is explained as Omnipresent by Bartenura, Rashi (in the Gemara), Tiferet Yisrael, Derech Hachaim (Maharal Mi-Prague), and R’ Yona (partly).
R’ Eisemann makes a further point. All editions of Rashi on the Torah refer to the verse al tifga bi (Jer. 7:16). However in Chulin (91b) Rashi refers to a totally different verse al tifge’i bi (Ruth 1:15). The word bi refers to the speaker, Ruth herself, and thus there is no reason to regard the parallel word bamakom to be a reference to God. Thus there is good reason to regard vayifga as meaning ‘prayer’ and leave bamakom with its plain meaning ‘at the place.’
Further to the meaning of Vav HaHipuch R’ Eisemann sent me ‘an excerpt from HaRechasim LeVik’ah by R’ Yehudah Leib Shapira, a very reliable book, first published in Altona 1815.’ This passage criticizes a translator who left out the ‘and’ aspect of Vav HaHipuch and translated them as though they were the beginning of the passage. Thus for Vayomer peloni or for vayelech peloni he wrote ‘So and so said’ or ‘So and so went’ and this damages the meaning and the language. For most of these Vavs connect the current item to the item before it as is well known (Vayera 18).
“Hatzileni Na Miyad Achi Miyad Eisav” “Save me please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav (Eisau)”
Yaakov (Jacob) stood in mortal danger. His evil brother Eisav, jealous over the blessing Yaakov had received from their father, was preparing to attack him. Yaakov prayed to Hashem that he should be delivered from Eisav’s hands.
In actuality, Yaakov faced a two-fold peril. On one hand, Eisav posed a serious physical threat. On the other hand, peace with Eisav could jeopardize Yaakov and his family in the spiritual sense. Fraternizing with the wicked Eisav would leave them open to be influenced by his morally decadent ways.
Yaakov therefore prayed to be spared from both dangers. “Save me please from the hand of my brother”, alludes to Yaakov’s wish that he be protected from the negative influence of Eisav in the event that he makes overtures of brotherly love. “From the hand of Eisav” refers to his request that he be spared from a man whose name has become synonymous with physical threat – Eisav.