PARASHAT VA-EIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

PARASHAT VA-EIRA

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND ON RASHI’S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT VAEIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

Questions marked with a * refer to Rashi’s commentary.

1. *How may the opening words ‘I am G-d. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, be seen as G-d’s rebuke to Moses?

2. *Why are the genealogies of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi – but no other tribes, listed in this Parasha?

3. Did G-d actually ‘harden Pharaoh’s heart’ as He declared he would before the Plagues commenced?

4. What fraction of his life had Moses spent by the time he stood before Pharaoh on the threshold of the Ten Plagues?

5. Which plagues were initiated by Aaron, *and why?

6. How do the text and *Rashi’s commentary suggest that the third plague – that of lice – was a greater miracle than the first two?

7. In which two places in the text does Pharaoh actually break his word?

8. How did the fates of the frogs in the second plague differ from the wild animals in the fourth plague, *and why?

9. What, according to the text, were the true purposes of the Plagues?

10. *Moses declared that he had to actually leave the city to pray for the hail and fire to stop crashing down. Why?

 

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND ON RASHI’S COMMENTARY ON PARASHAT VAEIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

1. This is for the following reason. The end of the previous Parasha relates Moses’ protest to G-d that his mission had caused the lot of His people to deteriorate instead of to improve. The opening words of this Parasha relate the substance of G-d’s reply to Moses – in the form of a sharp castigation. G-d speaks harshly to Moses, and He compares him unfavorably with the Patriarchs who maintained their faith without complaint, even though they went through much suffering and anguish and did not live to see the fulfillment of G-d’s promises to their descendants. By contrast, Moses’ protest: ‘Why have you done evil to this people? Why did you send me?’ (5:22) implied lack of faith even when told that the Redemption was at hand.

2. The simple explanation (actually expanded by the Ramban) is to illustrate that Reuben and his tribe retained the rights of the firstborn in regards to genealogy – that right not extending to Moses and Aaron however great they were. Rashi, quoting Midrashic sources, states that the Torah confirms the first three tribes’ importance despite Jacob’s sharply reproving them before his death.

3. Although G-d said that He would ‘harden Pharaoh’s heart’ (7:3), he did not actually do so until after the sixth plague (9:12). This issue is discussed by the commentaries and taken up in answer to question 3 in the next section.

4. Moses was already eighty – two thirds of the way to his hundred and twenty years – at the time he stood before Pharaoh (7:7), on the threshold on initiating the events that were to set the Exodus in to motion.

5. The first three plagues: blood, frogs, and lice, were initiated by Aaron and his stick. The reason Rashi gives broadly follows the principle of ‘do not cast stones into the well from which you drank’. Thus Aaron, rather than Moses, used the stick to make the Nile turn to blood and expel the frogs onto dry land, and the dust to turn into lice. Such an action done by Moses would have shown ingratitude to the waters of the Nile which were instrumental in saving his life as a baby, and to the dust of Egypt which concealed the dead Egyptian that he himself struck.

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

6. The text states that although Egyptians sorcerers could replicate the first two plagues, turning dust into lice was beyond them (8:14). Rashi implies that units of dust are too small for sorcerers to work on.

7. Pharaoh declared after the fourth and seventh plagues that he would release the Israelites to serve G-d in the wilderness, but on both occasions he changed his mind after the plagues stopped, thus breaking his word.

8. The frogs did not return to the Nile, but died on land and putrefied it (8:9-10). ‘He (G-d) removed the wild animals… not one remained’. (8:27) Rashi states that dead animals had commercial value for hides; dead frogs were foul-smelling and useless. The plagues were for the enrichment of the Egyptians.

9. The true purpose of the Plagues was not only to put increasing pressure on Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but to establish in Egypt that G-d is the Almighty and above all humans and idolatry. ((7:4-5)

10. The reason is that Pharaoh’s metropolis – rife with idolatry – was an unsuitable location to approach the Divine Presence in prayer. From that, it may be learnt that one should only pray in appropriate surroundings Rabbi Fishel Todd.

QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO THE TEXT OF PARASHAT VAEIRA

1. What, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, are the precise events alluded to by the four expressions of redemption (6:6-7) which have since been linked with the four cups of wine at the Seder?

2. The Holy Land promised to the Israelites is not merely a ‘yerusha’ – an inheritance, but a ‘morasha’ (6:8) – a heritage. What is the meaning of that difference according to the Ha-emek Davar?

3. In the first five plagues, ‘Pharaoh’s heart hardened’ and in the final plagues ‘G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart’. The latter implies that Pharaoh had no free choice – in the later plagues, he could not have released the Israelites even if he wanted to. How does this justify the further plagues and suffering for not releasing the Israelites – according to (a) Rashi, and (b) the Sforno?

4. The Hagada relates that R. Judah groups the Ten Plagues into three: ‘detzach, adash, be-achav’. What, according to Marcus Lehmann (in Lehmann’s Passover Hagada) is the point that Rabbi Judah is making?

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO THE TEXT OF PARASHAT VAEIRA Rabbi Fishel Todd

1. According to Rabbeinu Bachya, the four expressions of Redemption refer to four very specific stages of the process, namely:

(a) ‘Vehotzeiti’ – I shall take you out (from the burdens of Egypt) – subsequently linked to the first cup of wine – denotes the end of the actual slavery which, following Rabbinic tradition, stopped some six months before the actual Exodus.

(b) ‘Vehitzalti’ – I shall save you – subsequently linked to the second cup of wine – refers to the actual leaving of Egypt.

(c) ‘Vegaalti’ – I shall rescue you – subsequently linked to the third cup of wine – refers to the splitting of the Red Sea in the face of the pursuing Egyptians.

(d) ‘Velakachti’ – and I shall take you – subsequently linked to the fourth cup of wine – links with the spiritual climax of the Redemption: the Revelation at Mount Sinai.

2. The Ha-mek Davar makes the following distinction between ‘yerusha’ and ‘morasha’. The former is something that belongs to the person when he is in possession of it. The latter is connected with the person even when not in possession. Thus the Holy Land was a ‘morasha’ to the Israelites even when they were slaves in Egypt and throughout all the succeeding exiles.

3. According to Rashi, G-d did actually deprive Pharaoh of free choice after the sixth plague, as the text states that He ‘hardened Pharaoh’s heart’. That is because his level of corruption was of such a degree that G-d’s only purpose in keeping him alive was to use him as a means of demonstrating His Power and His Might (7:5), and the implied folly of relying on sorcery and idolatry. The Sforno understands the words ‘G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart’ differently to Rashi. They do not mean that he took away his free choice, but that he expected a higher degree of repentance. G-d’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart meant that He gave Pharaoh more strength to absorb the suffering of the plagues. Were he to repent, it would not be because of the pain, but out of sincere and true repentance; in the spirit of acknowledging that ‘G-d is the righteous and that I (Pharaoh) and my people are the wicked’. (9:27)

4. According to Lehmann, the rhythm of ‘detzach, adash, be-achav’ is the rhythn of the plagues. The Nile turned to blood – outside people’s homes. The frogs actually entered the houses, and the lice went one better – got into people’s actual flesh. Logically the next plague should have killed the people off entirely – instead, the wild animals terrorized those outside near the wild, the pestilence went a little closer affecting property (cattle), and then the boils, like the lice, actually got to the people themselves. With the seventh plague the cycle repeats itself… the hail destroyed crops outside, the locusts were a little more intimate, but it was the darkness which, like the lice and the boils, actually bought normal existence to a stop. (Thus the three cycles of ‘far, closer, and closer’ were a ‘three time warning’ to Pharaoh.) But after the Plague of Darkness, Pharaoh did not see it that way. Instead, he assumed that the next plague would be the start of the fourth cycle. He was wrong – as he ignored the first three sets of warnings, the tenth plague was the logical extension of the third cycle: further away / closer / still closer / and then (at the Killing of the Firstborn) closest: namely death.

Rabbi Fishel Todd
Rabbi Fishel Todd

ISSUES FOR DISCUSSION ON PARASHAT VAYEIRA

1. Moses spoke before G-d: “Behold the Israelites have not listened to me – how will Pharaoh listen to me? I have sealed lips” (6:12). Bereishit Rabba (92:7) states that this is one of the ten times where the kal va-homer (a fortiori deduction) appears in the Torah. Why was Moses so sure that Pharaoh would not listen to him? And in addition, why didn’t Moses give the more obvious reason – that he had been unsuccessful, as G-d had told him, and it was now time for Him to intervene? G-d had told Moses that the Redemption from Egypt would not take place through Moses directly, but through Divine intervention: For I know the King of Egypt will not let you go… I shall set forth My Hand and smite Egypt… and afterwards he will let you go (3:19-20). Moses and Aaron had already pleaded to Pharaoh once, and he responded by intensifying the sufferings of the enslaved Israelites.

2. The Passover Hagadda links the ‘strong hand’ and the ‘outstretched arm’ to the Plagues that G-d imposed on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, to persuade them to release the Israelites. As the Hagadda relates:’With a strong hand’ – that is the plague of pestilence (fatal animal disease), as Moses warned Pharaoh, ‘Behold the Hand of G-d is on your animals – horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats, to bring them a very heavy pestilence’ (9:3). Why was the ‘strong hand’ of the Exodus related specifically to the plague of pestilence – the fifth out of the ten plagues? What special qualities did the death of the Egyptians’ domestic animals possess over and above the other plagues, so that it was the crucial one that helped the Israelite Exodus to take place?

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Parsha Miketz Rabbi Fishel Todd

Rabbi Fishel Todd discusses Parshas Mikeitz(76)

Rabbi Fishel Todd

 

Rashi teaches us the meaning of a familiar word

Genesis 42:34

“And bring your younger brother to me and I will know that you are not spies but that you are honest; your brother, (Simon) I will give back to you and you can travel the land.”

RASHI

And you can travel the land. Rashi: [It means literally] you can travel around the land. All such words [ in Hebrew] as ‘socharim’ (merchants) and ‘sechora’ (merchandise) are derived from the fact that they travel around ( in Hebrew ‘sechor’ = around) after business.

WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?

Rashi tells us the meaning of the word ’tischoru’. The root is ‘s’chor’ which literally means ‘around’, but frequently it has the derived meaning of doing business, because businessmen travel around a lot.

RASHI’S STYLE IN TEACHING WORD MEANINGS

Rashi often tells us the meaning of words in the Torah. When he teaches us the meaning of a strange or rare word there is no problem. His comment is necessary because we need his help. But when he teaches us the meaning of a familiar word, which he does occasionally, we have two questions. 1) Why the need to teach us the meaning of a familiar word? & 2) If the word has already appeared in the Torah why didn’t Rashi tell us its meaning the first time it appeared?

Which question would you ask of Rashi?

Hint: See verses above 23: 16; 34:10; and 37:28.

Your Question:

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question: We see from that this word has already appeared in the Torah several times. Why did Rashi wait until now to teach us its meaning?

Can you see a reason for this?

Hint: Note that this verse is spoken by the brothers to Jacob; they are quoting what Joseph had said to them. You can see the exact quote of Joseph in verse 42:20. Is there a difference between what Joseph actually said and what they quoted him as saying?

EXAMINING THE VERSE CLOSELY

Rabbi Fishel Todd Answer: Of course there is a difference. All that Joseph said was that if they bring their younger brother then they will be believed that they are not spies. He said nothing about “sechora”.

So why did the brothers add this gratuitous phrase?

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:

A CLOSER LOOK

An Answer: The brothers were on the defensive, since they returned without Simon. They didn’t tell their father Jacob everything. They did not tell him that Simon was being held in prison. They wanted to convince Jacob to release Benjamin in their custody so they could get the needed food in Egypt. Perhaps they figured that if they reported the man was very cold and distant Jacob would remain hesitant and fearful. So they improved on what he had actually said a bit; they said he would then consider them as foreigners in good standing and they could even tour the country freely.

HOW HAS RASHI TAUGHT US THIS?

Rashi too was bothered by the way the brothers misquoted Joseph’s words. He understood that this was done intentionally. Their use of the word “tischoru’ must mean “travel around” freely and not have its usual meaning of doing business. If the word meant to do business this would mean that Joseph jumped from suspecting them as spies and restricting their movement to allowing them become equal to all citizens, permitted to do business in his country! No. That would sound too strange to Jacob. So their meaning must that the man considered them to be in good standing and permitted to travel freely through the country. That sounded reasonable. It is for this reason that Rashi says the word does not mean business here, which usually does; it means just to travel around.

And it is for this reason that Rashi did not have to tell us the meaning of the word ‘sechoruha’ above (Genesis 34:10) because in that verse it had its usually meaning of doing business and Rashi assumed we knew its meaning. Only here where it does not mean to do business does Rashi need to enlighten us.

AN INTERESTING NOTE Rabbi Fishel Todd

It is interesting and enlightening to note that even these reasonable words still did not convince Jacob to let them take Benjamin. It was only Judah later (42:3- 10) who put everything on the table in a straightforward, unadorned manner that Jacob finally conceded to let Benjamin go with them.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Genesis 42:2″And he said ‘Behold, I have heard that there are provisions in Egypt. Go down there and purchase for us there, that we may live and not die.’ “RASHIGo down there: RASHI: He did not say ‘go’ (but rather ‘Go down’) This is a hint to the two hundred and ten years that they (the Nation Israel) were to be enslaved in Egypt. For the Hebrew word “R’du” (Go down) is numerically 210.”Look at Rashi on verse Genesis 45:9.Do you have a question on our Rashi-comment?Your Question:QUESTIONING RASHIA Question: This Rashi comment assumes that the word “go” (“l’chu” in Hebrew) is more appropriate than “r’du’. But this is not so. Rashi himself has tells us further on (Genesis 45:9) that EretzYisrael is higher than all other lands, thus when speaking of going to Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word “alu” (“go up”) and conversely when one leaves Eretz Yisrael the Torah uses the word “to go down.” So Jacob’s word here – “go down there (to Egypt)” is appropriate. How can Rashi imply that he should have said “go” and not “go down”?A difficult question.Can you think of an answer?Hint: Look carefully at verse 45:9. That verse speaks of “going up” and our verse speaks of “going down”. But can you see another difference between our verse and that one?Your Answer:UNDERSTANDING RASHIAn Answer: Rashi’s point is well taken. Because while the Torah uses the words “going up” and “going down” when coming to and leaving Eretz Yisrael, Jacob does not. See verse Genesis 45:28 where it says: “And Israel (Jacob) said: It is great that my son Joseph is still alive. I will go (Hebrew “ailcha”) and see him before I die.” So we see that when Jacob speaks of going to Egypt he himself uses the word “to go.” And not “go down.” Thus Rashi’s focusing on Jacob’s use of the word “go down” in our verse is correct. So Jacob himself should not have used the word “r’du”, though the Torah itself does. He must have used this word because it had other connotations in this context. His word “going down” has a negative connotation and implied going down into slavery – for 210 years.A LESSONThe Torah’s words as a narrative may be quite different from an individual’s quote in the Torah. There are other instances in the Torah where this is the case. The lesson is to closely examine Rashi’s comments, especially when it seems that he contradicts himself. He was quite careful in his choice of words and in his comments.Shabbat ShalomV’Chanuka SomayachAvigdor Bonchek “What’s Bothering Rashi?” is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries Rabbi Fishel Todd.

Parashas Miketz (5762)

Rashi makes us aware that we hadn’t fully understood the Torah verse. But first we must understand Rashi!

Genesis 42:23

RASHI

For the interpreter was between them: RASHI: For when they had spoken to him there was an interpreter between them who knew both the Hebrew and the Egyptian languages. He interpreted their words to Joseph and Joseph’s words to them. Consequently they were under the impression that Joseph did not understand the Hebrew language.

What is your question on Rashi?

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question:

Rashi seems to be telling us what the Hebrew word “ mailitz” (interpreter) means. He certainly could have told us that in much less words. Why is he belaboring the point? What is bothering him?

Hint:

Read the Torah sentence again and ask yourself what it says.

“And they did not know that Joseph understood, because the interpreter was between them.”

What question would you ask on this verse? Does that make sense to you?

WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?

Your Answer:

An Answer:

Of course it doesn’t make sense! Because the interpreter was between them, they didn’t think that Joseph understood? Quite the contrary, only because the translator was between them, could Joseph understand what they were saying.

Now look at Rashi’s comment and see how he explains away this question. Do you understand?

Your Answer:

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

An Answer:

By the addition of a word or two, Rashi solves the problem. Rashi says; “When they had spoken to him there was a translator between them.” Rashi conveniently puts the verse in the past tense. Meaning that since in their previous conversations with Joseph, the translator had been present, they assumed that he didn’t understand Hebrew. But now the translator wasn’t present (for they weren’t speaking to Joseph) so they could freely speak among themselves.

In his effortless manner, Rashi points out the correct meaning of the verse.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

Parashas Miketz

Rashi makes us aware that we hadn’t fully understood the Torah verse.
But first we must understand Rashi!

Genesis 42:23

For the interpreter was between them: Rashi: For when they had spoken to him there was an interpreter between them who knew both the Hebrew and the Egyptian languages. He interpreted their words to Joseph and Joseph’s words to them. Consequently they were under the impression that Joseph did not understand the Hebrew language.

What is your question on Rashi?

 

 

Questioning Rashi

A Question:

Rashi seems to be telling us what the Hebrew word “ mailitz” (interpreter) means. He certainly could have told us that in much less words. Why is he belaboring the point? What is bothering him?

Hint:

Read the Torah sentence again and ask yourself what it says.

 

 

And they did not know that Joseph understood, because the interpreter was between them.

What question would you ask on this verse? Does that make sense to you?

 

 

What Is Bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:

An Answer:

Of course it doesn’t make sense! Because the interpreter was between them, they didn’t think that Joseph understood? Quite the contrary, only because the translator was between them, could Joseph understand what they were saying.

Now look at Rashi’s comment and see how he explains away this question. Do you understand?

 

 

Understanding Rashi

An Answer :

By the addition of a word or two, Rashi solves the problem. Rashi says; “When they had spoken to him there was a translator between them.” Rashi conveniently puts the verse in the past tense. Meaning that since in their previous conversations with Joseph, the translator had been present, they assumed that he didn’t understand Hebrew. But now the translator wasn’t present (for they weren’t speaking to Joseph) so they could freely speak among themselves.

Rabbi Fishel Todd

In his effortless manner, Rashi points out the correct meaning of the verse.

 

Parashas Miketz

 

 

The suspenseful story of Joseph and his brothers is reaching a fever pitch in this week’s sedra. On Verse 42:23 it says:

“And he (Joseph) turned away from them and wept and he returned to them again and spoke to them and then took Shimon from them and he bound him up in front of them.”

RASHI

“Shimon”: Rashi: He had thrown him into the pit etc. See the full comment there.

Of course the big question is & this is what Rashi is dealing with: Why suddenly did Joseph grab Shimon of all brothers to put in jail? Notice that the Torah mentions Shimon by name. It wouldn’t do that unless it had significance. In the whole story of Joseph and his brothers no brothers are mentioned by name except Joseph, Reuven and Yehudah. And now Shimon! Rashi’s answer as to why Shimon was singled out is that he was the one who threw Joseph into the pit.

But we can confirm this by seeing the verses immediately prior to this. It says that the brothers bemoaned their guilt for what they had done years ago to their brother, Joseph. Then Reuven says “Didn’t I tell you then ‘don’t sin with the boy’ but you didn’t listen!” All the years Joseph was in Egypt he had blamed Reuven for all that happened to him. Because Reuven was the first born, he was the leader and responsible for the brothers’ actions. Why hadn’t he stopped them? he wondered. Now that he overheard Reuven’s remark he realized that he had blamed Reuven unjustly. At that point Joseph looked to the next in line. Who was that? Shimon, the second oldest. why hadn’t he backed Reuven’s protest? So he chose him and threw him in jail. See how beautiful this logic is. See verse 27 where it says “one opened his saddle bag to feed his donkey” etc. Rashi says it was Levi. Why Levi?

Let’s begin with another question: Why only did only this brother find his money in his saddlebag? Didn’t the others also have donkeys to feed? They did eventually find their money at the bottom of their bags when the got home to Jacob. see that only “the one” (who Rashi says is Levi) found his at the opening of his bag and not down beneath as the others did. Why was his at the top of the bag and the others at the bottom?

Answer: Levi is brother number 3 !!! Joseph was going down the line of brothers. He made Levi worry longer than the others, because why hadn’t he who was the third oldest brother spoken up on his behalf years ago and stopped the sale into slavery? The story isn’t over. The next accusation about the stolen chalice seems to wake Yehuda up and he is number four!! Therefore “And Yehuda drew near” (next week’s sedra).

 

Rabbi Fishel Todd