q What's Bothering Rashi

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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bamidbar(66)

With parashas Bamidbar we begin the fourth book of the Torah. It deals with the encampment of the People in the wilderness and the events that occurred during the years that Israel traveled there on their (circuitous ) way to the Land of Canaan.

The Torah discusses the travel procedures, which included taking apart and putting together the Tabernacle before travel and at encamping.

The vessels of the Tabernacle had to be packed and carried during the journeys.

Numbers 4:4

This is the work of the sons of K'has in the Tent of Meeting: the holy of holies.


The holy of holies: Rashi: The holiest of all of them, the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Alters, the Partition, and the service vessels.

What Has Rashi Done Here?

Can you see what prompted Rashi to make this comment? What's bothering him?

Hint: What words does Rashi reinterpret?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse uses the term the "holy of holies". This term always refers to the Inner Sanctum where the Ark and the Tablets were kept and where no one entered except the High Priest on Yom Kippur. But that cannot be its meaning here. The Mishkan is being dismantled for travel and the various objects in the Mishkan are to be wrapped up for transport.

How does Rashi reinterpret these words?

Your Answer:


An Answer: He tells us the term is not a proper noun, not a place,- The Holy of Holies - but rather an adjective and noun - the holiest of the holy [objects].

Which was the holiest of the holy objects?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The Ark, it contained the Tables of the Covenant and it alone was located in the Holy of Holies. It was the holiest of the all the holy vessels. So now we read Rashi's comment as follows:

The holy of holies: Rashi: The holiest of all of them, the Ark. [and also] the Table, the Menorah, the Alters, the Partition, and the service vessels.

In fact, some editions of Rashi's comment have the word "keilim" (vessels) in place of the word "kulam." (all of them). So it reads "The holiest of the vessels, the Ark, .."

Now let us compare this comment with another Rashi-comment further on.

See verse 4:15

Aaron and his sons shall finish covering the holy and all the utensils of the holy when the camp journeys, and after that the sons of Kehus shall come to carry, so that they not touch the holy and die.


Covering the holy: Rashi: The Ark and the Alter.

And all the utensils of the holy : Rashi: The Menorah and the utensils of service.

When you compare these two comments, what would you ask?


A Question: Why does Rashi mention only these two object - Ark and the Alter - here, when he mentioned all of them above (our verse 4:4)?

An Answer: Perhaps Rashi has chosen these two because the Ark was the first covered (4:5) and the Alter was the last covered (4:14). So this was his way of just taking a sample of all the objects covered without having to mention each one. Notice that in the first Rashi above he lists each object in the same order that the Torah lists them (verses 4:5-13).

Also notice that the first verse only says the holy of holies, while our verse says "the holy and all the holy vessels." So the first verse had no additional category (and all the holy vessels) therefore Rashi had to include all of them under the heading of "holy of holies."

Again wee see how Rashi is precise and concise in his exemplary commentary.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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