by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Beha'aloscha(68)This week's sedra tells of several murmurings of the Jews during their 40 year trek in the wilderness. The end of the sedra tells of Miriam and Aaron's complaint about Moses that he had taken a Cushite woman for a wife.
And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman, which he took, for a Cushite woman he took.
For a Cushite woman he took (married): Rashi: And now divorced her.
What would you ask on this strange comment?
A Question: Where does Rashi get the idea that Moses divorced this woman? The verse seems to say just the opposite - that he took (married) this Cushite woman, there is no mention of divorce in the verse.
What could be the basis for this drash ? A drash usually has some basis in the words of the Torah. It is not sufficient to say, "Well, the Sages told us so, that's how we know." This is not enough. We should want to know on what basis the Sages came to their opinion. Our respect for their wisdom includes our belief that their interpretations can make sense to us, if only we strive to understand them.
Look closely at the verse.
A Closer Look
An Answer: The order of the words here is important. It says: "For a Cushite woman he took." And not : "For he took a Cushite woman." What is the difference between these two sentences?
An Answer: In Biblical Hebrew there are three forms of past tense.
1) A verb in the simple past tense. Example: "lakach" " he took."
2) A verb in the future tense with the convertible "vav" which changes future to past. Example: "Vayikach" "And he took." 3) When the noun precedes the verb, we have the past perfect. That means that the past is even further back than the regular past. It means the action described took place before the last mentioned act. As an example, see Genesis 31:34 "V'Rachel lackcha es hatraphim" which clearly means, "And Rachel had already taken the teraphim." See that "Rachel" comes before "taken" (in the Hebrew) therefore its meaning is past-perfect.
Now we can see that in our verse the noun (Cushite woman) comes before the verb (he took). "Ki isha Cushis lakach" This may be the clue. The translation would now be "And he had taken a Cushite woman. " The words "he had taken" imply that he had taken her in the more distant past before something else, more recent, occurred with this woman. That 'something else' Rashi says is that he divorced her.
Rashi Agrees with Targum Onkelos
Looking at Targum Onkelos we see that he too has the same idea. He translates these words as follows:
"Because the beautiful woman whom he married, he put at a distance (i.e. divorced.)"
The same idea as Rashi's, although Rashi makes no mention of the Targum. This may be because both Rashi and the Targum received their idea from the midrash.
What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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