Rashi’s brief comment leads to a surprising discovery of a hidden consistency in the Torah.
“I will give peace in the land and you will lie down with none to frighten you. I will rid evil beasts out of the land, neither shall the sword pass through your land.
And you will pursue your enemies and they shall fall before you by the sword.
Before you by the sword: Rashi: A man by the sword of his fellow.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
This comment tells us that the enemy will kill themselves by their own “friendly fire.”
What would ask on this strange comment?
A Question: An obvious question is: How does Rashi know that the enemy falls by the hand of his fellow comrade-in-arms and not, the more likely meaning, that he fell by the sword of the Israelite? What lead Rashi to this unlikely interpretation?
What’s bothering Rashi here?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Some commentators suggest that the words “before you” are superfluous. They are unnecessary since the enemy usually falls “before you.” The addition of these words implies that the enemy will fall even before you get to them, i.e. by their own hand. In addition, if Israel was the cause of the enemy’s falling, it should have said “and you will fell them.” The word “and they will fall” sounds like this happened by itself, that is, felled by their own hand.
In addition to these conventional explanations, we find another, truly eye-opening, explanation for Rashi’s comment.
AN AMAZING ANSWER
An brilliant answer has been suggested which shows the subtle nuances that can be uncovered in the Torah, if we only look for them. The Nefesh Hager, a commentary on the Targum Onkelos, points out an astounding consistency throughout the Tanach: Whenever the Tanach speaks of Jews (or G-d) waging war and killing non-Jews, the words used are “l’fi cherev’. However, whenever gentiles (or G-d) are described as killing the Jews, the words consistently used are “l’cherev” or “b’cherev.”
Some examples of the former can be found in: Genesis 34:26; Numbers 21:24; Joshua 8:24.
Some examples of the latter can be found in: Exodus 3:13; 22:23; Numbers 14:43; 20:18; Psalms 78:62.
Since our verse uses the word “l’cherev” (and not “l’fi cherev” ) even though the Israelites are battling the gentiles and “l’fi cherev” would be appropriate, this indicates that the gentiles are the ones who are doing the killing! “Each by the sword of the other.”
WHAT DOES “L’FI CHEREV” MEAN?
What sense can be made out of this linguistic consistency? Why would the Tanach differentiate between the use of the word “L’CHEREV” “by the sword” and “L”FI CHEREV” “by the blade of the sword”? A little thought should give you the answer.
Hint: See Genesis 48:22 where Jacob tells Joseph that he took the city of Shechem
“B’CHAR’VI U’V’KASHTI” (literally “with my sword and bow”) and Rashi’s
An Answer: In Genesis 48:22 Rashi translates “B’CHAR’VI U’V’KASHTI” as “with wisdom and prayer.” On the basis of that comment we can conclude that when the Jew wages war he precedes his battle with prayer to the Almighty. This, then, may be the symbolic meaning of the phrase “l’fi cherev” which is usually translated as “by the blade of the sword” but which literally means “by the mouth of the sword.” The mouth (prayer) always precedes the sword in battles waged by Jews!
(SEE Nefesh Hager)
What’s Bothering Rashi?” is produced by the “Institute for the Study of Rashi.” The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of “What’s Bothering Rashi?” This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba’alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at email@example.com Thanking you in advance.