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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Beshalach

Exodus 14:6

"And he (Pharaoh) harnassed his chariot and his people he took with him."

And he harnessed his chariot.Rashi: He himself.

Why does Rashi make this self-understood comment ?

What's bothering Rashi that he finds it necessary to tell us the obvious ?

What Is Bothering Rashi ?

The fact that Pharaoh prepared his chariot to pursue the Israelites is so trivial a piece of information as to be unnecessary to record. He couldn't go to war without a chariot and he couldn't use his chariot without it being prepared. He probably also tied his shoes (or buckled his sandals) in the morning, but that is not mentioned. Of course not. Why then is this equally trite incident mentioned? It should be clear that the Torah does not mention every possible bit of information when retelling a story. It chooses only what is essential and meaningful. So Rashi is bothered by this superfluous statement.

How does Rashi deal with this?

Understanding Rashi

By mentioning this "unnecessary" fact, the Torah alerts us to something important. It tells us that Pharaoh, himself, harnessed his chariot. Certainly it is unusual for a king to do such menial work. This is a task which is ordinarily left for servants. But since the Torah went out of its way to mention that "Pharaoh harnessed his chariot" we can be sure that Pharaoh himself did this job.

Why is this fact significant?

The Significance of the Comment

This conveys to us the depth of Pharaoh's hatred for the Israelites. His profound obsession with pursuing his former slaves is graphically grasped by imagining Pharaoh dirtying his hands as he pulls at his horses, sweat pouring down his face, as he ties them to his chariot, in his race against time to catch the fleeing Israelites.

A Note on Torah Interpretation

From this example we can learn something of the way the Torah commentators viewed the narrative parts of the Torah. They realized that Torah narration was always guided by a central consideration: What lesson will this story teach? No parts of the story are included just for literary considerations. No detail or quote is recorded in the Torah unless it carries with it a moral , ethical or religious lesson. The Torah never records historical events in all their detail; this would be impossible. A clear example of this can be seen in Genesis 42:21 when Joseph’s brothers regret their having sold him. They say: "But we are guilty concerning our brother for we saw the distress of his soul when he implored us and we would not hear etc." The brothers describe Joseph's reactions at the time they threw him in the pit and sold him into slavery, yet when this event is recorded in the Torah (Genesis 37:24) no mention is made of Joseph's reactions.

Poetic Justice

Likewise when the Torah records the apparently incidental detail of Pharaoh harnessing his own chariot, we can be certain that it is recorded for a purpose; we learn of his all-consuming hatred for the Children of Israel which led eventually to his punishment at the hand of G-d. This punishment is faithfully recorded later in the Torah: "When Pharaoh's horse and his chariot and horsemen came into the sea and Hashem turned back the waters of the sea upon them and the Children of Israel walked on the dry land amid the sea." (Exodus 15:19). Here is Pharaoh, his horse and his chariot, the one he so energetically harnessed himself!

It should be noted that not all Torah commentaries view things in this way. The Ibn Ezra, most famous among the pursuers of pshat often regards incidental details as just that, incidental details, carrying no particular import. But this approach deprives the Torah of much of its subtle wisdom and beauty. Rashi and Ramban were both acutely aware of the significance of detail in Torah narrative and sought to interpret its meaning.

A note to our readers: We are preparing to publish the Vayikra volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" It will add another dimension to the study of Rashi - this time Rashi's creative use of the midrash. We are looking for sponsors of this volume to enable us to publish it. Contributions can be made in Memory of or in Honor of close ones. The previous volumes of "What's Bothering Rashi?" have been adopted for use in many schools and into many Jewish homes. Your sponsorship will make it possible to continue and enlarge this project. Those interested can write msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

Shabbat Shalom

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