by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Beshalach (70)This week's sedra tells of Israel's flight from Egypt as the Egyptians pursued them. The splitting of the Reed Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea are the highlights.
Let us look at a simple Rashi-comment.
And he harnessed his chariot and his people he took along with him.
And he harnessed his chariot: Rashi: He himself.
What would you ask on this brief comment?
WHAT'S BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The verse says that Pharaoh prepared his chariot and Rashi agrees! Rashi says exactly what the verse says. What has he added and why?
An Answer: Rashi's comment comes from the Midrash. The Midrash says that kings have many servants who can take care of all their needs. So Pharaoh needn't have to work himself to harness his chariot, but because of his intense hatred of the Jews he wanted to do it himself.
But our question is how does Rashi know Pharaoh did it himself? Maybe it was done for him and the Torah considers that as if he did it - while in fact he didn't. To understand this better let us look at the Ibn Ezra's comment.
IBN EZRA'S COMMENT
And he harnessed his chariot:: Ibn Ezra: By commanding others to do it. As it says "And Solomon built the House (Temple)" (I Kings 14).
The Ibn Ezra is saying that Pharaoh only commanded others to get ready his chariot but he himself didn't do such menial work. Just as it says that Solomon built the Temple - certainly he didn't actually build it himself. He didn't get his hands dirty building it; but rather he gave the order to build it. Nevertheless the Tanach ascribes the building to him. So too in our verse Pharaoh gave the order to harness his chariot and that is why it says he harnessed the chariot.
By the way, the Ibn Ezra probably wrote this because he saw Rashi's comment and wanted to disprove it.
Who would you think has the best p'shat here, Rashi or Ibn Ezra?
Is there a difference between our verse and the verse that tells of Solomon building the Temple?
An Answer: Ibn Ezra would seem right, just as Solomon didn't build the Temple himself so Pharaoh probably didn't harness the chariot himself. But Rashi says otherwise. Why?
Because it is important to tell us that Solomon built the Temple even if he didn't actually build it himself. The fact that the Temple was built is an important development and it was built because Solomon commanded that it be built. If he wouldn't have commanded it wouldn't have been done. He was the king and no one else had the authority or the wherewithal to get the job done. So even if he didn't actually do it himself, the fact that he commanded it to be built was significant enough to mention.
Not so our case with Pharaoh. If Pharaoh only commanded his servants to get his chariot ready, that is not worth mentioning. If Pharaoh wanted to pursue the Jews and he needed his chariot to travel with, of course it would be made ready for the pursuit. The Torah does not need to mention this. But the Torah did mention that Pharaoh harnessed his chariot, why? Must be to tell us something we wouldn't have known otherwise, something unusual - like the fact that he got his hands dirty doing it himself. So this is why Rashi (and the Midrash) concluded that it was Pharaoh himself who did it.
Ibn Ezra is a commentary known for his pursuit of p'shat. But our case shows that his pursuit may sometimes be over done. The question must always be asked: Why does the Torah mention a particular fact? It may be a true fact but nevertheless an insignificant one; in such a case there is no reason to mention it. The Ibn Ezra seems to overlook this point frequently in his commentary. Rashi is sensitive to it. As an example see Rashi and Ibn Ezra on Genesis 38:5
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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