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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Devarim (5762)

A shift in mind-set helps in understanding Rashi.

Deuteronomy 1:23

Moses describes the events that lead up to the sending of the Spies. The People asked Moses to send Spies to heck out he Land they were to enter. Moses agreed to the idea and says:

"The idea was good in my eyes , so I took from you twelve men, one man for each tribe."


Twelve men, one man per tribe: Rashi: This tell us that the tribe of Levi was not among them.


The verse emphasizes the fact that there were only twelve spies, representing the twelve tribes. But which twelve tribes are referred to here ? There are actually thirteen tribes, when Ephraim and Menasseh are included (in place of the single tribe of Joseph) together with Levi. You will find throughout the Torah that, in spite of the fact of that the actual total is thirteen, the Torah always mentions only twelve tribes. Whether regarding the stones in the High Priest's breastplate, or the tribal encampments in the desert, or the Princes of each tribe who brought offerings at the dedication of the Tabernacle, or any other situation when the tribes were involved, the Torah mentions only twelve. Sometimes the twelve include Levi and Joseph, without Ephraim and Menasseh. Sometimes Joseph and Levi are excluded and Ephraim and Menasseh are included.

In our case, Rashi tells us that Levi was excluded, which means, incidentally, that Ephraim and Menasseh were included.

What would you ask on Rashi?

Your Question:


A Question: How does Rashi know that it was specifically the tribe of Levi that was excluded? Maybe this group of Spies included one representative from the larger tribe of Joseph as well as from Levi. That would also total twelve.

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:


Your Answer:

An Answer: The answer is too simple to be true! When we refer back to the story of the Spies in the Book of Bamidar, parashas Shelach we find that the twelve Spies are listed by name and by tribe. Levi is not listed, Ephraim and Menashe are listed.

That's how Rashi knew that Levi was excluded. In light of this answer, your next question begs to be asked.

Your Question:


A Question: Since the Torah explicitly told us which tribes participated in the Spy venture, why does Rashi have to say here that our verse "tells us that Levi was not among them" ? It was not our verse that informed us of this; it was a verse in parashas Shelach that did. So our question is: What does Rashi mean by "This tells us, etc."

Can you think of an answer to this difficult question?

Hint: See the context of this verse.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse before our verse says:

"And you approached me and said 'Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land and bring a word back to us - the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come.'"

Then Moses chose men "from you" meaning from the crowd that approached him.

That crowd was an unruly one, as Rashi says on that verse. It was from that crowd that Moses took the twelve Spies. Rashi's comment here tells us that Levi was not among them i.e, among the mob that asked for Spies. While we knew that the tribe of Levi didn't send a Spy, nevertheless they might have been among those that clamored for Spies. Rashi, therefore, tells us that the Torah's emphasis on twelve is meant to tell us that Levi was not among them i.e. among the unruly crowd pressured Moses requesting Spies.

(See Almosh'nino)

THE LESSON: A new approach and a new mind set are often necessary to understand Rashi.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

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 msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il Thanking you in advance.

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