by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parashas Ki Sisa 5767This week's sedra begins with some mitzvos concerning the Mishkan. Then it tells the of the trauma of the sin of the Golden Calf. After that it describes Moses' conversation with Hashem regarding understanding G-d's ways in this world. We find the following verse.
Exodus 34: 5
And Hashem descended in a cloud and He stood with him there and he called in the name of Hashem.
And he called in the name of Hashem: Rashi: It is translated by the Targum: 'And he called in the name of Hashem.' [In Hebrew/Aramaic: Ukra b'shma d'aHashem."]
The meaning of this verse has aroused much controversy. It's meaning is doubly important, for in addition to knowing what the Torah is saying here, this verse is also a central part of the Slichos we say. We should understand what the words mean.
But as we said, much here is unclear. You have to read the Hebrew and Rashi in Hebrew to better see the ambiguity here. What seems to you unclear in this verse?
Remember that any English translation you use translates the verse according to a particular interpretation of the words. Any translation, in other words, rejects another possible and different translation of the words.
What is unclear?
WHAT IS UNCLEAR?
Several pronouns in our verse are unclear as to whom they refer.
It says in Hebrew "vayisyatzev imo" Translated: "And he stood with him". The ambiguity is: Who stood with whom?
1) It could mean that Hashem stood with Moses (Ramban, Artscroll , Silbermann) That would be translated "And He stood with him."
2) It could mean the cloud stood with Moses (Some opinions as quoted by Ibn Ezra, Metsudah Rashi Chumash,) That would be translated "And it stood with him."
3) It could mean Moses stood with Hashem. (Ibn Ezra in his shorter commentary)
Another unclear pronoun is "he called in the name of Hashem" which are Rashi's Lead Words. The question is: Who called in the name of Hashem?
1) Was it Hashem who called ? Then translation would be "And He (Hashem) called in the name: Hashem."
2) Was it Moses who called? Then translation would be "And he (Moses) called in the name of Hashem."
These ambiguities are the bases for Rashi's comment here.
Can you see which ambiguity Rashi is dealing with?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Rashi is dealing with the second ambiguity we discussed above. He wants to clarify: Who called in the name of Hashem? Was it Moses or was it Hashem?
Notice above we translated the verse in two ways with a small difference.
1) As one choice we had "And He (Hashem) called in the name: Hashem."
3) Another was: "And he (Moses) called in the name of Hashem."
See that in #2 we add the small word "of" the Name "of" Hashem .
That is the significance of the letter Dalet d'aHashem ("of Hashem") in Rashi's quote of the Targum.
The problem is that Rashi's words themselves are ambiguous!!
The commentaries on Rashi differ as to what he means.
Which of the two possible interpretations does Rashi choose, in your opinion?
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?
An Answer: As we said the commentaries differ on what Rashi is saying.
1) The Mizrachi says Rashi cites the Targum to show us the correct meaning. It is that Moses called in the name of Hashem. For if it meant G-d called in Hashem's name then the Targum would (In Hebrew/Aramaic) not add the word "of" Hashem in Aramaic "d'Hashem." It would have simply said "And He called in the Name- Hashem".
The Mizrachi claims that the addition of the word "of" in the Targum indicates that Rashi believes it was Moses - and not Hashem - who called out the Name.
As we said the commentaries differ. We have presented Mizrachi's view that Rashi is telling us that it was Moses who called out the name.
But the Gur Aryeh (Maharal) differs. He says that Rashi's point is that it was Hashem who spoke the Name, not Moses.
If you look at a previous verse in chapter 33:19. you will have a strong question on the Mizrachi's view. There it says that G-d says to Moses: "And He said I shall make pass all My goodness before you and I will call in the name of Hashem before you etc."
Do you see the question on the Mizrachi?
QUESTIONING THE MIZRACHI'S VIEW
A Question: See these are the very same words as we have in our verse. In this verse it unequivocal that it is G-d speaking and not Moses. And if we look at the Targum on these words Aramaic phrase is the same. " Ukra b'shma d'aHashem.". Here certainly the addition of the letter "dalet" which means "of the name" cannot indicate that it was Moses speaking, because here certainly it was G-d speaking. So why does the Mizrachi think the Targum implies such a meaning in our verse?
A difficult question.
A NEW APPROACH TO RASHI'S COMMENT
It is difficult to explain the Mizrachi and extricate him from the question we posed.
But another Rashi commentator (Eved Shlomo an early and virtually unknown Rishon) offers an original - and seems to be true- interpretation of Rashi.
He cites verses in Genesis 12:8 and 13:4. where it says Abram called "B'shaim Hashem (the same words as in our verse) and there the Targum translates them as "V'tzali Avram B'shaim d'Hashem" which means "And Abram prayed in the name of Hashem." Note: "Prayed" not "called." So the Eved Sholomo says Rashi quotes the Targum on our verse to tell us that the word "Vayikra" means "called" here and not "prayed" as it does in Abram's case.
What difference does it make if the word means "called" and not "prayed"?
Can you think why Rashi considered this important to tell us?
An Answer: Remember our ambiguity - Who called in the Name of Hashem? Moses or Hashem? If we say "vayikra" means "he prayed" it must refer to a person. G-d does not pray! (Yes, there are midrashim that say that G-d prays, but those are midrashim and not p'shat.) To pray is to ask a Higher Being to help. G-d could not - would not - ask a higher being than Himself, for there is none. But if we say, "called" it could refer to Hashem. And in this case it certainly refers to Hashem for as we said verse 33:19 already foretells that G-d will pass by and call in the name of Hashem. It says there "And He said I shall make pass all My goodness before you and I will call in the name of Hashem before you etc."
This seems to be the reason Rashi cites the Targum to stress the meaning of the word "Vayikra" meaning "He called" and not "he prayed." And it must therefore refer to G-d Who called.
Why would G-d call out His own name? You might ask. But Rashi in the next verse tells us that Hashem is teaching Moses and all Israel how to pray.
The meaning of the common but ambiguous verse is now clear, thanks to Rashi and one of his brilliant commentators. We say this verse frequently in our prayers, so it is important that we know its meaning.
More Rashi thoughts can be found in the Megillas Esther volume of What's Bothering Rashi? At your book stores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and