by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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We follow the Torah reading in Chutz La'Aretz, which is:
shows Rashi's sensitive ear to the Torah's nuances.
And it was very upsetting to Moses and he said to Hashem: Do not turn to their offering. Not one donkey of them have I taken, nor have I wronged even one of them
Not one donkey from them have I taken: Rashi: Not the donkey of one of them have I taken. Even when I went from Midian to Egypt and I placed my wife and sons on a donkey, I should have conscripted that donkey from their [budget], nevertheless I only took my own. The Targum Onkelos has שחרית which is Aramaic for the king's tax, which is called שחוור.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING ?
This comment has two parts to it. First, Rashi explains how to read the words "not one donkey from them have I taken." Then he explains the inner meaning of Moses' words. He says Moses is saying that even when he was entitled to conscript a donkey from the people, he didn't impose himself on them.
The first part of this comment has puzzled many commentators. As you look at it, what would you ask?
A Question: Rashi explains Moses' words לא חמור אחד מהם נשאתי . Ordinarily, we would translate them as "Not one donkey from them have I taken." But Rashi says the meaning is: "Not the donkey of one of them have I taken."
We ask: Is there any difference between these two readings? In both cases Moses is saying that he didn't expropriate even one donkey. So why does Rashi make an issue of it?
Hint: Rashi is bothered by a nuance in the wording of this verse. What is it?
This is a real stickler!
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Rashi is bothered by the unusual word order here. This is best understood when we examine the Hebrew. We would have expected Moses to say: "Not one donkey have I taken from them."
But instead he says:
"Not one donkey from them have I taken."
The difference is significant.
Why is it important?
An Answer: There is one of two possible points that Moses may be making. He may be saying, that he never profited unjustifiably from his position. Or he may be saying that he never exploited anyone, i.e. no one ever suffered because of him. Remember the context. Dasan and Avirum have just accused Moses of lording it over them (verse 13). When Moses says "from them" מהם he is referring to them (and the assembly of two hundred and fifty ). He is not referring to all of Israel, because all of Israel were not the complainers, they were not part of this rebellion. He is emphasizing that these people, Dasan and Aviram, never suffered because of him. Therefore he emphasizes the word "them."
There is a rule in Torah interpretation that is important to remember: when a word is placed before another word it usually implies that the earlier word is to be emphasized more than the later word. By saying "them" before saying "taken" Moses shows what point he is driving home. He is emphasizing that he has taken nothing from them. As if to say, 'What are YOU complaining about? Have you, yourselves, ever been exploited by me?'
This is what Rashi is stressing.
This is the significance of the unusual word order. (For a fuller explanation of the significance of "word order" in interpretation of the Torah see my book "Studying the Torah," Jason Aronson Publishers.)
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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