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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashat Masei

Numbers 36:4

The verse refers to the situation should the daughters of Tzlavchad - who inherited their father's land - marry into another tribe, they were afraid the lands will be lost to the tribe. Their fear is expressed in the verse below:

"And if there will be a Yovel (Jubilee) to the Children of Israel and their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they will belong; and from the inheritance of our fathers their inheritance will be lost."


And if there will be a Yovel: Rashi: From here Rebbe Yehuda said: In the future the Yovel will stop.


When Israel lives in its Land, the Yovel occurs every 50th year. The laws of the Yovel include freeing all servants who return to their home and returning any land which was sold during the previous 50 years, which then goes back to its (original) rightful owner. This guarantees that the tribes retain their original geographic area, without various fields transferring to other tribes when they are sold to Jews from other tribes.


Rashi quoting Rebbe Yehuda says the since the Torah say "if there will be a Yovel" this indicates that the Yovel isn't a permanent thing; it may or may not be operative at any one time. And in fact once the Jews were exiled from their land, the Yovel stopped being in force even for those Jews who remained in the Land.

This is pretty clear and straight forward.

But when we recall the Rashi in Leviticus 2:14 we have a difficulty;

"And if you bring a meal offering of the first fruits to Hashem ; from ripe ears parched over fire, ground from plump kernels you shall offer the meal offering of the first fruits."


And if you bring: Rashi: This word "im" means "when", (i.e. it does not mean "if") for it is not a matter of choice [whether or not to offer it] since the verse is talking about the Omer offering which is an obligation; just as in (Numbers 36:4) 'And if there will be a Yovel.'


Rashi on our verse says the word "Im" means "if there will be a Yovel" That's why Rebbe Yehuda concluded there will be a time when it won't exist. But on the verse in Leviticus (which we just quoted) Rashi says the "im" in our verse does not mean "if" it means "when."

Can you resolve this apparent contradiction?

It may help to know that there are other verses where "im" is used and Rashi says they mean "when." The verses are:

1) "and if you lend (Exodus 22:24) - this is a mitzvah and must be read "And when you lend."

2) And if an altar of stones you build Me (Exodus 209:21) - this too is a mitzvah and therefore it must be read "And when an altar of stone you build Me."

3) And the verse in Leviticus (above) about the Omer offering - it too is a mitzvah and, as Rashi says, must mean: "When you offer.."

But the problem, is that Rashi includes our verse about Yovel in that group, while on our verse he quotes Rebbe Yehuda who implies the meaning here is "if."

Your Answer:


An Answer: In our verse about Yovel the word can mean "when": as Rashi says in Leviticus 2:4 and never the less, Rebbe Yehuda can say " In the future the Yovel will stop". This verse is different from all the other verses in that they are all mitzvoth which we must do. So the "im" cannot mean "if" - we have no choice but to do it. But our verse is not a mitzvah which people do or do not do - it is a fact which will happen regardless of human intention. So the "when" means only "when the Yoval comes" - clearly implying that there may be a time when it will not come.

In short, we don't need to translate the word "im" as "if" to arrive at Rebbe Yehuda's idea. Even "when" points to the same conclusion.

So Rashi is not contradicting himself.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek "What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. All 5 volumes on What's Bothering Rashi? are available in Jewish book stores.

Dr. Bonchek is publishing a new book on Rashi, called "Rashi: the magic and the Mystery" . It has a biography of Rashi & his special character traits. And outlines clearly Rules for interpreting Rashi in depth. We are looking for dedications to help publish this book. Those interested, please contact Avigdor Bonchek at Drbonchek@gmail.com.

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