by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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This week's sedra is the last in the Book of Bamidbar, in fact, the last of the four books of the Torah. The fifth and last book, Devarim, is Moses's final speech to the People of Israel before his death. In this sense it stands apart from the other four books.
Parashas Masei consists mainly of two topics. The record of Israel's journeys in the Wilderness from their exodus from Egypt until their encampment forty years later in the Plains of Moav in Jordan, which overlook the Land of Israel . And the borders of the Land which would be divided up between the nine and a half tribes. In that later section we find these verses:
Numbers 33: 52, 53
52: You shall drive out ("V'horashtem") all the inhabitants of the Land before you; and you shall destroy all their prostration stones, all their molten images you shall destroy , and all their high places you shall demolish.
53: You shall possess the Land ("V'horashtem") and you shall settle in it for to you I have given the Land to possess it.
Note: I have written the Hebrew term which is identical in both verses.
52: You shall drive out ("V'horashtem"): Rashi: You shall expel them.
What is Rashi Saying?
Rashi gives us the meaning of the word "V'horashtem"
If we look above at 32: 39 and Rashi there we understand his purpose here. There he says that the root word "riesh" can have two different means. It can mean "to inherit' as in the word "yerusha" or it can mean "to drive out." ( I would say in English we have two similar words: "To possess" through inheritance or "to dispossess" through being driven out.)
Considering the possibility of two different interpretations of this word, what would you ask of Rashi?
A Question: Why did Rashi choose this one? Why not the other meaning - to inherit ?
Hint: Read the whole verse.
An Answer: Our verse says: "You shall drive out ("V'horashtem") all the inhabitants of the Land before you."
The additional words "all the inhabitants" lends support that the word "V'horashtem" means to drive out, because we have an object to this verb, What will you "Moriesh"? - the inhabitants of the Land.
Considering that, let us see the next verse and its Rashi Comment.
53. You shall possess the Land ("V'horashtem"): Rashi: And you shall dispossess it of its inhabitants, and then you will dwell in it i.e. you will be able to remain in it. But if not ( i.e. if you do not drive them out) you will not be able to remain in it.
In light of what we said above, what would you ask?
A Question: In this verse the words "of its inhabitants" are absent. It was on the basis of these words in the previous verse that we said Rashi chose the interpretation "to dispossess." But these words are absent in our verse and he still translates this as "dispossess". Why?
THE RAMBAN DIFFERS
The Ramban comment on this verse is a very significant one:
"In my opinion this is a positive command. He command them that they should dwell in the Land and inherit it for it was given to them, and they should not abhor God's inheritance. (i.e. by not living in it) [And if they live somewhere else] they transgress God's command."
We see that the Ramban in fact translates the verse this way: "You shall possess the Land ("V'horashtem") and you shall settle in it for to you I have given the Land to possess." (Note: This is as we have translated it above in the beginning of this analysis. )
We should note two things. 1) Ramban says the word means to posssess (i.e. inherit) , not dispossess. 2) The correct English translation for the Ramban is "you shall" and not "you will" settle (or dwell) in it. It is a command. The Ramban says this is the Biblical source for the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel.
The Ramban took his own words seriously. At the end of his life, an old man, he came to live in Eretz Yisroel. Without buses, cars or prepared homes or prepared food or any financial means of support. Without N'fesh B'nefesh.
UNDERSTANDING THE RAMBAN
We can guess why the Ramban differs with Rashi. Perhaps because, as we said, the object ("the inhabitants of the Land") is missing in our verse. Secondly, if the verse is only telling us we must dispossess the inhabitants of the Land this was already stated in the previous verse.
Can you defend Rashi's interpretation?
Two things, at least, can be said in defense of Rashi's interpretation. First the whole context here (see verse 55) seems to lean towards the point of throwing out the inhabitants and then , as a consequence, living in the Land. Verse 55 explicitly says what our problems will be if we do not clear the Land of its inhabitants. So Rashi probably figured that our verse has the same thrust. Regarding the missing words "the inhabitants of the Land" another Rashi comment (Exodus 15:9) says we can say we can empty a vessel or empty the contents of the vessel. Both would be written the same in Biblical Hebrew. Therefore emptying the Land and emptying the Land of its inhabitants is the same. For Rashi our verse is not a command, for the command (to dispossess the inhabitants) was already given in verse 53 above. So it is a warning - clear the land so you can live in it or else you will have only tzoros living in it.
A FINAL NOTE
The 29th of Tamuz , Aug. 5 this year, is the 900th yahrtzeit (anniversary) of Rashi's death. An amazing record - 900 years of being studied daily by tens of thousands. When we note the above Rashi comment we realize how timely (unfortunately) he remains even after nine centuries.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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