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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashios Mattos & Masei (69)

This week's double sedra finishes off the readings in the book of Bamidbar. Let us look at the verses referring to purification of vessels taken in battle (or any vessels gotten from non-Jews).

Numbers 31:22, 23.

22: But ('ach') the gold and the silver and the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead.

23: Anything [of these materials] which had been in fire, you must pass through fire, and it will be purified; but it must be purified with sprinkled water.


But the gold, etc: Rashi: Even though Moses warned you only about the laws of impurity, there is also need to warn them about the laws of purging. The word 'but' is an expression of exclusion; that is 'you are excluded from using the utensils even after their purification from contamination of the dead, until they are purified from the absorption of forbidden meat. And our Rabbis said that 'but the gold, etc.' teaches that one must remove its rust before purging it.


Rashi offers two interpretations of the word 'ach' (but) in verse 22. One is p'shat and one is drash. Do you see which is p'shat and which drash?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The first comment - even after purification you need purging (for kashrus) - is p'shat. It is p'shat because this is the way the word 'but' is ordinarily used. Example: Teacher says to class: We will all go on a trip next week but those who misbehave in class will not go." Here the 'but' excludes (limits), that which comes before it (all will go on the trip except (but) those who misbehave). Likewise, in our verse, the 'but' limits the use of utensils, which was discussed previously. (For similar examples see: Genesis 9:3, 4, 5 and Rashi on it; Numbers 1:44-49 and Rashi there).

However, when 'but' is used to exclude (limit) that which comes after it, this is a Rabbinical drash, it is not the way we ordinarily speak. So in our verse when 'but' limits that which comes after it, which is the gold, it is drash. It limits "gold" by saying only pure, clean gold, not rusty gold. This is drash because there is no ordinary logic used here. For example, if we want to limit gold we could limit it to South African gold and no other gold. Or we could limit it to gold colored gold and not white colored gold, etc. Why specifically limit (exclude) rusty gold? In drash we don't necessarily look for logic.

The distinction is important. It clarifies the meaning of the Rabbis rule that "all 'achim' v'rakim' are limiting" Sometimes the word 'ach' limits in a p'shat way and sometimes in a drash way, but always limiting.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.

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