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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashios Netzavim/Vayelech(70)

Deuteronomy 29:17.

Lest there is among you a man or a woman or a family or a tribe whose heart strays this day from Hashem, our G-d, to go serve the gods of those nations; lest there is among you a root producing gall and bitter fruit.


"Lest there is among you", etc: Rashi: Therefore I must make you swear.

"Lest there is among you": Rashi: Maybe there is among you. Whose heart strays today: Rashi: From accepting the covenant.


We see that Rashi comments twice on the same Lead Words. We also see that the verse itself uses the words "Lest there is among you" to times.


Is Rashi commenting twice on these two phrases in the verse?

What has Rashi told us in the second comment? It seems to be a rephrase of the Torah's words without adding anything.


Regarding our first question: Notice that Rashi's Lead Words on the first comment include "etc." (Hebrew: v'gomer) this always means that the comment relates not just to these words but also to the words that follow. Notice that there is no "etc." in Rashi's second comment, meaning that this comment relates just to the Lead Words alone.


An Answer: Rashi is wondering how this verse fits into the context of the previous verses. The thrust of the paragraph is that G-d is having Israel pass through a covenant and a curse with G-d, to secure the bond with G-d into future generations. Why should the Torah now mention the possibility of bitter weeds in the community?

Do you see how the comment relates to this question?

Your Answer:


An Answer: This Rashi is connected with his comment on verse 15 above. There he explains that since Israel saw the foreign gods when they conquered the Land perhaps that would be attracted to their worship. That is what Rashi means when says: "Therefore" since you saw their gods (verses 15, 16) you must swear not to follow them.


As we wrote above, Rashi's comment does not seem to add anything to what the Torah says. Why does he comment at all?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The Torah uses the word "Lest" (in Hebrew: "pen"). This word usually means "you shall not" or "it shall not happen" . See Genesis 3:3 "Lest you die" and Genesis 42:4 "Lest an accident happens" and Deut. 20:6 "Lest he die in battle" and many other similar examples of "pen" meaning "lest' it happen in the future could be found. Rashi is actually not bothered by anything here, he is rather helping us avoid a mistaken understanding what I have termed a Type two Rashi-comment. (See my introduction to the Bereishis volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" for a fuller explanation of the Types of Rashi-comments)


This type of Rashi-comment is different that most comments. Most comments come to answer an implicit question: What is bothering Rashi? But a type-two comment does not answer a question. Its purpose is to help the reader avoid a likely misunderstanding. And Rashi writes type two comments in a characteristic way. That is, he inserts his own few words in between the Torah's words. Note in our verse this what he does. He has inserted the words "Maybe there is among you" after. "Lest there is among you' and before the Torah's words "Whose heart strays today" which he also quotes.


The misunderstanding here is that the word "pen" usually refers to a future event as in the examples given above. Here it does not refer to the future, it refers to the present. For the verse says "whose heart strays this day". So we are talking about the present not the future. This is what Rashi comes to clarify.

How does Rashi's comment help us?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi tells us that "pen" can also mean "maybe" and not just "Lest." So Rashi is not just saying what the Torah says h is clarifying a point. Rashi's point is the word "maybe" (Hebrew: Shema), this gives the word "pen" a different (but acceptable) meaning which makes sense in its present context. "Maybe" is appropriate because the community is not aware of such people who have in their minds decided to serve idols. It is only a conjecture, a concern thus the word "maybe" is appropriate.


We see how Rashi with one word guides around a misunderstanding that we almost certainly would have had.

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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