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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Shemos 5767

This week we begin a new Book of the Torah; the Book of Shemos, AKA Exodus. The Book is the tale of Exile and Redemption from the Egyptian Exile. This week's sedra tells of the strain and pain of that first Exile; the selection of Moses as the Nation's savior and his beginning contact with Pharaoh, King of Egypt. When Hashem speaks to Moses He prepares him for the difficulties of his mission.

Exodus 3:19

And I know (G-d says) that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go and not even with a strong hand.


the king of Egypt will not allow you to go Rashi: Without My showing him My strong hand. That is to say: so long as I do not let him know My strong hand he won't allow you to go.

The comment is so simple it arouses our suspicion. What would you ask?

Your Question(s):


A Question: Rashi seems to say what the verse says, adding nothing. Do you see what's bothering him?

Hint: Read the verse & consider how you understand it.

What's bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The verse says that Pharaoh will not let the people free not even with a strong hand. But that is not so. Later, at the end of the sedra (6:1) we are told "And Hashem said to Moses .....for with a strong hand shall he send them away and with a strong hand shall he drive them out from his land."

So if our verse says that Pharaoh "will not allow you to go even with a strong hand" it contradicts the facts.

This is what Rashi's comment is dealing with.

Do you see how his comment handles this difficulty?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi is telling us that the words (in Hebrew) "v'lo b'yad chazah" mean "not without a strong hand". They do not mean, as we might have thought, "not even with a strong hand."

Notice that Rashi's Lead Words (Dibbur Hamaschil) are broken up. I have written in bold above the words from the verse. The words "My strong hand" (in bold type) from the verse come after a few words of Rashi. This is the sign that this is a Type 2 comment, meaning that Rashi comes to disabuse us of a possible misunderstanding of the verse. And we see that this is what he is doing.

But look closely at Rashi's words, you will see that he makes a slight change from the verse's wording. Do you see it? What does it mean?


An Answer: Rashi writes, "My strong hand" and not as the Torah write "A strong hand." Why does he do this?

Hint: See the middle of Rashi's next comment beginning with in Hebrew "Yesh m'forshim"("others explain"). There he offers a different interpretation of our verse.

How does that differ from his comment here?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi's second interpretation of our verse's words is that the Strong Hands is "his (Pharaoh's) hand". In the first interpretation, Rashi changed the word "MY strong hand" instead of "A strong hand." "My Strong Hand" means G-d's Hand not Pharaoh's. That's why Rashi stated clearly in his first comment that it is "My hand" and just "a hand" to exclude the meaning that it was Pharaoh's hand.

Rashi's second interpretation needs clarification. What does it mean "The king of Egypt will not allow you to leave and not because of his strong hand"? The Rashbam has a comment, which clarifies this. It means Pharaoh's refusal was not because he had a strong hand, because we see from the next verse (as Rashi continues in his comment) that Pharaoh will in fact succumb to "all My wonders." Why then will he refuse to let the People go? Explains the Rashbam that Pharaoh will refuse because G-d will harden his heart and for no other reason.

This is the meaning of Rashi's second interpretation. Seeing it sheds light also on his first interpretation.


An apparently simple verse takes on deeper meaning when we read Rashi carefully.

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

"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.

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