by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashat Va'eschananThis week's sedra continues Moses' review of the Torah teachings with some musar chastisement thrown in. The sedra contains the Ten Commandments and the first paragraph of the Shema.
Not with our fathers did Hashem make this covenant but with us, we who are here today, all of us alive.
Not with our fathers: Rashi: Alone, did Hashem make [this covenant] etc.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi's inserts his one word comment ('alone') between the Torah's words. This usually means that Rashi is helping us avoid a misunderstanding. ( I refer to this kind of Rashi- comment as a Type II comment.)
Which misunderstanding are we to avoid?
An Answer: The verse seems to say that G-d did not make a covenant with the fathers of the present generation. But this contradicts all we know. The generation that left Egypt, forty years previously, was the generation that stood at Sinai, received the Torah and entered into a covenant with G-d (see Exodus 24:8). When they sinned by accepting the disparaging report of the Spies, they were condemned to die in the wilderness. Now when Moses is speaking to the nation, the generation of the fathers had already died out. Moses is now addressing their children. But it was with their fathers that G-d had made His covenant. Yet our verse seems to say just the opposite - it says "not with your fathers did I make this covenant." Rashi is telling us it is a misunderstanding to think that the verse means what it seems to say. Its meaning is rather "not only with your fathers did I make the covenant…." The verse now means that G-d certainly made a covenant with the fathers; He made it not only with them, but with all future generations as well.
QUESTIONING THE TORAH
But if the Torah means that G-d made His covenant not only with the fathers, why then does it say "Not with your fathers did I make the covenant" ? Why does the Torah use such a misleading phrase?
This is a difficult question. This is also an excellent example of struggling to make sense out an apparently senseless verse in the Torah.
UNDERSTANDING THE TORAH'S LINGUISTIC STYLE
An Answer: Before we go on to understand this anomaly let us cite other examples of similarly misleading verses.
1) Joseph reveals himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:8) and says:
"So now it was not you that sent me here, but G-d …"
Indeed! Was it not they? Did they not throw him into the pit? Did they not sell him to the passing Ishmaelites? Joseph says so himself, just a few verses earlier, "I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt…(Genesis 45:4)!
This is truly a contradiction.
2) After Jacob's struggle with the angel (Genesis 32:24-29) he is told "Not Jacob shall your name be called any more, but Israel, for you have contended with G-d and man …"
Yet, later on G-d Himself calls Israel 'Jacob'. "And G-d said to Israel in a vision of the night and said 'Jacob, Jacob, …'(Genesis 46:2). Another contradiction!
3) A most striking example comes from the Book of Jeremiah when he makes the following startling statement.
"For I spoke not unto your fathers nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of Egypt concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this thing did I command them, saying, 'Listen to My voice and I shall be for you for a G-d and you shall be for Me a nation…" (Jeremiah 7:22-23).
Indeed! Did G-d not speak of sacrifices ? He made a covenant at Sinai which was sealed with sacrifices. The Tabernacle was constructed in the wilderness as a place to offer sacrifices to G-d? The major part of the book of Leviticus is devoted to the laws of the sacrifices. What did Jeremiah mean by his puzzling statement?
Can you make sense out of these verses, which seem to make statements, which fly in the face of facts that we know to be true. Do you notice a similar linguistic pattern in these verses?
THE DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: You may have noticed that all these verses have a similar pattern. They all say "Not …x, But ..y." "Not you sent me here…but G-d ." "Not Jacob shall be your name be called …but Israel." In all these verse, as Rashi tells us here, the meaning is rather "Not only Jacob shall be your name be called …but also Israel." "Not only you sent me here…but also G-d ." The pattern is: "Not only x, but also y.." If you go back to each verse and insert these words you will see that all the contradictions that troubled us are eliminated.
This rule is amazingly consistent and precise. See that Abram's name was changed to Abraham and he was never again called "Abram," not like Jacob whose name was changed to Israel, but nevertheless retained the name Jacob. This is because G-d's statement to Abram was significantly different (though with only one word changed) than His statement to Jacob.
"And your name shall not be called anymore Abram and your name shall be Abraham.." (Genesis 17:5).
Notice that here we do not have the "not ..x, but…y" formula. We have, instead, "not Abram, and your name shall be Abraham." This slight change from "but" to "and" makes all the difference. Because G-d did not want Abraham ever to be called Abram, He phrased His command in a way that avoided the formula we have become familiar with. G-d was not saying to Abram that "Your name is not mainly Abram, but is Abraham" that would have meant, as it does in the case of Jacob, that the original name would remain together with the new name.
Glaring contradictions which posed difficult questions in the Torah were explained away with a new insight into the Torah's way of speaking. One should never (never!) dismiss the Torah's words on the basis of our limited knowledge. Questions call for answers. But we are not necessarily always blessed with the ability to answer them.
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.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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