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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayera(69)

This week's sedra tells of Abraham's generous hospitality to his three visitors; the birth of Isaac; the destruction of Sodom; Abraham's dialogue with G-d to save the innocent; and the Akaida - binding - of Isaac.

Genesis 18:4

Let some water be brought, please, and wash your feet and recline under the tree.


Let [some water] be brought, please: Rashi: By means of a messenger. And the Holy One, blessed be He, repaid his children with a messenger, as it says:(Numbers 20:11) 'And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock.'


Rashi derives his comment from the Talmud (Baba Metzia 86a). There it tells us that anything Abraham did himself for his guests, G-d also did Himself for the Children of Israel during their stay in the wilderness. Abraham, himself, got them bread (see next verse) so G-d Himself rained down bread from above (the manna) for Israel in the wilderness. But our verse has Abraham saying 'Let water be brought' meaning that it should be done, but not by Abraham. So, too, his children would have water given to them, by not directly by G-d. Rather Moses would do it with the staff.

The Torah, as you might remember, tells us of two incidents in the wilderness where Moses brought forth water from a rock. One is recounted in the book of Exodus (17:1-6), the other in Numbers (20:1-11). Rashi here quotes a verse from the second incident, from Numbers.

What would you ask on Rashi?

Your Question:


A Question: Why did Rashi cite this verse from Numbers and not the one from Exodus?

Not an easy question to answer.

Any ideas? See both incidents.

Your Answer:


An Answer: Different answers have been given to this question. They are all based on noting difference between the incidents and showing that the one in Numbers is more relevant to our case, and that's why Rashi chose it.

I would suggest the following: In Exodus, Moses calls out to G-d to help him stave off the complaints of the Israelites against him ("What shall I do for this People?"). So G-d gives him advice: Pass through the camp, take the staff "Behold I (G-d) will stand there on the rock and you shall smite the rock" etc. In Numbers it tells of the thirst of the people, of their complaints and of Moses (and Aaron's) frustration: 'They fell on their face.' But it does not say explicitly that they asked G-d to help them. G-d spontaneously advised Moses to take the staff to solve he problem of the people's thirst. I would say that in Exodus Moses was not G-d's messenger; he was asking for help from G-d to know how to counter the people's attack against. He was doing this for himself, so to speak. But in Numbers, the verse that Rashi quotes, we do have a direct case where G-d tells Moses what to do for Him. So here Moses is clearly G-d's messenger; for this reason is it more fitting as a comparison to Abraham's sending a messenger to fetch the water.


What is the message here? Rashi cites a subtle criticism of Abraham. It is always best to do things yourself and not ask a messenger to do it; especially when what is being done is a mitzvah - as honoring guests is.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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