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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayeshev 5767

This week's sedra continues the saga of Jacob's family, the rivalry between Joseph and his brothers, the sale of Joseph into slavery, his going down to Egypt and imprisonment and his dream interpretations in prison with Pharaoh's ministers. In the middle of this story we have the story of Judah and Tamar. (Its intrusion at this point needs to be understood. A detailed discussion of this can be found in my book Studying the Torah ) Let us look at one verse in that story.

Verse 38:5

She conceived once again and gave birth to a son. She named him Sheila. And he (Judah) was in K'ziv when she gave birth to him.


And he (Yehuda) was in K'ziv: Rashi: This is a name of a place. And I would say it is because now she stopped giving birth therefore, it was called K'ziv from the same term as, "will you act towards me as a deceiver (Hebrew: Ackzav) (or) "whose waters will not cease (Hebrew "Lo yikazvu"). And if this is not the interpretation, then what does it (mentioning the place of birth) come to teach us?

What's bothering Rashi is not difficult to see. He says so himself.

What is it?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi says "And if this is not the interpretation, then what does it (mentioning the place of birth) come to teach us?" We see he is bothered by the Torah making mention of what is apparently an insignificant fact (that Judah was in K'ziv).

So Rashi explains that it was mentioned to tell us that this was her last birth for now she stopped giving birth.

But Rashi's explanation itself has drawn fire from the Ramban.

Can you guess what may be bothering the Ramban about Rashi's comment? What questions do you think he asks?

Your Answer (Question(s):


Questions: The Ramban asks two questions on Rashi's comment:

1) Why would a place be named after the unremarkable fact that a woman stopped giving birth after already having three children? And

2) How could it receive this name at this time, since she might (conceivably!) yet give birth to more children in the future?

Can you suggest answers to these difficult questions?

Your Answers


Before we try to understand Rashi, let us see what another commentator has written on this verse.


The Radak makes an interesting point. He says that it was (and may still be) the custom for the father to name the first born, then the mother names the second child then the father the third and so on.

See verse 3 where it says "He called his name Er." And then verse 4 where it says "And she called his name Onan." All this is according to the prevailing custom. But then in verse 5 it says "She (not he) called his name Shaila and he was in K'ziv when she bore him." The Radak explains that while He (Judah) should have given the third baby its name, instead the mother did so because Judah was not present - he was in another city - K'ziv when she bore him. This is why the Torah says "and he was in K'ziv when she gave birth to him." But the Ramban rejects this interpretation out of hand. He doesn't say why he does so. Perhaps he doesn't think referring to this custom of naming is sufficient reason for the Torah to make special mention of where Judah was at the time of birth. The Ramabn also wonders why the Torah would mention this fact.


The Ramban, who has a penchant for analyzing words and their etymology, points out that the baby's name Shaila may be related in meaning to the city's name K'ziv. The word Shaila means disappoint (as in Kings II Ch. 4:28) as does the word Kozev . So the Ramban conjectures that the baby was named after the city's meaning. He then deals with another question that arises from this interpretation. Why does it say "and he was in K'ziv." We assumed until now that "he" referred to Judah. But the Ramban says that the word (in Hebrew ) "v'hayah" means not only "and he was" but can also mean "and it was" meaning: and it happened in K'ziv.

So the Ramban turns around Rashi's interpretation that the city was named after the circumstances of the birth, and says rather that the baby was named ( indirectly) after the city's name.

But can we defend Rashi? How could he say that K'ziv means "stopping to give birth" Maybe she would still give birth in the future?

Your defense of Rashi.

Your Answer:


One clever answer given is that the Torah says the place was called K'ziv. Moses wrote this in the Torah many years after Judah's time. So when it was written it was clear that she had no other children after Shaila.

That's answer that comes from "thinking out of the box." !


We see how Torah commentator's take each phrase, each word, in the Torah seriously. Teaching us that nothing is written without some purpose. It is our job to discover that purpose. That is commentary.

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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