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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayeishev (71)

Genesis 38:5

And she continued more and she gave birth to a son and she called his name Sheila., and he was in Keziv when she gave birth to him.


And he was in Keziv: Rashi: This is the name of the place. And I say that because she stopped giving birth it was called 'keziv', as the same term in "Will you act towards me as a deceiver (Hebrew: 'achziv') (Jeremiah 15:18) or 'Whose waters will not cease (Hebrew 'yichavzu')' Isaiah 58:11). For if this is not so, what does it come to let us know? And in Berieshis Rabbah (Midrash) I have seen "And she called his name Sheila - ceasing."


In this comment Rashi simply tells us the meaning and the import of the word 'keziv' in our verse. The two verses that Rashi cites as support for interpreting 'keziv' as ceasing may not be clear from the translations above. But the word "kazav" can mean disappoint, deceive or cease. They are related since one's trust in someone or something (like a river's waters) ceases, and one is disappointed if it isn't faithful to its promise. Rashi adds that not only the name of the city "keziv' implied ceasing, also the newly born child's name - Shaila - also conveyed this meaning. Sheila may be similar the Aramaic Shilhe which mends end.


Rashi makes an off handed remark in this comment which is edifying. He says: "For if this is not so, what does it come to let us know?" He is saying that the Torah would not mention a fact, even if it were true, unless it had some significance. So to tell us the name of the city that Yehuda was in when his wife gave birth is, in and of itself, of no real value. What difference does it make where he was?

It is for this reason that Rashi seeks some meaning to the word - he found it in the fact that the word 'keziv' foretells that she would have no more children.

We can use this rule through out the Torah and the Tanaach - every point mentioned must have some significance, otherwise the Sacred Writings would not include it. If its significance is not readily apparent, it behooves us to search out its meaning.


Let us return to Rashi's main point itself, the meaning of the Torah telling us where Yehuda was at the time of his wife's giving birth.

Can you think of some questions here?

Your Questions


A Question: How would the woman know at the time of birth, when she named the child, that this would be her last child?

Another question: The woman now had three sons. This is pretty much par for the course of number of children we find in the Torah. So if this was to be her last child that was not such an usual event that it merited naming a city and the child on that basis.

Actually these are the Ramban's questions which he asks on Rashi's comment.

Can you think of an answer(s) to the questions?

This is not easy.

Your Answer:


An Answer: One commentary on Rashi (Be'er Basadeh) suggests that maybe she had a very difficult birth and had a Caesarian operation. In those days a woman could not give birth again after such an operation. So it could have been known immediately that she could not have any more children. But the second question remains.

We mentioned the Ramban, let us see what says.


Because of the questions above the Ramban was not satisfied with Rashi's p'shat. Ramban cites the Radak's thought that in those days there was a custom for the father to name the first child, the mother the second child and alternating as follows. The verses 38:3, 4 support this assumption. By the first son it says "And he called his name …" and by the second son "And she called his name…". But when we come to third son it says "And she called his name Sheila. And he was in Keziv when she gave birth to him." The question is: Why does she name this third child, it should be his (the father's) turn to name the child. So the Radak says the verse tells us that he (the father ) was not around when his wife gave birth - he was in Keziv - and that is why she named the baby and not the father.

But the Ramban does not like this answer of the Radak. He gives no reason for rejecting it, he just says it does not make good sense. To me it sounds reasonable, but not to the Ramban!

So Ramban offers his interpretation of this puzzling verse. Remembering that both words - Keziv and the baby's name, Sheila, both mean to cease. So Ramban says she named the baby Sheila (to cease) because she gave birth in the city of Keziv and that too means to cease. But it has nothing to do with ceasing to give birth as Rashi says.

Ramban's interpretation is problematic for two reasons. 1) Why didn't she name the baby Keziv ? If she named him after his place of birth, why not give him the exact same name instead of another name which has the same meaning? Another question is that the verse says "And he was in Keziv" not that she was in Keziv! The Ramban addresses this question and says that such switches in gender sometimes occur in Biblical grammar!

There you have it. Take your choice from among the three interpretations (or suggest your own.)

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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