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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayeshev (73)

In this week's sedra ( Vayeshev) we have a very enlightening comment by the Rashbam, who was Rashi's grandson. He writes about the idea of p'shat interpretation: "And the Rishonim (early commentators) because of their righteousness inclined towards drash (as opposed to p'shat) which (drash) is the main thing. And because of this they did not accustom their interpretations to the depth of p'shat…..as it says in the Talmud "I was eighteen years old and had learned the whole Talmud but I didn't know that the verse never leaves its p'shat interpretation". And also Rav Shlomo (Rashi) my mother's father, who enlightened the eyes of all the Jews, and who wrote commentary on the whole Tanach, paid particular attention to interpreting according to p'shat and also I, Reb Shmuel son of Meir, his son-in-law (Rashbam) argued with him (with Rashi) many times and he even admitted to me that if he had the time he would have to write other commentaries according to the new p'shat insights that come every day."

An amazing comment! Rashbam is saying that Rashi himself admitted that his Torah commentary would have to be improved by adding more p'shat interpretations. Gives us much food for thought.

The sedra tells of the sale of Joseph and his descent into Egypt and slavery. It also tells of the beginning of the reversal of his fortune, which (next week) will bring Joseph to a high position in Egypt. Let us look at a simple (!) Rashi-comment.

The brothers were planning what to do with Joseph after throwing him into the pit.

Genesis 37:27

"Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and our own hands will not be on him for he is our brother, our own flesh; and they heard."


and they heard: Rashi: (Targum) They accepted it from him (meaning "they agreed") And "shemia" (hearing) which is to accept- agree to something, as this case and as "And Jacob listened to his father" (Genesis … ) is translated by the Targum as "we accept-agree". But anytime it is just hearing with one's ear as "And he heard the sound of Hashem, G-d walking in the Garden" etc…..is translated by the Targum as ("shemia") "and they listened', "v'shamata".


Rashi differentiates between two meanings of the word "sh'ma". One is to hear (or listen) and one is to accept (or obey). This is true in english as well. "Listen" can mean "hear what I am saying" or it can mean "Do what I tell you."The Targum tells us its correct meaning in each case.


A problem arises with this comment when we look at one of the verses Rashi cites. He cites verse 28:7 ("And Jacob heard (listened) to his father.") which also means "he obeyed" and not just "he heard".


A Question: Why didn't Rashi teach us this point on that previous verse? It is Rashi's custom, as it is common sense, to teach a grammatical point at the first instance when the word appears in the Torah. Why wait?

Why does Rashi teach us now what he could have taught on the earlier verse?

Can you explain this?

Hint: Look at the earlier verse (28:7)

Your Answer:


An Answer: The reason why Rashi did not comment on the earlier verse is that there it says: Jacob listened TO (Hebrew: "el aviv") his father. This certainly means to obey, so there was no reason to clarify matters. But our verse just has "and they heard" without saying 'And they heard (listened) to Judah." So Rashi wanted to make clear that this "hearing" meant "obeyed".


But how does Rashi know that this it's meaning here (besides the Targum's help) is to obey and not just to listen?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Because the next verse tells us that they sold him as Judah had suggested. So their 'vayishm'u' meant they agreed and did as he said.


Whenever Rashi explains the meaning of a simple word or one that had appeared previously in the Torah we must always ask: Why did he wait until now to explain it? There is always a reason.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek "What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. A Hebrew translation of the Bereishis "What's Bothering Rashi?" is published. It is greatly expanded and is call "L'omko shel Rashi" look for it in bookstores.

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