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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayigash (70)

This comment shows how the early commentaries closely analyzed the Torah's words. We look at the Ramban who sides with Rashi in the dispute of rishonim

Genesis 44:22

We said to my lord: The lad cannot leave his father because if he leaves his father, he will die.


What is difficult, unclear, in this verse?

Your Answer:

Compare your answer with the Ramban's answer which follows.


if he leaves his father, he will die. Ramban: Rabbi Abraham (Ibn Ezra) explains: And the father will die. But if so (says Ramban) it should have said 'Our father cannot leave the his son, if he leaves his son, he will die.'


Ramban: But the meaning is: The lad cannot leave his father because of his youth and he being his father's spoiled child whom he loved, and if he should leave him and come on the way, the lad will die.


This disagreement is one shared by all the early commentaries. Siding with Ibn Ezra are Rashbam, Ralbag, and Abarbanel. On the other hand, Rashi, agrees with the Ramban.

Can you see the crux of the disagreement?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The confusion here is: To whom does 'he' in 'he will die' refer to? On one side, is the fact that the subject of this verse is Benjamin. "The lad cannot leave his father; if he leaves his father, he will die." All the previous pronouns in the verse refer to Benjamin, so this one does as well. This is Ramban's & Rashi's opinion.

But there are other indications that 'he' refers to Jacob. The word immediately preceding 'he will die' is 'father' so 'he' may refer back to father. Another point is that the whole argument that Judah presents is that they promised their father to return the lad and their father would suffer terribly (even die) if he is not returned to him. In addition, we have verse 31 where it says: "And it will be when he sees that the lad is not and he will die.' This certainly refers to Jacob.

All in all, it would seem that the argument favors those opposed to Rashi/Ramban's interpretation.

How would you defend Ramban/Rashi?

Your Answer:


An Answer: While it is true that the whole thrust of Judah's speech is that the father is old and may die if the lad does not return to him, but the emphasis in this verse is on Benjamin, so the "he" refers to Benjamin. The confusion can be cleared up when we realize that "his (Jacob's) soul is bound up with his (Benjamin's) soul" (verse 30). So, in fact, if one dies so will the other. But first comes Benjamin's death (or disappearance) then would follow, as night follows day, Jacob's death. That is what verse 31 means. This is why Ramban says our verse refers to the lad's death, as Rashi says: "As his mother (Rachel) died on the way, so may this, (genetically) delicate lad, also die on the way."

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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