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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayishlach (70)

Genesis 34:25

And it was on the third day, when they were in pain, that the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and they came upon the city confidently (Hebrew: "betach") and killed every male.


Confidently (Hebrew: "betach"): Rashi: That they were in pain. And there is an Aggada: They were confident in the strength of the Old one (Jacob).


The verse says in Hebrew "ha'ir betach". Rashi tells us that the word "betach" here means "confidently." The sons of Jacob were confident they could slaughter the people of Shechem easily, without resistance because they were absorbed in their own pain after being circumcised.


Rashbam comments on these words: For they were living in security (betach) and weren't careful of them (the sons of Jacob). And every time, it says "betach", whether in the Torah or the Prophets, it refers to the dwellers. (see Deut. 12:10; Deut. 33:28; Judges 18:10 and others)


Rashbam differs here with Rashi, his grandfather, and says the "confidence" here refers to the confidence of the people of Shechem. They didn't suspect the sons of Jacob would attack them, certainly not after they had circumcised themselves, as they had been instructed. Rashbam backs up his interpretation by telling us that every where in Tanach the word betach is used in such a context it means the dwellers were secure - confident. That Rashbam could remember all the various places in the Tanach where the word is mentioned, before computer search engines, is in itself amazing.

The Rashbam seems to have a strong argument against Rashi.

Can you defend Rashi's interpretation?

Hint: See the context of these words.

Your Answer:


An Answer: It may be true that the word "betach" is always used as referring to the people dwelling and not to the attackers, but our case may be an exception. See the beginning of this verse. It says: "And it was on the third day, when they were in pain,etc. Why would the Torah make a point of telling us that they were in pain if it wasn't relevant to the story? No event is recorded in the Torah, even if it actually did occur, unless it is relevant. So Rashi saw the fact that they were in pain as relevant - the sons of Jacob could attack confidently because the men of Shechem were in pain.


Rashbam was a strict adherent of interpreting the Torah's words on a p'shat basis. He often argued with Rashi, even face to face, and also in his commentary on matters relating to p'shat interpretation. But sometimes the p'shat enthusiasts (including Ibn Ezra) can miss the forest for the trees! They can miss the meaning by not seeing the whole picture. Rashbam didn't take intro account the full context of these words, which Rashi did. Rashi did this in order to achieve a fuller p'shat interpretation.

We gain a bit more respect from Rashi after this analysis.

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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