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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayishlach (71)

This week's sedra contains the story of the rape of Dina and how her brothers, Simeon and Levi, revenged the city of Shechem and killed all its inhabitants.

Genesis 34: 24, 25

24) All those who went forth from the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and all the males - all those who went forth from the gate of his city - were circumcised.

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


Confidently: Rashi: Because they were in pain. The Midrash Aggada has that they were confident in the power of the Elder (Jacob).


Rashi is explaining that the Simeon and Levi were confident when they came to destroy the city of Shechem and were not afraid of resistance from the people.


Rashi differs from Targum Onkolus who translates this word as "a city that dwelt securely". So we see that Onkolus says the word Betach refers to the city; while Rashi says that Betach refers to Simeon and Levi.


The Rashbam also says like Onkolus, as does Rav Sadia Goan. Rashbam writes:

"That they (the city) were sitting securely and they weren't careful regarding them (the sons of Jacob) . And likewise every time the word Betach appears in the Bible it refers to the dwellers. Both in the Torah ( See Deut. 12:10; 28:52; 33:28) and in the Prophets (See for example Judges 8:11 and Ezekiel 30:9)"

So Rashbam who was Rashi's grandson, and who knew Rashi and learned Torah with him, in this comment he knowingly goes against Rashi. He explains why : Because whenever the word Betach occurs in Tanaach it refers to the dwellers of a region. This seems like a good justification for disagreeing with Rashi.

But can you think of a defense for Rashi?

Hint: Read the whole verse.

Your Answer:


An Answer: This verse begins with the words "And it was on the third as they were in pain…" then it says they entered the city Betach.." A rule in p'shat interpretation is that if two facts are mentioned in the same verse they are probably related to each other, usually as cause and effect. For if they were not connected then they would be mentioned in different sentences. Since the fact that they were in pain is mentioned together with them entering the city then there is likely a causal connection between the two facts. And that is what Rashi says "Because they were in pain."

Another reason to accept Rashi's interpretation over the Rashbam's in that there is no reason for the Torah to tell us that the inhabitant's of Shechem were secure ("betach"). Why wouldn't they be secure? They certainly never suspected that Jacob's sons would attack them, had they not fulfilled their part of the bargain by circumcising themselves? Why would they not be secure? It should be taken for granted. Therefore there is no need for the Torah to tell us this.

On the other hand, the fact that Simeon and Levi, two young boys, attacked a complete city of grown men confidently - that is a bit of surprising news. That is something worth mentioning in the Torah. With Rashi's comment we understand why they were confident - because they knew the people were disabled because of the pain of their circumcision.

These two points support Rashi's p'shat interpretation over that of the other commentators, including the Rashbam.


Rashi's adds a second interpretation - one from the Midrash - that they were confident in the power of the Elder (Jacob).

What would you ask on this additional comment?

Your Question:


An Answer: Why the need for the drash? Isn't the p'shat comment sufficient?

We know the rule: Whenever Rashi offers two interpretations it usually means that the first was in some way deficient.

Can you see what the drash adds which is missing from the p'shat interpretation?

Hint: See verse 34:30 below

Your Answer:


An Answer: One of the commentators on Rashi ( Be'er Basadeh) points out that the Midrash deals with something the p'shat does not. He says that while Simeon and Levi did not fear the inhabitants of Shechem because they were in pain and thus defenseless - but what about the neighboring peoples? When they would hear of this slaughter they would likely swoop down on Jacob and his family and destroy them. Does not say that Jacob himself say this very thing in verse 30? "You have disturbed me making me stink among the inhabitants of the land. ..I am few in number and they will gather together against me and I will be destroyed, me and my household." So that fear remains even if the Shechemites themselves could do nothing - the other nations could and the consequences would be disastrous.

Therefore Rashi adds the Midrash to tell us that they were confident that Jacob's (the Elder) merits would protect from such a disaster.

And in fact that is what happened. See verse 35:5 where it says: "And they journeyed and the fear of G-d was upon the nearby cities and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob."

Summary: It is inspiring to see how Rashi's rightful reputation as master of p'shat is upheld when we explore his comments deeply. Even the Rashbam who prided himself as a deep p'shat commentator must take second place to his famed grandfather.

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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