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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bamidbar

See how Rashi discerningly uses Targum Onkelos to clarify an unclear word in the Torah.

Numbers 2:20

Those near him [Hebrew: V'alav] are the tribe of Menasseh and the Prince of the children of Menasseh is Gamliel the son of Pedahzur.


"Near him": RASHI: [Understand this] As the Targum does - "near him."

Rashi tells us that word "v'alav" means "and near him."


Question: Why does need to tell us that? Isn't that obvious?

Can this word mean anything else?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The word "v'alav" can have several meanings.

It can mean "over" in a physical sense, as in:

Genesis 28:13 the Torah speaks of Jacob's ladder dream. G-d was situated at the top of that ladder. There it says "And behold Hashem was standing ("alav") OVER him…"

It can also mean "over" in the sense of authority, as in the description of the Egyptian taskmasters.

Exodus 1:11

"And they appointed taskmasters over ("alav") him (Israel)…"

So Rashi is clarifying the meaning of the word "alav" in our verse. It means neither "over" in a physical sense nor in a status sense. It means rather "near by."

This is reasonable enough. But take note of the Targum on several previous verses in our sedra.

See above verse 2:5:

"And those encamping near him are the tribe of Issachar…"

There the Targum there has the exact same words as he has in our verse!

And also in verse 2:12:

"And those encamping near him are the tribe of Simeon…."

The Targum there also has the exact same words as in our verse.

The BIG QUESTION is: If Rashi turned to Targum to clarify the meaning of "alav" why didn't he do so before when both the Chumash and the Targum have the very same words as we have in our verse?

Hint: Is there any difference between our verse and those verses?

Your Answer:


An Answer: In both previous verses it says "Those encamping "alav" which could ONLY mean "near by."

But our verse leaves out the words "And those encamping", it says only "v'alav" .

Here Rashi saw the need to clarify the word's meaning as "near by " and not, for example, "over him" in status. Without the word "encamping" such a mistake is possible.

A Lesson

Rashi's use of the Targum is well thought out; only when he truly needs his assistance does he call on him.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

We have good news to announce. The new Bamidbar volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?"is ready and should be in the bookstore soon. Look and ask for it.

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the "Institute for the Study of Rashi and the Early Torah Commentaries." 2 Wisconsin Circle, Chevy Chase MD 20815

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