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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bamidbar (5763)

Targum Onkelos helps clarify the meaning of a familiar word

Numbers 1:50

And you shall "Hafkaid" the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony and over all the utensils and everything that belongs to it.


And you shall "Hafkaid" the Levites: Rashi: As the Targum has it, ("mani") "appoint." This means an appointment to be in charge of a matter over which he has been appointed; as in (Esther 2:3) "And let the king appoint ("v'yafkaid") officers.


Rashi tells that word "hafkaid" means "to appoint" by citing the Targum.

What can you ask on this?

Hint: Has this word appeared previously in the Torah?

Your Question:

QUESTIONING RASHI_____________________________________

A Question: The problem is that this is a familiar word, it has already been used several times in this sedra. Why does Rashi need the Targum's assistance here?

As an example of this same word, see the previous verse, 1:49.

But you shall not "lo tifkode" the tribe of Levi and you shall not take a census of them among the Children of Israel.

So why did Rashi need to use the Targum here more so than previously?

Your Answer: UNDERSTANDING RASHI______________________________

An Answer: The root "PIKODE" has two different meanings. It can mean, "to count" when it is in the kal construct and that is what it means in all the previous verses (see verses 1:3, 19, 44, and 49).

It can also mean "to appoint" when in the hiphil (transitive) construct, as it is in our verse. Because this is the first time the word appears in our sedra in the hiphil construct, its meaning here is different from its meaning in the previous verses. Therefore, Rashi saw the need to interpret it here with the help of the Targum.

What evidence can you find (in addition to the grammatical construct) that the meaning of this word is "appoint" and not "count"?

Hint: Read the verse.

Your Answer:


An Answer: In our verse it says "Hafkaid" the Levites on the Tabernacle "Appoint the Levites 'in charge of the Tabernacle…" These latter words indicate that "hafkaid" here must mean "appoint" and not "count" You don't "count in charge of" but you do "appoint in charge of."

(See Gur Aryeh)


It is interesting to note that we have a similar linguistic connection, in English usage, between the word "count" and the word "appoint." When we say "we are counting on you" we mean that the person has a certain responsibility to fulfill, as one is appointed to do something.

We can only speculate why this linguistic similarity exists in both Hebrew and English. Perhaps when you count a person you single him out. Likewise when you appoint a person ,you also single him out to do something. The phrase "every one counts" conveys the same idea that each person has his own responsibility to fulfill.

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 Judaica bookstores.

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