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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bamidbar (70)

Bamidbar is always read the Shabbos before Shavuos. This is to put a separating sedra between the Yom Tov and the curse in last week's parashas Bechukosi.


The sedra, the first in the book of Numbers, discusses numbers (what else would you expect?). The numbers of the men in each of the twelve tribes while the census of the tribe of Levi is listed separately. Notice there are twelve tribes without Levi! How can that be? That is because Joseph is not counted (leaving 11) in his place are the tribes of his two sons, Menasha and Ephraim. But this makes 13? So, as we said, Levi is also not part of this tribal listing, leaving a total of 12. You will notice that on the various occasions when the tribes are listed in the Torah (the spies; the encampments; the blessings and curse on Mountains Eival and Grezim, and Moses' blessings at the end of the Torah) we have different tribes making up the twelve - but there are always twelve not more. When the count is of practical significance (encampments, spies) then Ephraim and Menasha are listed. But when the purpose is more symbolic (the blessings and curses at Mt. Eival & Grezim) Joseph is listed.


Let us look at the first dibbur hamaschil (Lead Words) of Rashi in our sedra. Few people pay attention to it, though it is instructive.

Numbers 1:1

The Lead Words are long: "And He spoke in the Wilderness of Sinai on the first of the month" etc.

The first verse itself says:

And Hashem spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai in the appointed tent on the first of the second month, in the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt.


A Question: Why has Rashi (or whoever set the type on the Rashi's commentary) chosen only these selected words?


An Answer: There are certain rules to the selection of Rashi's Lead Words. Rashi always starts the sedra with Lead Words that contain the name of the sedra. He will use these Lead Words even if he has nothing to comment on them! Surprising, but he does this about 12 times in his Torah commentary (two examples are sedras Vayelech and Beshalach). You will find this to be the rule in Rashi's Talmud commentary as well. Each perek begins with a dibbur hamaschil of the first words in the perek (Tosephos usually works this way also), whether he has a comment on these words or not.

A second rule of the Lead Words is that in each of the Five books of the Torah, Rashi chooses the first word as his Lead Word, see Bereishis, Shemos; Vayikra; Bamidbar and Devarim. Even if has no comment on these words themselves.

The third rule is that Rashi will use as the Lead Words the actual words he will comment on (this is what we usually find.).

Now look at the Lead Words in our sedra. "Vayedaber", (this is the very first word in the Book of Numbers); "Bemidbar Sina"i (this is the name of the sedra); "B'echad lachodesh" (these are the actual words he will comment on).

Using all three of the rules on one comment is a rarity - in fact this is the only place in the Chumash that it occurs.

Call it trivia, but it is interesting. It also teaches us that we need not find any hidden meaning when Rashi has Lead Words at the beginning of the sedra and no comment on them. Many commentaries on Rashi have wasted much ink trying to explain why he did not comment on these Lead Words.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Somayach
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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