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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bechukosai (5763)

Leviticus 26:8

In (spiritual) numbers there is (military) strength.

"And five of you will pursue one hundred and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand and your enemy will fall before you by the sword."


Five... one hundred; and one hundred of you, ten thousand. Rashi: Is this the correct calculation? Should it not have rather said 'and a hundred from among you will pursue two thousand' ? But you cannot compare a few who fulfill the Torah to the many who fulfill the Torah.

WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?______________________________

Rashi asks his question quite openly in this comment, no need to guess what it is. A simple calculation shows that we have a discrepancy here. If five will pursue one hundred, that means that every Israelite soldier will pursue twenty of the enemy. So, likewise, a hundred Israelite soldiers should pursue two thousand of the enemy, which is twenty times one hundred, and not the much larger number of ten thousand.

Why then does the Torah say "ten thousand"?

Rashi asks and answers, as well.

His answer is that in numbers there is strength. So if a hundred Jewish solders, who keep the Torah, fight the enemy, their overall effect is of greater proportional power than if a fewer number of solders did battle. Their effect is increased geometrically, not arithmetically.

The meaning is clear enough, but their is still room to ask.

What would you ask?

Your Question:

QUESTIONING RASHI__________________________________

A Question: The question about proportions is clear but why does Rashi say "the few who keep the Torah"? Why mentioned the Torah? Maybe the message of these disproportionate numbers is simply that "in numbers there is strength" with or without Torah observance ?

Your Answer:

UNDERSTANDING RASHI________________________________

An Answer: This whole chapter is a blessing and a curse. The blessing (of plentitude, pursuing one's enemies and finally, peace) comes as a reward for "If you will go in My decrees and observe My commandments (26:3). In short, observing the Torah is the condition for receiving G-d's rewards, and military success is one of these rewards. This is certainly Rashi's intent.

The Mizrachi's Question on Rashi_______________________________________

Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, one the foremost commentators on Rashi, asks the following question:

What would Rashi say about the verse in Deuteronomy 32:30

איכה ירדף אחד אלף ושנים יניסו רבבה.

"How could one pursue a thousand and two cause ten thousand to flee."

Here too we have a disproportionate increase, one pursuing a thousand should extrapolate to two pursuing two thousand, not, as the Torah says here, ten thousand. But this verse is referring to the pagan gentiles pursuing the Jews. Certainly they can't be credited with "the many observing the Torah" ! Therefore, says, the Mizrachi, the reasonable explanation for the disproportionate increase, both for the Children of Israel and for the gentiles, is the known fact that "in numbers there is strength," irregardless of the observanceof the Torah.

Can you think of a defense of Rashi? Why do think Rashi's comment is appropriate on our verse but not on the verse in Deuteronomy ?

Your Answer:

In DEFENSE OF RASHI_______________________________________

An Answer: The Gur Aryeh points out an obvious difference between our verse and the verse in Deuteronomy which speaks of the gentiles pursuing the Jews. There it says "How could one pursue a thousand and two cause ten thousand to flee." Notice there is no parallelism here, as there is in our verse. Two may cause ten thousand to flee. Causing the enemy to flee is not the same as pursuing them. It is quite reasonable that it would take fewer men to cause a larger group to flee, than to actually, physically, pursue them. Therefore, the disproportionate increase is due to the differnt actions the soldiers are doing. While in our verse there is an exact parallel, both groups are pursuing - five are pursing a hundred and a hundred are pursing ten thousand.

(SEE Mizrachi, Gur Aryeh)

Rashi's Midrashic Source ______________________________________________

Rashi makes a slight change when he quotes the midrash. Can you spot it?

The midrash of Toras Cohanim says:

ומאה מכם רבבה - וכי כך הוא החשבון? והלא לא היה צריך לומר אלא 'מאה מכם שני אלפים ירדופו' ? אלא אין דומה המרובים העושים את התורה למועטים העושים את התורה. "

What change did Rashi make?

Your Answer:

An Answer: The midrash says " Many who fulfill the Torah cannot be compared to a few who fulfill the Torah." While Rashi says "The few who fulfill the Torah cannot be compared to the many who fulfill the Torah."

Rashi reverses the saying. Considering that Rashi quoted each word from the midrash exactly, except for this phrase, this change cannot be ascribed to his poor memory. He must have done this intentionally. Why?

Your Answer:

RASHI'S CHANGE ____________________________________

An Answer: It is important to notice this slight change, because it shows how precise Rashi is in his work. Since Rashi's task, as Torah commentator, is to explain the verse, he follows the order of the verse. The verse first mentions the few then it mentions the many. So too does Rashi. He first mentions the "few who fulfill the Torah" then the "many who fulfill the Torah." The midrash, on the other hand, is interested in teaching us the principle of the importance of observing the Torah and its rewards, therefore it placed first the many, in order to emphasize this.

THE LESSON _______________________________________

When Rashi re-words a midrash or changes it any way, it is cause for examination. He does so intentionally.

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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