by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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6. And I will give peace in the land and you shall lie down and none shall make you tremble; and I will rid an evil beast from the land, neither shall the sword pass through your land.
7. And you shall pursue your enemies and they shall fall before you by the sword.
7. Before you by the sword: Rashi: One by the sword of the other.
What Is Rashi Saying?
This comment tells us that the enemy will kill themselves by their own "friendly fire." What would ask on this strange comment?
A Question: An obvious question is: How does Rashi know that the enemy falls by the hand of his fellow comrade-in-arms and not, the more likely meaning, that he fell by the sword of the Israelite? What lead Rashi (and the midrash) to this unlikely interpretation?
What's bothering Rashi here?
Hint: Look at the verses before this one.
What Is Bothering Rashi?
An Answer: Had not the previous verse said "The sword shall not pass through your land" ? If there is no sword in the land, how can the enemy fall by the sword? Another indication that this war was not waged in the Land of Israel is that the earlier verse also promised "I will give peace in the land..." So there was neither war nor sword in the land. If so, how did the enemy "fall before you by the sword"?
Actually this question can be answered satisfactorily without Rashi's interpretation that they died by their own hand. What answer would you give?
An Answer: The verse says clearly "and you shall pursue your enemies..." thus the battle may have been waged outside the borders of the Land of Israel. Outside of Israel there may be both war and swords and the Israelites may have killed the enemy there.
Why, then, must Rashi resort to the unlikely explanation that the enemy will kill each other?
An Answer: Some commentators on Rashi say that the words "before you" are the clew; they are superfluous. The enemy usually falls "before you." These commentators conclude that these redundant words lead Rashi to claim that the enemy will die even before you reach them - "before you." How? By their own comrades.
But another, fascinating, answer has been suggested.
An Amazing Answer
An amazing answer has been suggested which shows the subtle nuances that can be uncovered in the Torah, if we only look for them. The Nefesh Hager, a commentary on Targum Onkelos, points out an astounding consistency throughout the Torah: Whenever the Torah speaks of Jews or ( G-d) killing others, the words used are, in Hebrew, "l'phi charev"
Whenever gentiles are described as doing the killing, the word used is "l'charev" alone.
Examples of the former can be found in: Genesis 34:26; Exodus 17:13; Numbers 21:24;
Examples of the latter can be found in: Isaiah 65:12; Psalms 7:62.
But our verse is the exception because it uses the word "l'charev" (and not "l'phi charev" ) even though the Israelites are attacking the gentiles. This is irrefutable evidence that the gentiles and not the Israelites, are the ones who are doing the killing! "Each by the sword of the other."
What Does "le'phi charev" Mean?
The term is a colloquialism. It literally means, "by the mouth of the sword."
What sense can be made out of this strange nuance? A little thought should give you the answer.
Hint: See Genesis 48:22 where Jacob tells Joseph that he took the city of Shechem "be'chravi u'vekashti." and Rashi's comment there, where he says that Jacob's acquisition of Schechem was due, in part, to his prayers..
A Deeper Understanding:
An Answer: On the basis of that Rashi we can conclude that when the Jew wages war he precedes battle with prayer to the Almighty. This is the symbolic meaning of the phrase "l'phi charev" is that the mouth (prayer) always precedes the sword in battles waged by Jews!
"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.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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