We have a double sedra again this week. In the second parasha, Bechukosai, we have the blessings that Israel will reap as a reward if it keeps G-d's mitzvos or, the curse, as a punishment, if they don't. The double parashios come to arrange the calendar so that the curse never comes immediately before Shavuos. The juxtaposition would be too jarring. So we always have parashas Bamidbar coming right before Shavuos and separating the curses from the rejoicing of the Holy Day of Receiving the Torah. In the part of the blessings we read the following verses with a puzzling Rashi-comment.
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's 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 clue; the words 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.
An Amazing Answer
Another answer, an amazing one, 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 Hebrew words used are "lephi charev" . Whenever gentiles are described as doing the killing, the word used is "le'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 "le'charev" (and not "le'phi charev" ) even though the Israelites are attacking the gentiles. The use of the word "le'charev" when Jews are attacking 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 Targum Onkelos' comment translation "with my prayer and my request." We see that "charev" is translated as prayer. So Jacob's acquisition of Schechem was due, in part, to his prayers.
A Deeper Undestanding
An Answer: On the basis of that Targum 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 " le'phi charev" is that the mouth (prayer) always precedes the sword in battles waged by Jews! On the other hand, when the gentile wages war the word is just "le;charev." By the sword with no prayer preceding it. That is the word we have here. Thus: It was the gentile who was doing the killing - even against his own people.
Even the simplest, most "innocent-looking" Rashi-comment has much hidden in it.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The Rashi Institute is preparing a new, original volume of What's Bothering Rashi? We are in need of sponsors for this project. For those interested please write us and we will supply the details.
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