After Pharaoh’s ignominious capitulation to G-d’s demand to free Israel, G-d again hardened his heart. Pharaoh reversed his decision to allow his slaves their freedom and he gathered his army and began hot pursuit of the escaping Israel. We then find the following verse:
And he (Pharaoh) harnessed his chariot and his people he took with him.
And he (Pharaoh) harnessed his chariot RASHI: He himself.
An obvious question: What has Rashi told us? Isn’t it obvious that if the Torah says Pharaoh harnessed his chariot, this means that Pharaoh harnessed his chariot?
Why do think he made this comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
Rashi’s approach, in general, to understanding the Torah’s words, is that when the Torah tells us something seemingly obvious and trivial, then we must understand why it does so. This fact that Pharaoh harnessed his chariot is so trivial a piece of information that is would seem to be unnecessary to record. He couldn’t go to war with a chariot and a chariot cannot run with being harnessed up to its horses. He also probably put on his shoes (or sandals) in the morning, but that is not important to tell us, so why is the trite piece of information that he harnessed his chariot mentioned ? This is what spurred Rashi (and the midrash, his source) to comment here.
We can better appreciate Rashi’s comment when we compare it with Ibn Ezra’s comment on these words.
And he harnessed: With his command (instruction). Just as it says “And Solomon built the house ( i.e. the Temple).” (I Kings 6)
The Ibn Ezra is saying that just as Solomon didn’t actually build the Temple with his own hands, he rather gave the command to do so, nevertheless the verse credits him with building it. So too here, Pharaoh didn’t actually harness his own chariot ( a king wouldn’t do so manual labor), rather he instructed his servants to do this. The verse credits him with doing so because it was done at his command.
Rashi clearly disagrees with Ibn Ezra (or more correctly, Ibn Ezra disagrees with Rashi. He lived after Rashi and saw Rashi’s commentary.)
Why does Rashi take our verse literally?
An Answer: Because Rashi’s view, as we said, is that relating such trivial narrative information is not the way of the Torah. By telling us that Pharaoh harnessed his own chariot, we learn of his burning, obsessive, hatred for the Jews and of his unquenchable energy to bring them back to slavery as soon as possible. He couldn’t leave even this mundane and trivial task to his trusty servants. Rashi makes a similar comment regarding Bilaam (Bamidbar 22:21) when he rushed to curse the people of Israel. There Rashi adds the words “hatred causes one to disregard normal behavior.”
Here too, Pharaoh’s deep hatred caused him to act impulsively and improperly for a king. Pharaoh receives poetic justice as we find in verse 15:19.
“When Pharaoh’s horse and his chariot .came into the sea then Hashem turned the waters on them…”
That chariot and those horses that he so diligently prepared for the pursuit, got their comeuppance. Indeed, hatred disrupts normal procedure and normal thinking.
May G-d deal with all mad haters in a similar way.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
Dr. Bonchek will be in the States IY"H this coming February on a lecture tour. Congregations or organizations interested in having him lecture for them are invited to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at email@example.com