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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bo (70)

This week's sedra tells of the last of the ten plagues and the final redemption of Israel from their years of slavery in Egypt. The sedra also includes the laws of Pesach.

The first born of the Egyptians were killed by G-d as G-d had told Moses even before he went to Pharaoh for the first time.

Exodus 11:5

And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sits on his throne unto the firstborn of the handmaiden that is behind mill-stones, all the firstborn of beasts.


Unto the firstborn of the captive: Rashi: Why were the captives (from other countries) smitten? (they had not enslaved the Jews). In order that they would not say that their god had claimed satisfaction for the humiliation imposed on them and had brought this punishment on the Egyptians.

There is a very obvious question one can ask here.

Hint: Read our verse

Your Question:


A Question: Rashi's Lead Words are not found in our verse! These words - ' unto the firstborn of the captive' - are further on in verse 12:29. Why does Rashi comment on words that are not even in the verse he is commenting on?

The question has perplexed all the Rashi-commenteries. Several different answers have been given. The question is asked first by the Chizkuni (about 1240) who was probably the first commentary on Rashi. So it is hard to say that this is an error in the manuscript, since it clearly existed in very early manuscripts of Rashi.


Two suggested answers are:

* Mizrachi suggests: That is exactly what's bothering Rashi - The question: Why here in the warning of the plague (11:5) is the firstborn of the maidservant mentioned but not when the plague actually occurs (11:29); and why is the firstborn of the captive mentioned when the plague happened but not mentioned here in the warning? To answer this Rashi explains here that the Egyptians were warned (in our verse) in order to threaten those who persecuted Israel so they might stop. This included the sons of the maidservants who also treated the Israelites badly, but not the captives because they had no slaves. But the actual plague included the captives, not because they treated Israelites badly but rather so they wouldn't claim it was their god who was punishing the Egyptians.

* Silvermann suggests that this comment really belongs after Rashi's next comment on this verse on the words "From the firstborn of Pharaoh" and not before it as in our chumashim. In that comment Rashi asks why were the firstborn of the maidservant punished and he answers that they also enslaved the Jews.

Now Rashi relates to the firstborn of the captives (our Lead Words) and asks why the captives were punished, they certainly didn't enslave Jews. Rashi's answer: Because if they were not punished they would claim that it was their g-d that killed the Egyptians to punish them for making them captives. So they too were killed so they could not claim any preference in the punishment.


But these answers assume that Rashi is asking a question from a verse we have not yet read (it is later on in verse 29). To my knowledge Rashi never does this, he never asks a question based on a verse we have yet to read; he waits to ask his question until we have all the facts, that is when we actually come to the problematic verse and not before. Maybe our Rashi comment here is the exception that proves the rule!

But to me this remains a riddle!

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 all Judaica bookstores.

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