by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Ki Savo (67)This week's sedra discusses the laws of the first fruits and tithes which are practiced once the Jews enter the Land of Israel; also the blessings and the curses recited on Mt. Aival & Grizim also upon entering the land. Then comes the longer blessings and the curse or Tochacha (rebuke).
This Rashi-comment offers us a wonderful opportunity to learn about Rashi's methodology in parshanut.
As part of the Tochacha we read:
And Hashem will disperse you among all the peoples from the ends of the earth to the ends of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers knew, wood and stone.
And you shall serve there other gods: Rashi: As the Targum has it. Not literally idolatry but rather, paying income taxes and other taxes to the priests of idolatry.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi tells us that when the verse says the Jews will worship idols in exile it does not mean that literally. It means only that they will serve those who worship idols. This interpretation of these words is not plain P'shat it is rather Drash. When we compare Rashi s comment to a similar verse above we can have a question. See verse 28:36 where it says:
"Hashem will lead you and your king, whom you will set upon yourself, to a nation that neither you nor your parents knew; and there you will serve other gods of wood and of stone."
A BASIC ASSUMPTION ABOUT RASHI'S COMMENTARY
Here we see the same phrase as we have in our verse. But Rashi makes no comment on this verse! This is strange. This touches on a basic assumption about our understanding of Rashi's commentary throughout the Torah. We assume that if Rashi has reason to comment on certain words he will do so at the first opportunity these words appear in the Torah - and not wait until they appear again. It is not as if Rashi just now remembered this comment and for that reason he commented now and not earlier. Certainly Rashi knew what he wanted to say, why he wanted to say it and where he wanted to say it, before he sat down to write his commentary. He didn't think it up as he went along.
If so, why did Rashi not make the comment he made on our verse on the same words in the earlier verse, 28:36? Can you think of an explanation?
An Answer: The answer is too simple to be true. Rashi made no comment on verse 28:36 because he accepted the Torah's words as the simple p'shat. The Jews will actually worship gods of wood and stone. This is what the verse says and this is what it means literally. Therefore there was no need to comment on the verse.
But this leads directly to another question.
What is your next question?
A DEEPER QUESTION
A Question: Why does Rashi not accept the Torah's words in our verse as simple p'shat? Why does he draw on drash to explain our verse when he did not do so on the earlier verse?
A FURTHER UNDERSTANDING OF RASHI
An Answer: Rashi comments here and uses a drash (they worshiped not the idols but those who worshiped idols) because this is the second time this is stated. Rashi saw that it is redundant; the Torah told us this previously in verse 28:36. Because of the repetition Rashi saw fit to draw on drash to explain its meaning, since the Torah does not repeat things for no reason; the repetition must come to teach something new.
To summarize the point: Rashi did not comment on the earlier verse because he accepted the Torah's words at face value and there was no reason to "explain" them. He commented on the same words when they appeared a second time in the same chapter because of the repetition.
A DEEPER LOOK
When we look back to Parashas Va'eschanan we find a similar phrase and a similar Rashi-comment. See Deut. 4:28. There it says:
"And you will serve there (in exile) other gods, the works of the hands of man, wood and stone which can not see and can not hear and can not eat can not smell."
Rashi's comment there is similar to his comment on our verse:
And you will serve there (in Exile) gods: Rashi: As the Targum. As you will serve those people who worship idols it is as if you are serving them (the idols).
Now we see that Rashi did make a drash comment - similar to the one he made on our verse - on the first time this phrase occurs in Devarim. Why did he not accept the Torah's words as p'shat as we say he does for verse 28:36?
Hint: Read that whole section (verses 4:28 and following) to get a clearer picture of what is being said.
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: The Torah tells us that the Jews will sin by worshiping idols then they will be punished by going into exile. Then as further punishment they will worship idols? ! Does that make sense? Idol worship was their sin and idol worship is their punishment !?
Precisely because explaining this verse ("you will serve gods of wood and stone") literally, makes no sense in its context here; it makes no sense as a punishment, therefore Rashi gave these words a drash interpretation.
A FURTHER UNDERSTANDING
We might ask, then, why did Rashi think that idol worship could be a punishment in verse 28:36 if he did not think so in 4:28 ?
If we look closely at chapter 28 we see it says the Jews strayed from G-d but it does not say they worshipped idols. This is, as we understand the second Temple's destruction was not because of idol worship but because of other sins (baseless hatred). So in chapter 28, the Torah describes the scenario if the Jews will sin (in various ways) they will be sent into exile and there they will worship idols - in forced conversion ! - exactly as happened after the second Temple's destruction. Jews were forcibly converted to worship foreign gods against their will. This was truly a punishment.
We have analyzed Rashi' s commenting as well as his refraining from commenting on similar verses to show his methodology in his commentary. Never assume that Rashi just commented; he always has a reason for commenting and for refraining from making a comment.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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