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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Ki Savo (68)

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).

Deut. 28: 64

And G-d will disperse you amongst all the nations, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the earth, and you will serve there other gods which you or your fathers did not know, of wood or stone.


And you will serve there other gods: Rashi: As the Targum has it ("you will serve there the nations who serve foreign gods") Not literally idol worship, but rather paying taxes and pole tax to the priests of foreign gods.

What would you ask on the comment?

Your Question:


A Question: Why doesn't Rashi accept the literal meaning of theses words - that the Jews will worship idols in their exile? Why does he accept the Targum's circumlocution - of saying the verse means that the Jews won't serve idols rather they will serve those people who serve idols?

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:


An Answer: These verses are speaking of the punishments that the people will receive for their wrong doing. Rashi probably wondered how a sin (idol worship) can itself be a punishment? The people would be exiled because they worshiped idols, so would their punishment be that they would continue to worship idols in exile? What sense does that make? This is likely the reason Rashi looked for a different meaning of these words.


Rav Don Yitzchak Abarbanel offers his own interpretation of these words. He implicitly acknowledges the difficulty that Rashi saw, but he has another answer. Granted that the sin that lead to their exile was idol worship, which they did willingly, but in exile they would be forced to worship idols against their will. They would do so under duress. That would be a punishment. The Abarbanel knew from whence he spoke. The Abarbanel (1437-1508) lived in Spain at the time of the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492) when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or be killed or exiled. Abarbanel held a very high office in Spain at that time, he was the treasurer and was close to King Ferdinand. The King offered to spare Abarbanel's life even if he did not convert, but the Abarbanel turned down the offer to be with his people. He fled Spain in the middle of the night like the other Jews, leaving his vast wealth behind. He was an impoverished and broken man when he arrived in Italy. (But several years later he again was asked to be financial advisor to the Duke in Italy!) During all of the Abarbanel's exiles and repeated rise to high offices in the countries he wandered in, he kept up his Torah work, working on his Torah commentary and other philosophical writings. An amazing man!

So Abarbanel says the idol worship in this verse was worship against their wills and was thus a real punishment.


Another Question: We have a similar verse above (28:36) where it says: "Hashem will lead you and your king, whom you placed over you, to a nation whom you did not know neither you or your fathers and you will serve there other gods of wood and stone."

The verse is very similar to ours, yet there Rashi does not comment that the words do not actually mean idol worship but just serving those who themselves worship idols, as he does here. Note that the Targum on that verse also says it means serving those who worship idols and not the idols themselves as he does on our verse. Rashi does not quote or follow the Targum there. Why not? Why he does but there he doesn't?

Not easy! Can you think of an answer?

Hint: Look at the context of that verse (28:36).

Your Answer:


An Answer: If we see the verses around this verse we realize that the description is of events that will happen while the people are still in Eretz Yisrael, before the actual exile. The verse itself speaks of expulsion, but this is of the king (Agrippus and some people - the second Temple's destruction and exile) before the mass of people were exiled. The actual exile of the mass of people is described in our verse (28:64).

So we can say that verse 28:36 describes the sin of actual idol worship the people were still sinning; while our verse is the punishment phase so it can't mean actual idol worship as we explained. Rashi therefore only says our verse does not mean actual idol worship but to the punishment of having to be subservient to idol worshipers.


Whenever Rashi comments on words that occurred previously and where he did not comment, we must ask why he skipped the first opportunity to comment. There is always a reason. It is up to us to find it.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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