by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Netzavim (71)Deut. 29:17
Perhaps (Hebrew 'pen') there is among you a man or a woman or a family or a tribe whose heart turns away today from being with Hashem, our G-d, to go and serve the gods of those nations; perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood.
Perhaps there is among you: Rashi: Perhaps (Hebrew: Shema) there is among you.
What would you ask here?
Hint: See verses Deut 4:19; Deut. 4:23; and Deut. 11:16
A Question: The Hebrew word 'pen' occurs many times in the Torah. See, for a short list, the verses we cited in the hint above. On none of these verses does Rashi comment and tell us it means 'shema' (perhaps). Why does he do so on our verse?
An Answer: The word 'pen' always comes before an undesirable situation. "Pen" you will forget.. the mitzvos" or "pen" you raise your eyes heavenward (and worship the stars). Or (as in our verse) "pen" there is among you …people who stray for G-d.
But within this general category there are two types of "pen". One means you shall not do something. Like "You shall not forget" or "You shall not raise your eyes to heaven" But another meaning of "pen" is 'Perhaps' the following negative situation arises. That is the condition of our verse. "Perhaps there are those who turn away from G-d."
This is readily apparent in English translations. The first type is translated "Lest" the second as "perhaps" In Hebrew Perhaps is 'shema." Our verse is an example of the second category and is much rarer than the first. That is why Rashi tells us 'pen' means 'shema', that is, 'perhaps' on our verse and not on the other verses. Our verse is not telling us what not to do (Lest) rather it tells what to do if perchance a certain negative situation arises.
This is another example of Rashi explaining a word that appeared previously in the Torah. When Rashi explains a word not on its first appearance in the Torah, that is always a hint that we must explore and understand why. Understanding Rashi's reasoning, always teaches us something new.
"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.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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