by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashat Re'ehThis week's sedra speaks of the blessing and the curse at Mt. Aival and Mt. Grizim in the land of Israel; the command to destroy the idols in the land; the choice of the location of the Temple; the laws of charity; the laws of kosher animals, of release of the seventh year ; it ends with laws of the holidays.
Deuter: 15: 11
Because the destitute will not cease to exist in the land; therefore I am commanding you saying: "Certainly open your hand to your brother, to your poor and to your destitute in your land."
Therefore: Rashi: For this reason
Saying: Rashi: I am advising you for your own good.
Several questions can be asked on these two short comments.
What would you ask?
Some Questions: What is Rashi's point in his first comment? The Hebrew "al kain" is usually translated as "therefore". Is Rashi changing that to 'For this reason'. Why?
In his second comment Rashi says G-d is advising us! When G-d commands a mitzvah it is not usually seen as "advice" which we can take or leave. Why does Rashi say here this is advice? On what basis does he come to this conclusion?
Hint: Do you see any connection between the beginning of this verse and the end of the verse?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The verse begins with the Hebrew word "ki" (because). For Rashi "ki" is always an important word. Rashi's longest comment on any word or phrase in the Talmud is on the meanings of the word "ki" (Tractate Gittin 90a). So he is very sensitive to its meaning in any verse in the Torah. Here "ki" means 'because.' He is wondering here: Is there any causal ("because") connection between the fact that the destitute will never cease in the land and the command to give tzadaka? Or to put it another way: If the poor were to cease to exist sometime in the future, what difference would that make to my obligation to help the poor here and now!
But the verse seems to say there is a connection ("Because the destitute will not cease to exist in the land; therefore....").
This may be Rashi's unspoken question.
Another Question: Why does the verse say: "Therefore I have commanded you saying". Why not simply: "I command you." This is the way the Torah usually speaks:
Can you answer these questions?
How does Rashi deal with them?
Hint: Reread the verses from verse 15:7 and after.
An Answer: What could possibly be the connection between the fact that the poor will always exist and our obligation to give tzaddaka? If we read the whole section we get the thrust of these verses. It says when there are poor people in the land you should not be hard hearted, rather you shall help them. You shall open up your hand and help them. If you do this mitzvah G-d will reward you with success in all your endeavors.
So Rashi, looking at the context of these verses, is telling us the connection between the first part of our verse and G-d's "advise" to give tzaddaka. The connection is that since there will always be poor people, the wheel of fortune always turns - those who are poor today may be wealthy tomorrow and those who are wealthy today may be among the poor tomorrow. So....to guarantee that you will not be among the poor tomorrow, give tzaddaka today for then G-d will give you success in all your endeavors (verse 10).
A CLOSER LOOK
See the preciseness of Rashi's subtle comment. Our verse says: "Saying 'Certainly open your hand to your brother...' The word 'Saying' introduces a quote. Our verse quotes a previous verse. Notice that previously in verse 8 it also says the same phrase: "Certainly open up your hand' and after that it gives G-d's promise of success as reward for giving tzaddaka. This is how Rashi connects our verse with the promise of reward mentioned above. The use of the word "saying" alerts us to the previous verse(s).
A DEEPER LOOK
We still have our question: Why does Rashi interpret a mitzvah merely as G-d's "advice" to us ?
There is something unusual about the mitzvah of charity. We translated the Hebrew double verb "pasoach tiftach" as "certainly open your hand." Rashi on verse 8 above where this phrase first exists says, it means "give many times". We see that this mitzvah can be done in a limited way or it can be done in a generous way. G-d's advice is to give tzaddaka in a generous way because the more you give the more you protect yourself from poverty in the future. This then is His advice. The limited mitzvah is required of everyone, but the advice - for our own benefit - it to give generously. This is a shield from the unpredictable rotations of the wheel of fortune. Because there will always be poor people, protect yourself not to be one of them in the future.
A beautifully subtle analysis of the words in our verse.
Dr. Bonchek is publishing a new book on Rashi, called "Rashi: the magic and the Mystery" . It has a biography of Rashi & his special character traits. And outlines clearly Rules for interpreting Rashi in depth. We are looking for dedications to help publish this book. Those interested, please contact Avigdor Bonchek at Drbonchek@gmail.com.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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