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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parshas Toldos

Bereishis 27:19

"And he (Jacob) came to his father and he said "Father!" and he (Isaac) said "Here I am. Who are you my son?" And Jacob said to his father: 'I am (Hebrew: Anochi) Esau, your firstborn. I have done according to what you have said. Please sit up and eat of my venison so that your soul will bless me.' "

RASHI: I am Esau your firstborn son: Rashi: I am the one who brings you (your food) and Esau is your firstborn."

What Is Bothering Rashi?

Rashi is clearly bothered by the fact that Jacob was lying to his father.

Let us look closely at this comment.

I have underlined those words in Rashi's comment, which are the Torah's words. All the other is Rashi's addition. But certainly this comment is strange. The verse states quite openly that Jacob mislead his father when he answered him, saying "I am Esau your firstborn." Rashi, on the other hand, seems to be telling us that Jacob did not in fact lie. All he meant, according to Rashi, was that I am who I am, but Esau is your first born. Rashi means that these additional words are the thoughts of Jacob as he spoke these words, but all he actually said were the words recorded in the Torah.

Understanding Rashi

Rashi's comment is based on a nuance in the Hebrew words in the Torah. Jacob said in Hebrew "Anochi (I am) Esau your first born." In Tanach the Hebrew words for the English word "I" are either "Ani" or "Anochi." There is subtle difference between these two words. The difference can be understood by giving an example.

If I were to say: "I went to the store." This can have different implications depending on how I emphasize the words. If I say, I ('Anochi' emphasizing "I") went to the store. This means: I went to the store and not someone else went. If, on the other hand, I say "I ('Ani') went to the store" (emphasizing 'went to the store'). This means: I went to the store and not, for example, to the library.

In our verse, Jacob says "Anochi" meaning I, not someone else (in our case, the someone else would be Esau), is your first born. So Jacob is hinting that he is the real, legitimate first born. So Rashi's comment has "a leg to stand on."

But it must be admitted that what Jacob said was misleading. Certainly no court of Jewish law would accept a statement of an accused robber when asked "Did you rob the store? His answer being "NO, I DID NOT ROB the bank but I did THE STORE." That is not acceptable for obvious reasons.

How can it be justified in Jacob's case?

We know that Eau had sold the birthright to Jacob, years before. So in fact Jacob was entitled to receive it. Nevertheless, Isaac was unaware of this. So when Jacob received his father's blessing he was taking what was entitled to him, albeit by not such kosher means. We must also remember that he did what he did at his mother's urging. So he was caught in the middle, between listening to his mother and to need to be honest with his father. That ambivalence is expressed by Rashi's rereading of Jacob's statement to his father.

We should add that Rashi had a soft spot in his heart for Jacob and tried to find any good points in his actions when he could. On the hand, he had a hard place in his heart for Esau and his decedents, they had caused much trouble to him personally (the first crusade) and Jews throughout history. So wherever he could found evil intent in Esau's actions, he did so. A deeper reading of the Torah text will bear out Rashi's attitude both toward Esau and toward Jacob.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

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

The Institute is in the process of preparing the fourth hard copy volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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