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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Toldos (73)

Genesis 26:18

And Isaac returned and dug the wells of water, which were dug in the days of Abraham his father and the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham's death. And he called them names, the names his father had called them.


And ... returned and he dug: Rashi: Those wells which they had dug in the days of Abraham, his father, and which the Philistines had stopped up; before Isaac left Gerar, he dug them again.

As you read this comment, what would you ask? A very basic question.

Your Question:


A Question: What is Rashi telling us? It looks like he is saying exactly what the verse itself says? This is a very subtle Rashi. Can you see his contribution?

Hint: Look at the Lead Words. Do they differ from the Torah's words?

What is bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:


We have a principle that when Rashi quotes a verse and adds a word or two, it is a clue that Rashi is warning us against misunderstanding the verse. What we have called a Type 2 Rashi-comment.

Our job in analyzing Rashi is to see if there any differences in what he writes and what the verse itself says.

Do you see any differences?

Your Answer:

An Answer: Rashi adds the words "before Isaac left Gerar he re-dug the wells."

Now verse 17 says Isaac left Gerar, after Avimelech told him to leave. Then verse 18 (our verse) says he dug the wells in Gerar. So if he left Gerar & then dug wells there he had to return to Gerar to dig them. But Rashi says Isaac dug them before he left! The verses don't seem to say that. Why does Rashi differ?

A very subtle point which will show you Rashi's sensitive ear to the Torah's words.

Your Answer:


An Answer: The word (in Hebrew) "Vayashav" can have two different meanings. 1) He returned, & 2) He re-did some act). How do we know which is the correct one in any one verse? Simple! If Vayashav is followed by a verb (an action) then it means to re-do that action. But if Vayashav is followed by a place then it means to return (to that place). For example, it says Vayeshev Reuben to the pit (Genesis 37:29) there it obviously means: "he returned to the pit." But if it says "Vayashav" and he built the altars (2 Kings 21:3) it means he built the altars again. This rule applies throughout the Tanach. If you keep it in mind, you will occasionally find mistranslations in English, because the translator forgot this rule. For example, our verse is mistranslated by both Artscroll Rashi & Metzudos Rashi. They both translate Vayashav as "he returned" - even though Rashi says it means re-dug. That is why I translated it such in the verse and the Lead Words. Not because it's correct but because I wanted to show how it is usually translated even though this is incorrect. Interestingly enough, the Artscroll Tanach translates the word in our verse correctly as "He dug anew" which means 'again'.


Now notice Rashi's subtlety. The Lead Words to this comment are: "Vayashav...vayachpor". Notice that Rashi omitted the word "Isaac", just one word, he didn't save much ink by omitting one word. Why did he do it? Because he wanted us to realize that 'Vayashav" refers to digging, not to Isaac. It wasn't Isaac that returned it; was the digging that 'returned' (was done again).


I personally love this Rashi comment. It shows how sensitive Rashi was to every nuance in the Torah's words. It also shows us how sensitive we must be when we learn the Chumash and Rashi's commentary.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek "What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. A Hebrew translation of the Bereishis "What's Bothering Rashi?" is published. It is greatly expanded and is call "L'omko shel Rashi" look for it in bookstores.

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