by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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A puzzling comment gives us insight into a principle for understanding Rashis comments.
The angel who redeemed me from all evil, shall bless the lads and let my name be called on them, together with the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac.
He shall bless the lads: Rashi: Menashe and Ephraim.
What would you ask on this comment?
The question should be easy: What is Rashi telling us? Certainly we know that "the lads" refer to Joseph's sons Menashe and Ephraim! The whole chapter has been speaking of them! Why is Rashi telling us the obvious?
This brief comment looks like a Type II comment, one meant to help us avoid a misunderstanding. Clearly he wants us to know that the lads does not refer some other boys. But whom else could the lads refer to?
This is really a difficult one! The foremost commentators on Rashi give us differing explanations for this puzzling comment. Lets look at them.
The Mizrachi suggests that Rashi needs to tell us that the lads refer to Ephraim and Menashe since we might have thought otherwise. We might have thought, says the Mizrachi, that these are some other children, because later (verse 20) it says that Jacob explicitly blessed Ephraim & Menashe (and he blessed them that day saying...). Thus, our verse might conceivably refer to some other of Josephs children, perhaps to those too young to visit Jacob. The Mizrachi goes on to explain that this is a mistaken assumption, since our verse is introduced (verse 15) by saying And he blessed Joseph and he said... This clearly means Josephs children, Ephraim and Menashe.
The Gur Aryeh takes a very different view. He explains the need for Rashis comment as follows: Our verse begins with the words And he blessed Joseph.... and not Ephraim and Menashe! Thus we might have thought that these lads refer to some other children of Joseph, those perhaps to be born in the future.
The Misunderstanding: Reasonable or Unreasonable?
These two interpretations of Rashis words are not just different, they are diametrically opposed to each other. Notice that the Mizrachi and the Gur Aryeh cite the same words And he blessed Joseph... and they derive opposite conclusions! When commentaries prove their point by contradictory evidence, the cogency of each position is considerably weakened. We must assume that if Rashi is guiding us away from a possible misunderstanding, then that misunderstanding should be a likely and reasonable one.
A Clue to Understanding Rashi
A very helpful method when trying to understand Rashis Chumash commentary is to compare his comment with midrashim on the verse. When writing his commentary, Rashi had the world of midrash in front of him. He was conversant with both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmuds and with the midrashim on the Torah. Rashis audience was also familiar with midrashim and sometimes Rashis intention is to show the preference of pshat over drash on interpreting a particular verse. What does the midrash say on the lads?
The Midrash on the Lads
In Midrash Bereishis Rabba (97:3) we find the following:
He shall bless the lads: This is Joshua and Gideon.
On the face of it this is an amazing midrash. Are we to believe that Jacob had Joshua (Moses assistant and successor) and Gideon, (one of the first judges of Israel) in mind when blessing Joseph? They werent even born yet!
But the commentaries on the midrash give us some insight here. Notice the following points that tie both Joshua and Gideon to Jacobs blessing:
* Joshua comes from the tribe of Ephraim and Gideon from Menashe. (See Bamidbar 13:8 and Book of Judges 6:15).
* Jacob said, the Angel redeeming me ...should bless the lads..
Note that both Joshua and Gideon were met by angels of G-d. (see Book of Joshua 5:13 and Book of Judges 6:12ff)
* Jacob says, he shall bless the lads...
Note that both Joshua and Gideon were refereed to as lads or young boys. (see Exodus 33:11 and Judges 6:15).
So we see that in three aspects both Joshua and Gideon have points in common with Jacobs blessing. One could certainly be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Jacobs blessing does in fact have a prophetic ring to it and refers to these future leaders of Israel.
Rashis Preference: Context over Concept, Pshat over Drash
Rashi in effect, is saying I know there are midrashim on this verse, but the pshat interpretation, that the lads are simply Ephraim and Menashe, fits in with the context and should be accepted as the Simple Meaning of these words. This would seem to be Rashis point.