Parashas Vayeitzei (5762)
This week's sedra tells us of Jacob's fleeing to his uncle Lavan and his sojourn with him. We are told of the building of Jacob's family. Jacob's experience with Lavan was not a model of father-in-law/ son-in-law relations nor of employer/employee relations. But, then, Jacob was not destined to have an easy life.
We choose for this week's Rashi-comment one that deals with a grammatical point.
"And Lavan said to Jacob 'Just because you are my brother should you work (Hebrew: Vavad'tani) for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages are?'
Should you work for me (Vavad'tani) : RASHI: This is the same as ("V'ta'avdaini") 'And you will work for me.' So to in the case of every verb in the past tense, if one adds the letter "vav" at the beginning of the word, it changes the word to the future tense.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi has taught us a rule in Biblical grammar. The rule is that the "Conversive vav" can change the tense of a verb from past to future and from future to past when it is placed at the beginning of a word. There is possible confusion because the letter "vav" at the beginning of a verb can also mean simply "and," that is, it will not have the purpose of converting the tense of the verb. Knowing when it has one meaning or the other, is the trick. One indication is that when the accent on the word is at the end of the word it has a future tense meaning; at the beginning of the word, it has a past tense meaning.
Rashi teaches us, as we said, a grammatical rule. What can we ask on this comment?
A Question: The Torah has innumerable examples of the Conversive vav. From the very beginning of the Torah where it says (Genesis 1:3) And the Lord said: Let there be ("yehi," future tense) light and there was light ("Vayehi," past tense, with the vav added at he beginning). We continue to see examples of the Conversive Vav up until (and beyond) the first word in this sedra - "Vayeitzei" meaning "and he went out." Here the Conversive vav changes the future verb "yetzei" (go out") to "Vayeitzei "And he went out," past tense.
So the question is: Why does Rashi stop here to teach us this rule, when there were so many opportunities previously to do so?
Be aware: Rashi always has a reason for explaining " simple" things in one place and not in another. It is up to us to figure out what his reason is.
Can you think of an explanation?
What is bothering him?
Hint: Remember that Jacob had been living with Lavan for a month until Lavan brought up the issue of wages, in our verse.
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The word "Vavad'tani" can have two possible interpretations here. Lavan could be saying:
1) "Because you are my brother, should you have worked for me for nothing?" (Past)
2) "Because you are my brother, will you work for me for nothing?" (Future)
Rashi chooses the second possibility. And in so doing teaches us the grammatical rule. He does so here, and not in other places, because here a misunderstanding is possible; not so in the numerous other places where the Conversive vav is used.
What misunderstanding is possible here?
A POSSIBLE MISUNDERSTANDING
An Answer: Perhaps the meaning is that Lavan is asking Jacob what he owes him for the month he has already worked so far. If that were the correct meaning, then the word would be in the past tense. How does Rashi know that this is not the correct meaning? Rather Rashi says that the correct meaning is in the future tense - wages for "your work from now on".
How does Rashi know which is the correct reading? Well, we already said that the accent on the word is indicative. On this word it is on the last part of the word (under the letter " Ta"), which, itself, indicates that the word is in the future tense. But you should be able to answer this question from the context as well.
An Answer: If we look at Jacob's response to Lavan in verse 18, we see that Jacob commits himself to work for seven years. He says "I will work" in the future. So we see that Lavan was not asking about past wages; rather he asked Jacob about paying from now henceforth. Knowing Lavan as we (and Jacob) will get to know in the future Parashos, we can understand that he would not voluntarily pay for Jacob's past month's freebee work, if he doesn't have to. And Jacob has not brought the issue up, so Lavan would not either.
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
But how do we know that Jacob had, in fact, worked during the first month while he was living with Lavan? The Torah doesn't so openly.
Can deduce that from our verse?
Look closely at this verse.
An Answer: Because our verse says that Lavan discussed with Jacob his wages for work but not whether or not he was willing to work at all. We must therefore deduce that his working was taken for granted, and that is because Jacob had already started to work. The only thing not yet settled was his salary and that is what Lavan talks to him about. That is, his salary for the future.
Rashi has revealed his sensitivity to possible subtle misunderstandings by teaching some grammar in the process.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
Dr. Bonchek will be in the States IY"H this coming February on a lecture tour. Congregations or organizations interested in having him lecture for them are invited to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at email@example.com
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