by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parshas Vayeitzei(76)Genesis 29:27
Laban says to Jacob after he was tricked to marry Leah instead of Rachel:
"Fulfill the week of this one and "V'nitnah" to you also this one (Hebrew 'gam es zeh") for the work which you do for me for another seven years"
"V'nitnah" to you: Rashi: This is in the plural as "let us go down and confuse" (above 11:7) and "let us burn" (above 11:3), this also means "and we will give."
The word Rashi is explaining - "V'nitnah" -is a grammatical puzzle. It can be translated in two different ways.
1) "We will give to you" or
2) "She will be given to you", in the passive. The commentaries disagree as the correct meaning. Rashbam says it means "she will be given" the Radak presents both possibilities without choosing between the two. Rashi has chosen "We will give" as we see.
Rashi's choice is supported by another grammatical rule. In Hebrew before the word "this one" is the non-translatable word "es". The word "es" is placed before a direct object. ( Example: I give you the book" ( "es hasefer').
But if the word V'nitnah in our verse means "she will be given" the "es" is inappropriate, because there is no direct object (only an indirect object 'this one'). So the fact that 'es' is here supports Rashi's interpretation (and not that of his grandson, the Rashbam).
QUESTIONING THE INTERPRETATION
A Question: But why would Laban speak in the plural ("we will give") ? He was speaking only for himself. If you answer that this was the 'Royal we' used in cases where the speaker is a special person (like a king), then we must explain why Laban immediately switches to the singular, when he says "for the work that you will do for me"? So the Royal "we" doesn't seem to be the reason.
What else might explain this use of the plural?
An Answer: The Ramban gives a clearer insight here. Ramban first quotes Rashi then says:
But he (Rashi) did not say why Laban would use he plural. Perhaps Rashi thought that this was the manner dignitaries speaků.The correct interpretation seems to me that Laban's words were spoken in cunning. He had said to Jacob 'it is not done in our place" for the people of the place will not let me do so (to marry the younger daughter first) for this would be a shameful act in their eyes. But "you fulfill the week of his one" and we - I and all the people of the place - will give you also this one. For we will not consent to the matter, and we will give you honor and a feast as we have done with the first one."
Nechamah Leibowitz in her books on Torah commentary explains Ramban's subtle point here. By using the plural, Laban shifts responsibility from his shoulders to those of the community as a whole. He was acting deceitfully towards Jacob and by using the plural he tried to make it look like it had nothing to do with him, personally - that's just what is done around here. I'm really a nice guy but the community has certain customs which I must follow, so don't blame me.
This is a fine example of Ramban's familiarity with the subtle working of men's minds.
Avigdor Bonchek has published a new book on Rashi called "Rashi: The Magic and the Mystery" published by Gefen. Look for it at Jewish book stores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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