rashihed.jpg (16002 bytes)

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)


by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashas Vayishlach(69)

This week's sedra tells of Jacob's return to Eretz Yisrael after his long stay with his uncle/father-in-law, Lavan. Then begin a series of vicissitudes Jacob experiences, including Dena's rape, Shimon & Levi's destruction of Shechem against Jacob's wishes & finally (next week's sedra) Joseph's disappearance as he is sold into slavery by his brothers.

Let us look at a Rashi comment that his grandson, the Rashbam, disagrees with.

Genesis 32:7

The messengers returned to Jacob saying: 'We came to your brother, to Esau, and he is also coming towards you and there are four hundred men with him.


We came to your brother, to Esau: Rashi:[About whom] you said 'he is my brother' but he conducts himself towards you as 'Esau the wicked one'; he is still harboring hatred for you.

What would you ask on this comment?

Your Question:


A Question: Why does Rashi draw this conclusion - that Esau is not acting brotherly towards Jacob?

Can you see what in the text influenced Rashi's comment?

Your Answer:


An Answer: In verse 4 we see that Jacob had sent messengers to "Esau, my brother." Whereas our verse says the messengers came "to your brother, to Esau." Why the extra "to" here and why the reversed order (the messengers did not say: "To Esau, to your brother." Jacob had Esau before "brother"? It seems there are two people here: "to your brother" and also "to Esau"!

How does Rashi's comment deal with this?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi gives his insight - there are two people here: The one that Jacob sought, "my brother" and the one the messengers found: "to Esau."


The Rashbam (Rashi's grandson) has a different view of what's going on here.

His comment is below:

We came to your brother, to Esau: Rashbam: And you found favor in his (Esau) eyes, as you had said (verse 6) and he is also joyous that you are arriving and in his love for you he is coming towards you and 400 hundred men are with him to honor you; this is the main p'shat understanding [of these words]. It is like the verse (about Aaron going out to meet Moses) "And behold he too is going out towards you and he will see you and his heart will rejoice." (Exodus 4:14).


The Rashbam's view of this verse is diametrically opposed to that of Rashi's. He says that Esau is joyous that Jacob is coming to see him. Rashi says that Esau is wicked and has evil plans to harm Jacob. In Rashbam's view, the 400 men are an honor guard; but in Rashi's view they are a warring battalion. Quite a difference between grandfather and grandson! And note that Rashbam stresses that his view is the real p'shat! When he wrote this he was aware of Rashi's comment; he is implying that Rashi's comment is not p'shat.

Can you think of support for Rashi &/or for Rashbam?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi's support is the history of the two of them. Esau was quite angry - murderously so - when Jacob stole the blessing from him some twenty ( or 34) years previously. Nothing really had changed since then so why should Esau welcome with open arms his devious brother? This may be Rashi's reasoning.

Rashbam, on the other hand, saw what actually happened. Esau met Jacob and was kind and considerate towards his brother, Jacob, and kissed him and they both cried. Those are the facts, so why assume Esau had other - evil - intentions? If Rashi is right, we must understand why Esau met him so joyously (See verse 33:4). (Rashi on that verse says Esau was won over by Jacob's excessive obsequious bowing to him.)

Rashbam also cites as evidence that "going out towards" is a positive move when he quotes similar words used when Aaron met his brother Moses and was happy. Possibly this evidence from a similar phrase in the Torah is what emboldened Rashbam to claim that his view was the real p'shat.


These two commentators are true to their priorities in p'shat interpretation. Rashi strives for p'shat, but for Rashi p'shat is often based on the Sages' interpretation as found in the midrash. Rashi's comment on our verse is derived from midrash Rabbah. So this satisfies Rashi as to p'shat. But Rashbam understands the demands of p'shat interpretation different from Rashi. He looks at the total picture of the verses, without recourse to the midrash. This, for the Rashbam, is what determines p'shat.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

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

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to parsha@shemayisrael.co.il

Jerusalem, Israel