by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Yisro 5767This week's sedra contains the Ten Commandments. Before that monumental event is recorded* we are told of the arrival of Yisro, Moses' father-in-law to the Israeli encampment in the wilderness. He advises Moses' how to set up an effective judicial system. [* Before it is recorded, but not necessarily before it happened. There is a difference of opinion as to when Yisro arrived - before or after the Ten Commandments. Rashi says after; the Ramban says before, just as the order is in the Chumash]
Upon the meeting we read:
Moses went out to greet his father - in - law. He prostrated himself; and he kissed him and each man to his friend asked his well being and they went into the tent.
He prostrated himself; and he kissed: Rashi: I do not know who prostrated himself to whom but when it says "each man [ Hebrew 'ish"] to his friend" , who is called an "ish" (man) ? This is Moses as it says "and the man ( 'ish') Moses etc. Numbers: 12:3).
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi is clarifying an ambiguity in the verse. Pronouns are used ("He prostrated"; He kissed") it is not clear to whom the word "he" refers - to Moses or to Yisro?
But several questions can be asked on this Rashi-comment.
See above Exodus 2:20 & 21. Do you have a question?
A Question: If we examine those verses we see that both Moses and Yisro are referred to as "ish." So why does Rashi assume that the word "ish" here refers to Moses and not to Yisro?
Hint: Look at the verse that Rashi cites in Numbers 12:3.
An Answer: It is true that in Exodus both Yisro and Moses are referred to as "ish". But the verse in Numbers is more striking. There the word "ish" does not come in place of Moses's name but in addition to it. It says "the 'ish' Moses." Whereas in Exodus both cases have the word "ish" in place of either of Yisro or of Moses.
Also in Numbers it says: "The man ("ish") Moses was the humblest man on the face of the Earth." That fact is most relevant to our case. It tells us that when Moses met Yisro, even though his father-in-law came to see his most famous son-in-law (after Mt. Sinai certainly Moses was world famous) then we could expect Moses to wait for Yisro's show of honor towards him. But, No! Moses' modesty was predominant and in spite of Moses' high position and high regard, he nevertheless showed Yisro the honor he deserved as a father-in-law, and bowed down to him.
But when you read our verse completely you may wonder why Rashi said: "I do not know who prostrated himself to whom"
What would you ask?
A Question: The verse says: "Moses went out to greet his father - in - law" so Moses is the subject of the verse. The rule in language and in the Torah as well is that when a the subject is mentioned by name in the beginning of a verse then he is the one referred to by the pronouns later in the verse. So why does Rashi say " I don't know who prostrated himself..." it was certainly Moses because he is the subject of the verse.
Can you think of an answer?
A difficult question.
A POSSIBLE ANSWER
The question has been asked by the commentaries on Rashi. No satisfactory answer has been given. I would suggest, with some diffidence, an answer.
Actually the question that Rashi (and the midrash) ask is not that strong for the reason we stated above - that all the pronouns likely refer back to Moses. But since Moses was the greater individual of the two, we might have thought that Yisro would be the one to bow to Moses and not vice verse.
Rashi asked the question in order to teach us derech eretz. That a person should always be careful to honor his father-in-law. In fact the midrash (mechilta) which is Rashi's source, says just that. It ends by saying: "from here we learn that a man should always be prepared to honor his father-in-law."
Rashi's Torah commentary is not just a commentary to explain the meaning of the Torah's verses. It is also intended to teach the Jew Torah in its broadest sense - including Derech Eretz.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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