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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Zachor(69)

This Shabbat is Parashas Zachor, the Shabbat that comes before Purim. The Maftir reading for the week comes from the end of Parashas Ki Seitzei which talks about the mitzvah of destroying A,alek. The connection to Purim is obvious - Haman was from the tribe of Amalek.

We will examine a Rashi comment that is taken for granted by almost all commentaries, but which has a serious difficulty and has an important lesson for students of Rashi.

Deut. 25:19

And it will be when Hashem, your G-d, has given you rest from all your enemies around in the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you as territory to inherit, you shall obliterate the memory of Amalek from beneath the sky; do not forget.


You shall obliterate the memory of Amalek: Rashi: From man to woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, so the name "Amalek" will not be remembered even with regard to an animal, by saying 'This animal belonged to Amalek.'


Rashi says that in addition to all humans even the animals of Amalek must be destroyed. This is an unusual addition to include animals to the command to wipe out Amalek, but it would seem ( though Rashi himself doesn't say this) that his evidence for this would be the verse in the Book of Samuel (15:3) where Samuel commands King Saul to wipe out Amalek. There it says: "Now go and strike Amalek and destroy everything he has. Have no pity on him - kill man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." So here the command does explicitly include animals.

We will now look at problem with this Rashi-comment - but one that we couldn't have thought of ourselves.


The Minchas Chinuch ( a scholarly commentary to the Sefer HaChinuch ( a book on the 613 mitzvos) wonders where Rashi found such an idea. There is no Talmud or midrash source for the idea that even the animals of Amalek must be destroyed. And the Rambam does not mention this law in his Yad Hachazaka law book. So why would Rashi say this?

Another more serious question on this Rashi can be derived from Rashi's own comment on the verse in Samuel 15:3 where Saul is commanded to kill people and animals. See the Rashi there is see if you see how it contradicts what Rashi writes here. Your Answer:


Answer: In Samuel Rashi comments: From ox to sheep: Rashi: Because they (Amalekites) were capable of witchcraft and could change themselves intro animals.

Do you see the contradiction?


Answer: Rashi's comment in Samuel is that the animals were ordered to be killed only because they may really be disguised Amalek people. But if, as Rashi says in our sedra, the animals of Amalek were to be killed in order to wipe any memory of Amalek whatsoever. Rashi's comment in Samuel implies clearly that only because the animals may be disguised Amalek people should they be killed and not because Amalek animals were originally commanded to be killed. So the two Rashi-comments contradict one another.

How can we understand this?


Let us first look at a rule in understanding the early Torah commentators.

Rabbi Mordecai Friedman of Brooklyn (whom I had the privilege of meeting last year) in his research on this Rashi comment, teaches us an important rule. Rashi, we know strives for "p'shuto shel mikra" (the simple meaning of the Scriptures). But in fact Rashi's view of p'shat is different from what most today would call p'shat. Rashi always (or nearly always) tries to take into account the Talmudic Sages' view when he gives his p'shat interpretation. But other commentators, like the Rashbam the Ibn Ezra & Rav Yosef Kra ( a friend of the Rashbam) search for "the depth of p'shat" (in Hebrew: 'Omko shel p'shat). The 'depth of p'shat' does not take into consideration the Sages' view. In their opinion, Omko shel p'shat and the Sages' view are two separate and valid types of interpretation. But they are not to be confused one with the other.


Since Rashi in his Torah commentary strives to be in line with the Sages' view and the Sages no where say that destroying Amalek includes killing their animals, it would seem that the Rashi in our sedra which says that animals of Amalek must be killed is not like him. Also the fact that the Rashi in Samuel implies that the animals of Amalek should not be killed (except that they may be Amalekites in disguise) would seem to be more akin to Rashi's overall approach to Torah commentary. For these and other reasons we might suspect that the author of our "Rashi-comment" was not actually Rashi.

A commentary that strives for the "depth of p'shat" would take into account the verse in Samuel which says that even animals should be killed. (Why should two Scriptural verses contradict each other? We could assume that the Samuel verse is a detailed explanation of the Torah's words "wipe out the memory of Amalek" and thus in accord with the verse in our sedra.) A commentary like Rashi, on the other hand, who strives to align himself with the Sages' view would see killing the animals as only a temporary injunction (hora's sha'a") but not a true Torah mitzvah, because the Sages never say animals should be killed.


We must find who wrote the Rashi-comment in our sedra if it wasn't Rashi.

Rabbi Friedman suggests it might be Rav Yosef Kra. We see that Kra's comment on the verse in Samuel is very similar to Rashi's comment on our verse. He says: "[you must kill an ox and a sheep] So they won't say 'This ox belonged to Amalek, this sheep belonged to Amalek, for if they are not killed this would not be "wiping out the memory of Amalek." This is the same idea as our Rashi in this week's sedra.

We have other evidence that Kra wrote his own notes in the margins of a copy of a Rashi manuscript. Remember Kra lived at the same time and place as Rashi, so he had one of the first copies of Rashi's commentary. During the passage of time some of these "side-comments" were included into Rashi's commentary itself - and no one knew the difference!

This is what seems to have happened here. Until Rabbi Mordecai Freidman made his scholarly analysis, no one could explain all the puzzles about this comment that we pointed out earlier.


This is but one example of a comment that we think is Rashi's but isn't really his. It takes a scholar's sensitivity and breadth of knowledge to determine when a comment is an addition to Rashi and not actually his own.

Shabbat Shalom and a Purim Somayach
Avigdor Bonchek

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

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