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Parasha Vayeshev 5763

Why does Rashi provide two explanations?

avel she'ola (Gen. 37:35) Rashi explains that according to the peshat ('plain meaning') it means 'grave.' Ya'akov is saying 'I will be buried while yet mourning and will not be comforted during my life' and Rashi continues 'the Midrash says gehinnom ('hell') - the following sign had been given to me by the Almighty "if none of my sons dies during my lifetime I am assured that I will not see gehinnom".' It must be assumed that there is a reason for Rashi giving these two interpretations to this verse. Why did he do so?

she'ola R' A. ibn Ezra explains that this is like mata ('downwards') and it means the grave. In his language of hints he writes 'here the translator for those in error himself erred, for he translated she'ola 'hell'.' R' Yosef Bonfil the Sefaradi (who was encouraged by the Nagid of Egypt's Jews, R' David ben Yehoshua ben Avraham ben David ben Avraham ben Rambam to write a commentary on R' A. ibn Ezra's commentary - Encyclopaedia Judaica), explains this passage as follows:

Quoting or paraphrasing R' A. ibn Ezra he says 'anyone who says she'ol means "hell" is in error'. This means Jerome, who translated the whole of Scripture into Latin, translated she'ol as infernos ('hell'). He learnt this from the Midrash that Rashi mentioned in the name of our sages of blessed memory. The following sign had been given to him (by the Almighty), if none of his sons dies during his lifetime he is assured that he will not see gehinnom'. He [Jerome] did not know that this is derash, and he wished to support their error that they say that all of humanity who lived before Jesus went to hell until Jesus the Nazarene appeared. [According to Jerome] this is why Ya'akov said 'for I will go to my son to hell while yet mourning'. I, Yosef [Bonfil] say 'if what they say is correct then he was not crying for his son, but for the fact that he was destined to go to hell; why then did he not cry earlier?'
It appears that R' A. ibn Ezra's comment was intended to contradict Jerome whose translation had become accepted by (Western) Christians. Although R' A. ibn Ezra came from Moslem Spain, he wandered for many years in Western Europe and knew of Jerome's translation (The Vulgate).

Rashi, who lived in Christian France, also must have known The Vulgate's translation of our verse, and disagreed with it. He therefore wrote that the 'plain meaning' (the basis of translation), is 'grave' and the source for 'hell' is a Midrash which is not suitable for guiding a translator. According to the above we can see that Rashi was compelled to provide both interpretations. R' A. ibn Ezra accepted Rashi's view and made it explicit. (The occasional deviation of Onkelos from peshat depends on tradition (see Megilla, 3a and Kiddushin 49a).)

* * * *

What does tabach mean?

sar hatabachim (Gen. 37:36) ('the head tabach') Onkelos translates it into Aramaic as rav katalaya, and R' Sa'adia Gaon translates it into Arabic as reis alsayafin. Both mean 'the chief executioner'.

Rashi explains hatabachim differently. He writes 'the slaughterers of the king's animals'.

R' A. ibn Ezra knew both these points of view and wrote that one can find this term to mean 'killing' or 'cooking', but the he says Onkelos' translation is correct.

Radak also wrote on sar hatabachim 'as its translation' [i.e. Onkelos].

Ramban provides support for both approaches. In support of Rashi he demonstrates that tabach means 'preparation of food' by quoting the verse vayarem hatabach (I Sam. 9:24) ('the cook lifted'); lavakachot velatabachot (ibid 8:13) ('for the spice makers and the cooks'). In support of Onkelos and his followers, Ramban writes 'the opinion of Onkelos is to be preferred because the prison was in his house, and expressions with the root Tet, Bet, Chet are found for the killing of people. Examples are hachinu levanav matbe'ach (Isai. 14:21) ('prepare slaughter for his sons'); tavachta velo chamalta (Lam. 2:21) ('he killed without mercy'). For conclusive proof there is le'aryoch rav tabachaya di malka di nefak lekatala lechakime bavel (Dan. 2:14) ('for Aryoch the chief executioner of the king who went out to kill the sages of Babylon').
Chizkuni and Ralbag support Targum Onkelos.

R' Eliyahu Mizrachi comes to the defense of Rashi pointing out that when the verse (Lam. 2:21) refers to the killing of people it is equating the killing of people to the killing of animals. That is, the word means cold-blooded killing.

I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
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