q What's Bothering Rashi

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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Naso(66)

On this Shabbat after Shavuot the Torah reading differs in Eretz Yisroel from the reading outside of Israel. Since in Israel we read Naso last Shabbat when it was still Yom Tov in Chutz L'Aretz. So this week Beha'aloscha is read in Israel while Naso is read in all countries outside Israel. We will follow the Chutz L'Aretz custom (even though I live in Jerusalem) since most of our readers have not yet come on Aliya(!) Therefore we chose a Rashi from Parashas Naso.

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Rashi's drash teaches the reward for altruistic sacrifice.

Numbers 7:2

And the Princes of Israel, the heads of their households drew near; they were the Princes of the tribes ("matos"), they were those who assisted in the census.


They were the Princes of the tribes: Rashi: They were guards over them in Egypt and they were beaten on account of them. As it says 'And the guards of the Children of Israel were beaten etc.' (Exodus 5:14).

What would you ask about Rashi's citing this drash?

Your Question:


A Question: I call this a drash, because the simple meaning (p'shat) of these words is that the Princes of Israel who brought the offerings are identified with the Princes of the Tribes ( "matos" ). That is to say, the Torah is just letting us know who these Princes were. Why flash back all the way to the days in Egypt and identify these Princes with the Jewish taskmasters of then?

What prompted Rashi?

What's bothering Rashi?

Your Answer:


An Answer: As you read the verse you see a redundancy, "they are (Hebrew "heim") Princes of the Tribes, they are (Hebrew "heim") the ones who assisted in the census." It would have been quite adequate to skip the phrase altogether and just write "And the Princes of Israel, the heads of the households, they are the ones who assisted in the census." Clearly the phrase is superfluous.

That's what's bothering Rashi.

How does his comment solve matters?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi's drash is needed to explain what this "superfluous" phrase teaches us. The additional words ( "they are the Princes of the Tribes") gives additional information about these men. They were men who were quite deserving of their title, because they had bent their bodies to the blows of their Egyptian masters in order to protect their brothers. As may be remembered from Exodus (5:14), these men didn't pressure the Israelite slaves, their brothers, to meet the exaggerated daily demands of their Egyptian taskmasters. As a consequence, these guards paid for their kindness by being beaten by the Egyptians for not handing over the daily quota. Those familiar with the stories of the Holocaust will remember the Jewish Kapos. They were the Jewish guards of modern times, the intermediaries between the Jewish slaves and their Nazi slave drivers in the Nazi concentration camps. The record of the Kapos is not inspiring, to say the least. Many worked their brothers as harshly as their German masters. Being in the position of such guards, Kapos, where one's own life is daily in danger, is a test few can stand up to. But the guards of yesteryear, in Egypt, did so with dignity. Their reward was to become Princes in Israel. How fitting that these former guards, now Princes, should be the first Israelites to offer sacrifices in the newly erected Tabernacle - they, more than anyone, knew the meaning of sacrificing.


A Question: We have shown that the phrase that Rashi comments on is apparently superfluous. But what led him to interpret the phrase as referring necessarily to the guards of Egypt?

Your Answer:


An Answer: The word in Hebrew "matos" may have been his clue. Here it means "tribes" but it also can mean rod (like the rod of Aaron that turned into a serpent (Exodus 7:9). The guards had been beaten with their Egyptian taskmasters' rods, so they were appropriately referred to as the Princes of the "rods" ( Matos ) !


Each aspect of a Rashi comment must be analyzed to derive from it its maximum meaning.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"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.

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