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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayigash 5768

This week's sedra brings to a climax the confrontations between Joseph and his brothers. Jacob and his family go down to Egypt to begin the nation's first exile.

Genesis 46:15

These are the sons of Leah that she bore to Jacob in Padan Aram along with his daughter Dina - All the souls of his sons and daughters were thirty three.


Thirty three: Rashi: But if you count them individually you find only thirty two! But this (the one missing) is Yocheved (Moses' mother) who was born between the walls as they entered the city; as it says 'that was born to Levi in Egypt.' (Numbers 26:59)


In this comment Rashi asks his question openly, which is unusual for him. Actually the question is a direct quote from a question the sages ask in the Talmud. (That is why Rashi openly asks the question since it is a quote from the sages & Rashi will often quote them.)

The difficulty is that the sons of Leah who are enumerated in verses 9-14 total 34. There are listed the names of Jacob's sons and grandsons including Dina, Jacob's only daughter. But note that (verse 46:12) two sons, Er and Onan, had died previously before the family entered Egypt, so they must be subtracted from the 34, leaving 32. But our verse says 33? This is the difficulty Rashi is dealing with.


His answer is that Yocheved, Levi's daughter, was born just as they entered Egypt ('between the walls' of Egypt), she was conceived before her mother entered Egypt and was born after they entered. So she is the 70th child, though her name is not mentioned in the list of Leah's children and grandchildren. This is Rashi's answer which he derives from the words of the sages.


The question of the discrepancy between the 32 names mentioned and the number 33 (and the 69 names listed and the number 70 at the final tally) has puzzled the commentators from early times. (As we saw the Talmud in Baba Basra 122 asked the question). The question has many aspects to it. One is that if Leah had only 32 offspring (and not 33 as the verse says) then the final total of Israelites who entered Egypt was 69, and not 70 as it says in verse 46:27 (and in other places in the Torah). Squaring this circle has given rise to several different answers some p'shat and some drash.


The Ibn Ezra, and the Rashbam, always a p'shat devotees, or as they are referred to: 'pursuers of p'shat', say the 70th person is Jacob himself. For does it not say (verse 46:8): These are the names of the Children of Israel who were coming to Egypt, Jacob and his sons, the firstborn of Jacob, Reuben."

So it clearly includes Jacob in the count. Of course we have understand the term "Children of Israel." It can mean the children of Israel (who is Jacob meaning Jacob's children) or it can be a term for the nation of Israel. In this verse it must mean the total nation, which also includes Jacob himself.

The Ibn Ezra does not accept the drash that Rashi cites that the 70th person was Yocheved the mother of Moses. He points out that if Yocheved was born as the Israelites entered Egypt then she quite old when she gave birth to Moses. The reckoning goes as follows: The Jews were in Egypt for a total of 210 years. Moses was 80 when the Exodus took place. That means that Yocheved was 130 years old when Moses was born (210 minus 80). That is an even greater miracle than Sara's giving birth to Isaac, Sarah was "just" 90 years old. And since the Torah made such an issue of the miracle of Sara's giving birth why didn't the Torah mention openly the even greater miracle of Yocheved? For this reason he rejects that interpretation.


The Ramban takes strong issue with Ibn Ezra. He says thinking that such miracle could happen and not be mentioned in the Torah is a big mistake. The Torah (and life), says the Rambanm is an unending series of quiet miracles. Not all miracles are openly mentioned in the Torah. Sara's miracle was mentioned for several reasons; 1) It was forecasted by G-d's promise to Abraham; 2) Sara had stopped have "the way of woman' so biologically it was impossible for her to conceive; 3) Abraham was 100 years old, this doubled the miracle.

The Ramban brings other examples in Tanach where events are based on miracles and never the less the Scriptures do not "announce" them as miracles. He says in this refutation he has "poured hot gold down the throat of the Ibn Ezra!

It is important to note that the Ramban himself will argue with the sages' viewpoint at times. But his main point here was that our life is suffused with miracles, ordinary existence is full of unnatural happenings - and we should be aware of this. This is for the Ramban a basic element in Jewish belief. Denying it, denies G-d's constant involvement in this world.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

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

The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" and the Megillas Esther volume can be purchased thru Feldheim on line at Feldheim.com

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