Bereishis 5782


Adam, the first vegetarian?[1]

ויאמר אלקים הנה נתתי לכם את-כל-עשב זרע זרע אשר על-פני כל-הארץ ואת-כל-העץ אשר-בו פרי-עץ זרע זרע לכם יהיה לאכלה: ולכל-חית הארץ וגו’
G-d said: “Behold, I have given to you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit. They shall be yours for consumption, and for all the animals of the land…”[2]

Our Sages make an interesting inference[3] from the way Hashem gave permission to Adam and the animals to consume the plant-life that surrounded them. He said that the plants shall be for you and the animals to consume, with the inference being that, in contrast, the animals shall not be for you to consume. Meaning, only plant-life was permitted, but not animals. This seemingly would make Adam the first vegetarian. It was only during the times of Noach, after the flood, that meat became permissible for humans to consume. The gemarra asks on this from a different teaching. We are informed that while Adam was in Gan Eden, the Angels would roast meat and strain wine for him[4]. The primordial snake saw this and grew jealous, and the rest is history. From this accounting, he seemingly did consume meat. What’s the resolution?

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HaAzinu 5782


The plan to save Moshe[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה בעצם היום הזה לאמר: עלה אל-הר וגו’ ומת בהר אשר אתה עלה שמה וגו’‏
Hashem spoke to Moshe on that very day, saying: “Go up the mountain…and you will die on the mountain that you will ascend…”[2]

The Torah says that Hashem told Moshe on that very day to go up the mountain to meet his demise. Rashi brings[3] that the Torah says the expression “on that very day” three differnent times. The first is with Noach[4], when he entered the ark he had built as a salvation from the flood. The second is when the Jews left Egypt. The third is in this week’s parsha with Moshe. Rashi says that all three of these instances of this expression are teaching us the same thing.

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Mikeitz 5781


An argument for innocence[1]

הן כסף אשר מצאנו בפי אמתחתינו השיבנו אליך מארץ כנען ואיך נגנב מבית אדניך כסף או זהב: ויחפש בגדול החל ובקטן כלה וימצא הגביע באמתחת בנימן
Is it not true that we found [your] money in our bags, and we returned it to you from the land of Canaan?! How then could we steal from your master’s home silver or gold?! He began to search [them], starting with the oldest and finishing with the youngest. They found the goblet in the bag of Binyamin[2]

As Yaakov’s sons returned home after successfully retrieving their brother Shimon from captivity, Yosef the viceroy’s men caught up with them. They accused Yaakov’s sons of stealing their master’s special goblet. The brothers were bewildered. They had traveled all the way from Canaan to Egypt, and returned Yosef’s money which had mistakenly been placed in their bags. How preposterous would it be then for them to go ahead and steal a goblet from his palace? Unconvinced by this argument, the viceroy’s men began their search. They started with the oldest brother, and finished with the youngest. Upon opening Binyamin’s bag, they found the goblet. The brothers mourned their providence, and figured they must have been framed. They returned to Yosef’s palace, ready to face the consequences.

There are those[3] that understand that when the Torah says that the viceroy’s men began their search with the oldest of the brothers, its not referring to Reuven, the firstborn[4]. Rather, it’s referring to Shimon, Yaakov’s second son. Where did they get that from[5]? Another question: Rashi[6] felt the need to inform us that the argument of the brothers, that if they returned Yosef’s money why would they steal from him, is one of the ten kal vachomers in the Torah[7]. This is known in logic as an a fortiori argument, where if something less obvious is true, for sure something more obvious is true. It’s surprising that they traveled so far to return the money, so then it’s obvious they wouldn’t steal from Yosef. Why does Rashi feel that we need to know it’s one of the ten? Further, why are there only ten? Surely there are more[8]?

If we analyze carefully the brothers’ kal vachomer, we’ll see that there’s a flaw in it. The brothers were claiming that they traveled all the way from Canaan to return the money that was mistakenly given to them. Is that true? We know it’s true for nine of the brothers. However, Shimon was in jail until recently. He didn’t participate in returning the money. As well, Binyamin didn’t join them the first time they came to Egypt. He had no responsibility to return the money that they had mistakenly brought back with them[9]. What was their argument then?

If we analyze the other kal vachomers in the list that Rashi brings, we’ll notice that they also have a flaw[10]. One of them was stated by Moshe to Hashem[11]. Hashem told Moshe to speak to Pharaoh, and demand he release the Jews. Moshe responded that he is not a qualified spokesperson for the Jewish people. The Jewish people themselves won’t even listen to him, surely Pharaoh won’t listen to him. The problem with this argument is the verse says[12] that the people didn’t listen to him because they were exhausted from their labor. This didn’t apply to Pharaoh. We see then that his argument didn’t start[13].

However, there is an instance where each of these kal vachomers are valid. With regards to Moshe’s argument to Hashem, he mentioned the Jewish people didn’t listen to him. This statement included even the tribe of Levi, who as the Priestly class, weren’t enslaved in Egypt[14]. We see that even they didn’t listen to Moshe, even though they weren’t exhausted from labor. It was this tribe that Moshe had in mind when he said that the Jewish people didn’t listen to him. All the more so Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him.

The same is true with the argument of the sons of Yaakov. They said that they had traveled all the way from Canaan to return the money that wasn’t theirs. It’s true, this argument didn’t apply to Shimon and Binyamin, as they weren’t involved in the first trip home from Egypt, when the mistake occurred. However, it did apply to the other nine brothers. They were saying that if these brothers went to so much effort to return what was not theirs, all the more so would they not steal something from the palace. Rashi is bothered that these two arguments have some sort of flaw. He wants us to realize that this isn’t so difficult, as there are ten instances of kal vachomers in the Torah that have a flaw. He is stressing that despite this flaw, there is indeed some resolution to the argument.

Perhaps the unique explanation that the viceroy’s men started their search with the oldest, meaning Shimon, and ended with the youngest, meaning Binyamin, was motivated by this issue. These two brothers were the only ones who didn’t have an argument for innocence. They weren’t involved in the mistake with the money, and had no proof that they weren’t guilty. As such, the verse is really telling us that the viceroy’s men only searched these two brothers. The older one, Shimon, and the younger one Binyamin. The others weren’t searched, as they had a kal vachomer proving their innocence[15].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Maharil Diskin to Genesis 44:12 s.v. בתרגום and Sichos Kodesh 5736 parshas Mikeitz § 30-34 (p. 331-333), by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, summarized into Hebrew from Yiddish in Biurei HaChumash to v. 8

[2] Genesis 44:8,12

[3] The Maharil Diskin says this explanation is from רבותינו ז”ל, which sounds like he’s referring to Chazal. The Brisker Rav in Chiddushei Maran HaGriz Soloveitchik Torah § 38 says it’s a Midrash, brings the words of the Maharil Diskin, and then concludes that we don’t know where this Midrash is. Da’as Mikra to v. 12 fn. 2 says this idea is from the Beis HaLevi to v. 5, but I couldn’t find where he mentions it. Further, The Brisker Rav, a grandson of the Beis HaLevi, surely would have mentioned that his grandfather discusses it. In Chiddushei Maran HaGrach Kanievsky parshas Mikeitz § 5, it is brought that Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita was asked where this Midrash is, and he responded איני זוכר

[4] Cf. Targum “Yonasan” to v. 12 who explicitly writes that they started with Reuven. The Maharil Diskin suggests it was to reject this alternate explanation

[5] Maharil Diskin

[6] Rashi to v. 8

[7] Bereishis Rabbah 92:7

[8] Sichos Kodesh

[9] Sichos Kodesh only mentions Binyamin, but Maharil Diskin mentions them both. As will be evident, each one mentioned what they needed in order to answer their question

[10] Sichos Kodesh. See there where the Rebbe explains the flaw for two more in the list

[11] Exodus 6:12

[12] V. 9

[13] Sichos Kodesh points out that Rashi only cites the ten kal vachomers in these two instances. He explains this is because Rashi is bothered by these two more than the other instances, as the flaw is so apparent. Rashi therefore says don’t be bothered, because if you look in the list, you’ll see they all have a flaw. At the same time, despite their flaws, these two have some instance in which they’re logically sound, as will be explained

[14] Rashi to Exodus 5:4, quoting Shemos Rabbah 5:16

[15] Maharil Diskin. Da’as Mikrah loc. cit. also says the Beis HaLevi explains it this way (but as mentioned in note 3, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps the editor was thinking of the Maharil Diskin, brought by the Beis HaLevi’s grandson, the Brisker Rav)

Vayishlach 5781


Pursuing consideration[1]

ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו וגו’‏
Yaakov was very afraid, and it was distressing to him[2]

As Yaakov was nearing the end of his journey to his parent’s home, his worst fear came true. His wicked brother Eisav, who had a known death threat against him, was approaching with four hundred men. The Torah tells us that Yaakov was very afraid and distressed. Why are his emotions given these two descriptive terms? Rashi tells us[3] that he was afraid that he would be killed, and was distressed in case he would have to kill others to defend himself. It’s understandable that he didn’t want to be killed, but why should he be distressed from the thought of defending himself? If someone is coming to kill you and your family, it’s the proper thing to do defend yourself. The Torah says[4] that if someone is planning to kill you, get up before them and beat them to it[5]. What could he be distressed about?

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Bamidbar 5777

Rashi’s Royal Revelation[1]

ויקח משה ואהרן את האנשים האלה אשר נקבו בשמות
Moshe and Aharon took these men who had been designated by [their] names[2]

Rashi comments פרש”י
These men: These twelve princes את האנשים האלה: את שנים עשר נשיאים הללו
That were designated: To him [Moshe], here, by their names אשר נקבו: לו כאן בשמות

Parshas Bamidbar, the first in the book of Numbers, earns the book its name by beginning with a census of the Jewish people. This is one of many censuses that took place in the wilderness. Hashem commanded Moshe to count all the Jewish men above the age of twenty, those that would be suitable to serve in the army[1]. The leaders of the twelve tribes, described as princes, were appointed to help with the census. After listing the twelve princes, one for each tribe, the Torah states that Moshe and Aharon took them for their appointed task and began the count.

Rashi, the eleventh century biblical commentator, is unquestionably the most important and influential of the early authorities[2] on the Torah. His commentary is found in every edition of the Torah and has spawned dozens of supercommentaries whose task are solely to explain what Rashi meant. At the beginning of the Torah[3], Rashi describes the intention of his commentary by writing: “I came only for the peshat, the plain simple meaning of the words and verses”. Rashi only comments on the Torah when there is some difficulty in understanding the verse simply, or in order to correct a faulty first impression.

Given this introduction, Rashi’s comments on the above verse are puzzling. The verse is very self-evident; what is the need for clarification? What’s more puzzling is Rashi didn’t seem to add anything. After listing the twelve princes, the verse says that Moshe took “these men”, and Rashi tells us that it’s referring to “these twelve princes”. The verse says the men that were taken were the men that were designated by their names, and Rashi just adds the words “to him, here”. Meaning, the verse is saying that the men that were taken were the men that were designated to Moshe, here, by their names. What is gained by these additions?

The Mizrachi[4] tries to explain Rashi’s motivation. The verse could have simply stated “Moshe and Aharon took them”, why did the Torah add the words “these men”? Since the Torah added these words, Rashi was worried we would misinterpret the verse to be referring to some other men. This is why Rashi comments, to assure us that the verse is still discussing the above-mentioned princes. The problem with this approach is twofold. One, how does Rashi know the Torah is still referring to the princes? Maybe it really is referring to some other men. Even if it is referring to the princes, then why didn’t the verse say, “Moshe and Aharon took them”? What then was added by the words “these men”?

The Gur Aryeh[5] has a different approach to explain Rashi’s intent. When the Torah says that “Moshe and Aharon took these men”, it makes them sound like ordinary people[6]. Rashi wants to stress that these weren’t ordinary people; they were the twelve princes of Israel. Again, if this is the correct approach to Rashi, why did the Torah refer to them as men? Further, the verse uses the words אנשים, which Rashi elsewhere states[7] usually refers to men of importance. So why would I have misunderstood the verse?

A third approach to Rashi avoids all of these issues. This isn’t the first time princes were mentioned in the Torah. Before the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the Torah describes[8] the various contributions the people made. It says[9] the princes brought “shoham stones” for the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate. However, the Torah doesn’t clarify which princes. Elsewhere, the Torah says[10] that the names of the twelve tribes are inscribed on these stones. Rashi names[11] which tribes, and lists Yosef as one tribe and also lists the tribe of Levi. Presumably, the princes who brought the stones were of the same tribes as those inscribed. However, the tribes listed in this week’s parsha are different than the ones listed by Rashi by the Mishkan. In this week’s parsha, Yosef is listed as two tribes: his sons Efraim and Menashe. To keep the number of princes twelve, a prince for the tribe of Levi isn’t mentioned.

This is exactly Rashi’s point. When the Torah says that “Moshe and Aharon took these men”, Rashi is stressing the fact that it’s these princes, not the ones mentioned earlier. When the Torah says that they were the men who “were designated by name”, Rashi stresses that they were designated to Moshe here by name. Meaning, the Torah is referring to the princes designated here in this week’s parsha, not the ones by the Mishkan. The need to make this distinction is because this is the first time that Efraim and Menashe are considered to be their own tribes. This required Levi not to be counted, in order to keep the number of tribes at twelve.

This is just one example of the extreme depth that can be found in Rashi’s commentary. Sometimes a tiny addition to a verse can make a huge difference in understanding. Whenever Rashi doesn’t seem to be adding anything to the verse, in reality he’s helping us tremendously. This case of the princes teaches us the significance of every word in Rashi’s commentary.

Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on the book What’s Bothering Rashi, by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek. The piece on this week’s parsha can be read online at

[2] Numbers 1:17

[3] ibid 1:3

[4] Known in Hebrew as the Rishonim

[5] Genesis 3:8

[6] ad. loc., one of the above mentioned supercommentaries on Rashi

[7] ad. loc., the Maharal of Prague’s commentary on Rashi

[8] Rabbi Hartman in his commentary to Gur Aryeh explains that we may have thought that they were not chosen for this task because of their nobility, so Rashi wants to stress that this was exactly why they were chosen

[9] Numbers 13:3

[10] Exodus 35:22-29

[11] ibid verse 27

[12] ibid 28:9-10

[13] to verse 10