April 17, 2014
The Yom Tov of Pesach is dominated by the Seder night and learning the Haggadah. The following is from the Haggadah and its parallel source in Rashi’s commentary on the Torah.
Haggadah of Pesach
One of the central parts of the Haggadah is the analysis of a verse in Deuteronomy 26:5. When a man brings his first fruits to the Temple he says these verses:
“My father was a wandering (lost) Aramean and he went down to Egypt and he dwelt there in few numbers. And there he became a great nation, strong and many.”
The translation of the first three words in Hebrew (“Aramie oved Avi”) is problematic. The translation above is disputed. It is not the way Rashi translates them. Rashi’s translation in his commentary is “An Aramean destroyed my father” (Jacob). Here the word “oved” is translated as “destroyed,” meaning that Lavan, the Aramean , who was Jacob’s father-in-law, destroyed Jacob. The Aramean refers to Lavan. This is the way the Haggadah understands the verse.
Ibn Ezra and the Radak, both experts in Hebrew grammar, translate the verse to mean that the Aramean refers to Jacob. They say the grammatical constructions of the word “oved” is intransitive, meaning it does not effect another. For example, in English we could say “he was destroyed” or “he destroyed.” The first is intransitive; the second is transitive, for it means he destroyed something – that is, his destruction was done to another. But our verse has “oved,” which literally means “he was destroyed (or lost)”.
Rashi’s interpretation follows the Midrash that we find in the Haggadah (from Talmud Pesachim). As is often his way, Rashi sees p’shat, the basic explanation, through the eyes of the Talmudic sages.
But that begs the question. We ask why do the sages translate these words as they do?
The musical notes (trop) under and above the words that we find in printed Chumashim can be divided into two types: (1) Those that separate words, and (2) those that connect with the word ahead.
We can see that the note under the word “Aramie” has a “pashta” note, which is a separating note, while the words “oved avi” have “munach zakef” notes, which are connecting notes.
So the reading according to the notes is: “An Aramean – destroyed my father.”
Had it meant “My father was a wandering Aramean ” it should have had the words “Aramie oved” ( “a wandering Aramean “) connected.
Thus, the musical notes support Rashi’s (and the Midrash’s) interpretation, as opposed to Ibn Ezra and the Radak.
Now let us see Rashi’s comment in the Chumash -Devarim 26:5
” An Aramean (tried) to destroy my father (Jacob) and he went down to Egypt and he dwelt there in few numbers. And there he became a great nation, strong and many.”
Aramie oved Avi – Rashi: He mentions God’s kindnesses. Lavan wanted to exterminate everything (the whole nation) when he pursued after Jacob (see Genesis 31:23) and inasmuch as he wanted to do, God considered it as if he actually did so. For when it comes to the nations of the world, God considers their thought as if they actually enacted it.