June 25, 2014

In chapter 20 verse 15 we read:

Our fathers went down to Egypt, and we sojourned in Egypt for a long time. And the Egyptians mistreated us and our forefathers. טו. וַיֵּרְדוּ אֲבֹתֵינוּ מִצְרַיְמָה וַנֵּשֶׁב בְּמִצְרַיִם יָמִים רַבִּים וַיָּרֵעוּ לָנוּ מִצְרַיִם וְלַאֲבֹתֵינוּ:

Rashi comments: “mistreated us”: We endured many hardships.
וירעו לנו: סבלנו צרות רבות

“and our forefathers”: From here [we learn] that when Israel is afflicted with punishment, the Patriarchs grieve in the grave. – [Midrash Tanchuma Chukat 12, Num. Rabbah 19:15]

At first glance it looks as if Rashi has abandoned the simple peshat for a drash! The simple meaning of “fathers” in this verse refers to the fathers and grandfathers of those in the wilderness, who were also enslaved in Egypt but who did not live long enough to be redeemed by Hashem at the exodus. Remember that the period of enslavement in Egypt lasted 210 years; several generations didn’t live long enough to see the redemption. Why did Rashi prefer this drash interpretation to the simple p’shat?

Once again, as we have pointed out many times, the drash is the peshat. There is a major problem with the “simple peshat”.

The order of the words here is “wrong”. “The Egyptians did evil to us and to our fathers.” Since chronologically, the fathers suffered before the children, it should have said: “The Egyptians did evil to our fathers and to us.”

This is one reason that Rashi insists that the drash is the peshat. The drash tells us that, in fact, “we” suffered before the fathers. So only according to the drash is the word order correct. But in order to accomplish this interpretation we have to understand that the “us” in “did evil to us” refers to all the generations who were enslaved in Egypt. And the “fathers” in “and to our fathers” refers not to those who were enslaved but to the forefathers, who obviously preceded the generations of the enslavement.

Now the word order in the verse can be understood (the suffering of the sons before that of the fathers), because only once the sons suffered, was the pain then felt by the forefathers as well. So the order of “to us and (then) to our fathers” is correct.

There is also grammatical support for Rashi’s drash in this verse.

Notice the vowels under the word (in Hebrew) “v’la’avosainu” (“and to our fathers”). There is a patach under the “lamed” which means it precedes a definite article like the “heh Hayedia.” This is equivalent to “and to our known fathers.” This could only refer to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the well-known fathers, the only fathers who were fathers to all the enslaved Israelites.

Shabbat shalom vechodesh tov

Rabbi Meir Wise



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