> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Sukkot 5772

Sukkot (Leviticus 22:26-23:44 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

The Sukkos holiday is called the "Season of Our Joy." Let us see what Rashi has to say about this.

Deuteronomy 16:15

"Seven days you shall celebrate for Hashem, your God, in the place which Hashem will choose; for Hashem, your God, will bless you, with all your produce and all your work and you will be only happy."



And you will be only happy - RASHI: According to its simple meaning (p'shuto) this is not a command, but rather a promise. And according to its Talmudic interpretation they learn from here that the last night of the Holiday is also included [in the command] to be happy.



Rashi has p'shat and drash in this comment. Let us examine each in turn.

Rashi tells us that the correct p'shat meaning of the words "vihayeeta ach somayach" is "and you will be happy" and not "and you shall be happy." The former is a promise; the latter, a command. We needn't look for "What's bothering Rashi" here, because he tells us exactly what he wants us to know. He tells us we should exclude the possible, but incorrect, interpretation of "you shall be happy."

But, as we have pointed out before, whenever Rashi chooses one interpretation over another, we should always question him.

Your Question:



A Question: How does Rashi know this a promise and not a command?

Can you see what led him to this p'shat? In other words, how does Rashi know that "vihayeeta" means "you will be happy" and not "you shall be happy"?

Your Answer:



An Answer: A search in a Biblical concordance or on a CD disk will show that whenever God uses the word "vihayeeta" in the Torah, it is always a promise and not a command. See the following examples:

When Hashem promises Abraham (Genesis 17:4):

"And you will be the father of a multitude of nations."

When Hashem speaks to Jacob (Genesis 28:3):

"And you will be a community of peoples."

And on the negative side, as well, we see the predictive use of the word "vihayeeta."

When Hashem speaks of the punishments that will follow those who do not uphold the Torah, He says (Deut. 28:37):

"And you will be an astonishment, a proverb and a byword..."

And for a final example that clinches the proof that "vihayeeta" is a prediction and not a command (Deut. 28:34):

"And you will be insane..."

Certainly it is not a mitzvah to be "meshuga"! It is a sad prediction of what will occur if we do not keep God's Torah.



But there is another fallacy with interpreting the word "vihayeeta" here as "you shall."

How can we be commanded to be happy? Joy is an emotion. An individual cannot be commanded to have an emotional feeling as he could be commanded to act in a certain way. Therefore, Rashi says this is not a command; rather, it is a promise.

But can you ask question on this latter point? Does the Torah, in fact, not command us to be happy?

Hint: Look several verses above.

Your Answer:

An Answer: In verse 16:11 it says:

"And you shall rejoice before Hashem your God..."

Also verse 16:14:

"And you shall rejoice in your holiday..."

So we have two verses that do command us to be happy.

Can you differentiate between them and our verse?

Your Answer:



An Answer: These two verses designate where we are to be happy - "visomachta lifnei Hashem" ("before Hashem") and when - "visomachta bichagecha" ("on your holiday"). In this way these verses contain within them the behavioral prescription for producing this happiness. "Before Hashem" means in His Temple and His City, by partaking of the Holiday sacrifices. Likewise, by designating "on your Holiday," the Torah tells us that the joy is expressed in a behavioral way, not just as an internal, phenomenological state.

Notice that the word "vihayeeta", "and you will be," is absent from these verses. That word connotes a state of being – you will be happy, more so than a state of doing. These verses say simply "and you shall rejoice." The precision of the Torah's choice of words never fails to amaze.

So much for Rashi's p'shat interpretation. Let us now turn to the drash and its difficulties.



In his second interpretation Rashi says: "according to its Talmudic interpretation, they learn from here that the last night of the Holiday is also included [in the command] to be happy."

What Talmudic question would you ask here?

Your Question:



A Question: There is a Talmudic rule of Biblical linguistics which states: "The words 'but' and 'only' (in the Torah) always exclude something."

So, how can our verse include the eighth day of the holiday to be happy, since it says:

"Vihayeeta ach somayach" - "And you will be 'only' happy"?

The word "ach" indicates we are to exclude something, not include something.

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:



An Answer: To answer this conundrum we need the brilliance of the Gaon of Vilna's insights. He points out that even though the word "ach" always excludes, in our case it includes the last evening of the Holiday for joy. How so? Since each of the previous days of Sukkos, the Jew rejoiced with his etrog and lulav and by sitting in his sukkah. But on the Eighth Day these mitzvot were no longer relevant. The Jew therefore had "only to rejoice" – his joy was exclusively dependent on the Holiday and on no other artifacts. Thus, the word "ach" remains an exclusive term – it excludes all other mitzvot and only Joy remains – in its full, unadulterated splendor on the last night of the Holiday!


Shabbat Shalom and A Chag Somayach,
Avigdor Bonchek


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