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

First Fruits

Passover (first day) (Exodus 12:21-51 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

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.

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) Aramite 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 Aramite destroyed my father" (Jacob). Here the word "oved" is translated as "destroyed," meaning that Lavan, the Aramite, who was Jacob's father-in-law, destroyed Jacob. The Aramite 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 Aramite refers to Jacob. They say the grammatical construction 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)".



A Question: Why did Rashi "mistranslate" this word?

A difficult question, indeed.

Your Answer:



An Answer: 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?

Hint: Look at the trop (musical notes).

Your Answer:


An Answer: 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. Without going into a complicated discourse on the various notes, we can say simply 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 Aramite - destroyed my father."

Had it meant "My father was a wandering Aramite" it should have had the words "Aramie oved" ( "a wandering Aramite") connected.

Thus, the musical notes support Rashi's (and the Midrash'a) interpretation, as opposed to Ibn Ezra and the Radak.

(For a more precise understanding of Rashi's grammatical understanding in this case, see the English translated Silvermann Chumash and his note on this verse).

Now let us see Rashi's comment in the Chumash:

Devarim 26:5

"My father was a wandering (lost) Aramite 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.

Let us now analyze this comment. Would you ask any questions on this comment?

Your Questions:



Some Questions:


  • Why is the issue of "kindness" mentioned here? What is bothering him that makes this comment necessary?



  • The verse says Lavan destroyed my father. Why does Rashi change this to "wanted to destroy" and then get involved with the idea that the intentions of the gentiles are considered by God as actions?



  • What is the reason that intentions of the gentiles are considered as actual deeds, while for Jews this is not so?




An Answer: Why is kindness mentioned? The whole section is one of thanksgiving to God. Rashi wonders, if that is so, why is the history of Lavan's aggression mentioned?

A second problem Rashi deals with is: Lavan never destroyed Jacob, how could the verse says, "An Aramite destroyed my father"?



An Answer: Rashi adds the kindness dimension precisely because mentioning Lavan's aggression is not consonant with a praise of thanksgiving to God (which this section is). Therefore, Rashi clues us in to the fact that these words actually all point to God's saving us from Lavan's evil plan. That was His kindness to the People of Israel.

Rashi also realized that Lavan never did destroy Jacob. (After Lavan pursued Jacob, God appeared to Lavan in a dream told him he cannot harm Jacob.) The next day when Lavan caught up with Jacob, they made a peace treaty. So why does the verse say he did destroy Jacob?

To this Rashi says: Although Lavan never even hurt Jacob – because God stepped in to protect him - nevertheless Lavan's evil thought was considered by God as if he actually implemented his plan. That is why Rashi mentioned this.



The verse seems to connect Lavan's actions and Jacob's going down to Egypt as if there is a cause and effect relationship here. But what has Lavan to do with Jacob's going to Egypt?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Actually, the next Rashi comment on the verse explains that these words refer to another travail – Pharaoh's enslavement. But we can find a connection between Lavan's actions and Jacob going to Egypt.

Remember, Lavan switched Leah for Rachel on Jacob's wedding night. That switch lead to a lot of family disputes. The sons of Leah, Jacob's first wife, vs. the son (Joseph) of Rachel, his beloved wife. Their jealousy led them to sell Joseph and led to his going down to Egypt. This, as we all know, led to Jacob eventually coming down to see his long-lost son. And that was the beginning of Israel's long servitude in Egypt. So there is a connection, after all.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Somayach,
Avigdor Bonchek

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