If I Had Eaten
Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, died while they were offering a self-initiated offering on the altar during the opening day ceremonies in the Tabernacle. Later, Moses looked for the sin offering which the Cohanim were to have brought that day and part of which they were to have eaten. Moses found that instead (because of the tragedy of the deaths) they had burned it (10:1). Aaron defended this decision (10:19). We quote Aaron's words, with the first word in Hebrew. He said (10:19):
"'V'achalti' the sin offering this day. Would it have been good in Hashem's eyes?"
On these words, Rashi makes a one-word comment.
"V'achalti" - Rashi: And if I had eaten (Hebrew: "V'im achalti").
Rashi added the one word "V'im" which means "and if." This means "And if I had eaten, would that have been good in Hashem's eyes?"
Why has he done this? And what does he accomplish with this small addition?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
Notice that the comment is short and Rashi weaves his word(s) in between the Torah's words. This is what I call a Type II comment. Such comments do not come to answer a difficulty in the text. Rather, they come to help us avoid a misunderstanding.
Which misunderstanding? Can you pick up the subtle point here?
THE POSSIBLE MISUNDERSTANDING
An Answer: The Hebrew word "V'achalti" can have one of two translations:
- "And I ate" (the "vav" meaning "and") This is past tense.
- "I will eat." Here the "vav" converts a past tense verb ("achalti" = "I ate") to a future tense ("I will eat").
Rashi chooses #1 above, leaving the verb in the past tense. But it can't literally mean "I ate" because they hadn't eaten it. That is what the argument between Moses and the Cohanim is all about - "Why did you not eat it?" So Rashi makes one slight addition "IF I ate" (or "If I had eaten"). He must add the "if" because in fact they had not eaten of the sin offering.
A Question: But why cannot this word "v'acahalti" mean "I will eat," choice #2 above? It would make sense in the context. Aaron is defending his action of not eating the sin offering by saying "And if I will eat it, will it be good in Hashem's eyes?"
Why doesn't Rashi choose that interpretation?
An Answer: You have to see the musical accent on this word. Notice it is placed under the letter "chaf" in the word "v'achalti." It is in the first part of the word. This means the word is in the past tense. If the accent had been under the letter "taf" – at the end of the word – then it would be future tense. The same word, but different accent changes its meaning. Rashi, of course, was aware of this. He based his short, incisive, comment on this grammatical point.
Rashi has taught us, indirectly of course, the importance of paying attention to the accent on words in the Torah. Not doing so can make a lot of difference. For example, in the Shema, which we say daily, there are several words where the accent makes all the difference. In the Shema we are told to wear Tefillin and to have Mezuzot on our doorposts.
Regarding Tefillin, it says (in Hebrew) "U'keshartam l'os al yadcha..." Regarding Mezuzot, it says "U'kesavtam al mezuzos baisecha..."
The words "U'keshartam" and "U'kesavtam" must be accented on the last syllable. This means "and you shall bind them" and "and you shall write them." If a person pronounced these words incorrectly with the accent on the first syllable ("U'keshartam" or "U'kesavtam") it would mean "and you bound them" or "and you wrote them." A very different meaning and a very incorrect reading.
We must always pay close attention even to Rashi's slight additions. They always convey an important point.