To His Brothers
This week's parsha tells of Jacob's twenty years with his father-in-law, Laban. Years that were both stressful, because of Laban's deceitfulness, and blessed because Jacob's children were born during this period. When Jacob leaves Laban to return to Eretz Yisroel, he and Laban make a pact of peace, build an altar and eat together to seal the agreement over a festive meal.
We find the following verses, which speak of "brothers," but in each case Rashi interprets this word differently.
"And he (Laban) took his brothers with him and he pursued after him a seven day's journey and he caught up with him on Mount Gilad."
His brothers - RASHI: His relatives.
Again the word "brothers" in Genesis 31:46
"And Jacob said to his brothers: 'Gather stones.' So they took stones and made a mound and they ate there on the mound."
To his brothers - RASHI: These are his sons. For they were as brothers (to Jacob) who were ready to help in times of distress or war.
And again the word "brothers" in Genesis: 46:54
"And Jacob slaughtered on the mountain and called to his brothers to eat bread and they slept on the mountain that night."
To his brothers - RASHI: His friends, those who were with Laban.
What would you ask here?
Two questions: Three times the word "brothers" appears in this section and each time Rashi has a different comment. Why must he comment at all? If he does, why does he change the meaning each time?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
When Jacob calls to his brothers (Verses 46&54) we wonder: Jacob had only one brother, Esau, and he is not involved in this story at all. So who then, implicitly asks Rashi, are these "brothers"? When Laban took his brothers (verse 23), we also ask: Who are these brothers? The Torah nowhere says that Laban or his sister Rebecca had any other brothers. Again the question: Who are Laban's brothers?
The Second Question: Can you see why Rashi gives different interpretations to each of the three references to the word "brothers"?
Hint: See the context of each verse.
An Answer: Each case is different. In verse 23 when Laban pursued Jacob, "brothers" means relatives. It is most reasonable that in his fight with Jacob he would take only those whom he could be sure were loyal to him. The word "brothers" means relatives as we see when Abraham refers to his nephew Lot as his brother. (See Genesis 13:8.)
In verse 46 Jacob is enlisting people to help him build a mound. He couldn't ask Laban or his people for they were his antagonists at this point. So the only others ones around were Jacob's sons. They are considered brothers because they support him, not just as a child, but as a brother, with equal strength and zeal.
Verse 54 is an ambiguous verse. "Brothers" are mentioned, but neither Jacob nor Laban is mentioned. When Jacob was making a feast and invited "his brothers," it doesn't say whose brothers. Rashi tells us that "brothers" here refers to Laban's friends, not Jacob's sons, because Jacob did not have to "invite " his own sons (who were referred to as "brothers" in verse 46); Jacob would have his children attend the meal, he need not "invite" them. Or it would have been self-evident that Jacob's sons would participate (on Jacob's side) since it was a pact between Jacob's family and Laban. So these "brothers" must have been Laban's friends (remember Laban had no blood brothers.). Evidence that this refers to Laban and his people (and not Jacob's) can be seen from the following verse.
It says: "And Laban arose early in the morning..."
Rashi's sensitivity to contextual meaning leads him to clarify for us (who may not be as sensitive) the different meanings of similar words in the Torah.