What's Bothering Rashi? Parshat Beshalach: Master of Wars
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Beshalach(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

Master of Wars

This week's parsha recounts the final hours of the historic Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites left Egypt in a cloud of glory, literally. The splitting of the Reed Sea was the climactic event culminating in a miracle-packed year when Pharaoh and his culture of magic were soundly defeated by the God of the Hebrews. At the crossing of the Sea when Pharaoh and his choice army were drowned, Moses and the People sang praise to Hashem: The Song of the Sea. In it we read the following verse:

Exodus 15:3

"Hashem is a man of war, Hashem is His name."

 

RASHI

Hashem is a man of war - RASHI: [The Hebrew 'Ish Milchama'] means the Master of Wars. As in (Ruth 1:3) "Ish Naomi" - "The husband (or master) of Naomi." Similarly, (in Kings 2:2 when David speaks to his son, Shlomo) "Be strengthened and be a man" meaning, "and be a strong person."

 

WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?

Rashi is translating the word "Ish" which literally means "man." He gives it the meaning of "master."

 

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question: Why is Rashi's translation, "master," better than the simple meaning of "man"?

What was bothering him about the word "man"?

Your Answer:

 

WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?

An Answer: Describing God as "man" is problematic. God is not a man. As the verse says "God is not man" (Numbers 23:19). If He is not a "man" why then does the verse refer to him as "Ish Milchama"?

How does Rashi's brief interpretation help us?

Your Answer:

 

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

An Answer: God is described here neither as a "man" in the sense of "man and not woman" nor in the sense of "man and not animal." The word is now translated as "master" one who is in charge of, in control of, wars. In this way we have avoided any possible anthropomorphism, that is describing God in human terms.

Can you see any other significance to Rashi's new translation?

Your Answer:

 

A DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE

An Answer: The words "a Man of War" convey the idea of an aggressive God, one whose chief characteristic and whose main pastime is making wars. This is not the Jewish view of God. But, in fact, it is the Christian view of the God of the Old Testament (i.e. as they see the Jewish view of God). It has often been said by gentiles that the Old Testament (the Tanach) conveys God as a cruel, unforgiving deity; a harsh disciplinarian. Many verses throughout Tanach can be cited that refute this claim. But this is not the place to go into that. It is enough to see how Rashi's sensitivity to this point may have prompted him to make this comment. God is not a "man of war" in the sense that He is occupied and preoccupied with making war. He is, rather, the Master of wars, in the sense that if wars must be fought, then His battles, which are on the side of justice and righteousness, are in His control. He is the Master of these wars and after the dust of battle settles, then His values will prevail.

Let us be blessed to live to see such Divine victories.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: January 15, 2005

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