What's Bothering Rashi? Parshat Bechukotai: My Covenant With Jacob
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Bechukotai(Leviticus 26:3-27:34)

My Covenant With Jacob

After the terrible curses that will befall Israel should they not adhere to God's mitzvot, we are given the silver lining that surrounds the curses. The following verse tells us that no matter what, God will not forget His people, Israel, because of His promise to the Forefathers. When we examine the following Rashi-comment, we will see how Rashi makes use of a Midrash.

Leviticus 26:42

"And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham will I remember and the Land will I remember."

 

RASHI

I will remember My covenant with Jacob - RASHI: Why are they listed backwards? As if to say: Jacob, the youngest, is worthy of that; and if he is not worthy, behold, Isaac is with him, and if he is not worthy, behold, Abraham is with him and he is worthy. And why is the word "remembrance" not mentioned in connection with Isaac? Since the ashes of Isaac (from the Akeidah) are seen before me piled up and placed on the altar.

 

WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?

Clearly what is disturbing Rashi is the backward listing of the Forefathers. Everywhere else in the Torah they are listed as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why is it described here otherwise?

Rashi tells us the logic behind this backward order. The merits of the Forefathers are mentioned here as justification for saving the people from total destruction, even though the people may deserve their punishment. The Torah seems to imply that perhaps if their sins are not too bad, then Jacob's merits alone can save them. But even if the sins are more grievous, then Isaac's merits together with Jacob's are needed to save them. And if the worst is anticipated, and Jacob and Isaac are not sufficient protection, then Abraham's merits can also be added to the scales. This will certainly be sufficient.

Let us compare Rashi's comment with his source.

 

RASHI'S MIDRASHIC SOURCE

Rashi's source is the Midrash in Vayikra Rabba. There it says:

"Why are the Forefathers listed backwards? To say: If the acts of Jacob are not worthy, the acts of Isaac are worthy, and if the acts of Isaac are not worthy, the acts of Abraham are worthy. The acts of each one is sufficiently worthy that the world can be saved for his sake."

Rashi's comment is somewhat different from the wording of the Midrash. What has he changed and why? First, what changes do you see?

Your Answer:

 

RASHI'S CHANGES

An Answer: The main difference seems to be that while the midrash summarizes by saying that the acts of each alone should be sufficiently worthy to save the world, Rashi leaves this out.

What might be an explanation for this?

Your Answer:

 

UNDERSTANDING RASHI'S CHANGES

An Answer: The verse says "I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember..." We see that the verse does not take each Forefather separately but cumulatively: "and also My covenant with..." This may be the reason why Rashi preferred to see the cumulative effects of the merits of the Fathers as opposed to their individual merits, which the Midrash stated.

The latter part of this comment also comes from Vayikra Rabba. The Midrash says:

"Why does it say 'remembrance' by Jacob and by Abraham, but not by Isaac? Rav Brechya said: Because he suffered from afflictions (i.e. he was blind). The Rabbis said: He saw the ashes of Isaac as if they were piled up the altar."

We see that Rashi chose the Rabbis' interpretation over that of Rav Brechya's.

Can you see what might have guided Rashi in this choice?

Your Answer:

An Answer: When Rashi uses drash he strives to use those that are closest to p'shat. The Rabbis' drash here explains why God did not need to say "remembrance" for Isaac - because his ashes were in front of Him all the time. Rav Brechya's drash, on the other hand, doesn't deal as directly with the issue of remembrance.

 

A CLOSER LOOK

It states, "the ashes of Isaac." This refers to the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham (the Akaidah). But in the end, Isaac was not sacrificed! There were no ashes! Yet here it says "the ashes of Isaac." Why?

This would seem to be the Midrash's way of saying: Abraham and Isaac's intentions were so sincere that God considered it as if they had, in actuality, gone through with the sacrifice.

 

RASHI AND P'SHAT

Rashi has made use of the Sage's drash to explain the unusual order of the listing of the Forefathers in this verse. It is a comment that exists somewhere on the continuum between p'shat and drash.

For an original p'shat interpretation of this problem, we can look to an early commentator, Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, one of the Ba'alei HaTosephos, born a hundred years after Rashi. He says, that since we are speaking of God remembering the Forefathers, and since Jacob was the last of the Forefathers, he is nearest in time to the present. Therefore, it would be easiest (in human terms) to remember him. Thus, Hashem says I will remember Jacob and, if necessary, I will even remember the more remote Isaac, and, if necessary, I will remember even the furthest back in time, Abraham.

Of course, while God's "memory" is not affected by time; nevertheless, the verse refers to His memory and inasmuch as "the Torah speaks in the language of man" this interpretation is a most reasonable p'shat explanation for the reversed order.

Yet Rashi has chosen the way of the Sages to combine p'shat and drash. This point is rarely understood but important to make: while Rashi establishes p'shat as a central feature of his commentary, nevertheless his version of p'shat is strongly influenced by the Sages' Midrashic interpretations. Frequently the Ramban will argue with Rashi regarding points of p'shat such as these.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: May 22, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Pinchas Kahn, June 9, 2005 12:00 AM

I just got around to reading the sheur on Bechukotai. It seems to me that
the issue of why Rashi added an additional medrash re the non mentioning of
remembering by Yitzchak may come from an entirely different direction,
rather that the usual focus of Rashi on explaing the pasuk.

The ashes of Yizchak are seen NOW, rather than by memory. And the ashes
are there, even though they never existed. Rashi was reacting to the
events in his day, the first crusade, when Jews and their communites were
being burnt & otherwise destroyed. The murder of children by their
fathers, so that they not be captured & converted by the Christians, gave
birth to a prolifilation of peyutim about akedadt ylizchak. In general,
Yizchak represents Am Yisrael. Rashi is therefore applying the pasuk in
prayer in his current situation. Now, in galut, is the time to remember
us, because now we are being killed & our ashes are collecting (in the
present) on the heavenly alter. [See last Tosafos in Menachot about
Michael, heavenly kohen gadol, bringing the souls of the righteous to the
heavenly alter.]
Pinchas Kahn
Haim Bajayo St. 10/1
Jerusalem 93145, Israel

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