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I Will Write It In Their Hearts - Volume 1
Letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The interpretation of the phrase al picha yishak kol ami; guidelines in teaching Chumash to children

Translated by: Rabbi Eli Touger

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  An explanation of the Baal HaTurim's teaching as to why Moshe's name is not mentioned in Parshas Tetzaveh; whether the parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh date from before the sin of the Golden Calf or afterwardsTable of contentsOutreach among Jewish soldiers; whether the parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh date from before the sin of the Golden Calf or afterwards  

No. 58

This letter was addressed to Rabbi Y. Flier, a Jewish educator from Chicago.
B"H, Tuesday, 2 Adar II, 5703
Greetings and blessings,

In response to your letter of the previous week in which [you stated] that you interpret the verse (Bereishis 41:40): "Ve'Al Picha Yishak" as relating to the root, Neshikah, meaning "kiss," and bring support from the Midrash Rabbah, and the commentaries of the Ibn Ezra and the Baal HaTurim: Your rationale for giving such an interpretation is that it is not necessary to confuse a child by giving him a new meaning for a term when it is possible to explain it according to the meaning generally understood by the student.

There are, however, those who differ with regard to the interpretation of this term. And indeed, Rashi interprets eah as "provide for," citing [the description of Eliezar (ibid., 15:2) as:] h,hc ean ic, "the provider of my household." In your letter you did not mention the reason for the differing views, but it appears that their rationale is that Rashi interprets the phrase differently.

It is clear to me that [the fact that Rashi interprets the verse differently] is not sufficient reason [to reject an interpretation]. In particular, this is true when all that is involved is the simple meaning of the verse and not a halachic ruling. In his commentary, Rashi himself wrote his perspective [on the possibility for a variety of interpretations]; see his commentary to Bereishis 33:20 where he states that the words of Torah are like "a hammer shattering a stone,"[1] producing many fragments. [So too, the words of the Torah make possible various different interpretations.] Indeed, we find that Rashi's grandson, the Rashbam, wrote concerning him in his commentary to Bereishis 37:2: "Also Rabbeinu Shlomo, my grandfather ... acknowledged to me that if he had the opportunity, he would have written other interpretations according to the simple meanings of the verses which occurred to him every day." It is not necessary to elaborate further on such an obvious point.

The above applies to the question of whether one may choose an interpretation offered by the Ibn Ezra or another commentary rather than the interpretation offered by Rashi. With regard to the simple interpretation of the verse: eah lhp kgu, however, the matter requires consideration. For the Targum Onkelos, the Targum Yerushalmi, and Rashi all interpret eah as "provide for."

And the Targum - as understood by the Aruch, erech neshek - the Ibn Ezra (although the Ibn Ezra mentions the interpretation of eah as "kiss," he states that this is far [from the simple meaning], although he does cite [the interpretation of] Tehillim 2:12 which mentions the custom of kissing the king, and similarly Bereishis Rabbah, sec. 70, speaks of a kiss of greatness), the Rashbam, the Shorashim of the Radak interpret the term as meaning "arm."[2] All the commentaries that have been cited are the leading interpreters of the simple meaning of the Chumash.

The interpretation of eah as kissing, by contrast, I have seen at present only in Bereishis Rabbah and the Zohar (Vol. I, p. 196a). It is obvious that Bereishis Rabbah and the Zohar interpret the verse according to the disciplines of remez and derush.[3] And similarly, the commentary of the Baal HaTurim [is not intended as an interpretation of the term eah as "kiss"]. [Instead,] he is explaining the allusion that stems from the fact that eah is mentioned twice in the Tanach. It is not necessary that the interpretation of both terms be the same. For example, in the Torah reading under discussion, in his commentary to Bereishis 43:34, the Baal HaTurim notes that the term ,tan appears twice in the Tanach, in the verse cited and [in Eichah 2:14]: "false and deceiving prophecies (,tan)." In Bereishis, the meaning of the term is portions or presents, and in Eichah, the meaning is prophecies.

It appears to me that the reason why all of the above commentaries do not interpret eah as kiss is that, according to that meaning, the verse could be interpreted in [either of] two ways, [and each are problematic]:

  1. "Upon your command (lhp kg), all my nation will kiss me," i.e., Pharaoh, as the Matanos Kehunah interprets Bereishis Rabbah, sec. 91. According to this interpretation, the Chumash is lacking the word li, "me."

  2. "All of my nation will kiss [you] on your mouth." But [in other places], the Torah does not use the expression "[Kissing] on." Instead, we find the expression (Bereishis 27:27 et al.) "He kissed him," or Iyov 31:27: "And my hand was kissed to my lips." Although we do find this expression in the words of our Sages: in the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 2:9) "He kissed him on his head," and the Bereisa (Berachos 8b): "We kiss on the hand."

For this reason, it appears to me that hng kf eah should be interpreted as "provide for" as Rashi does or as "arm," although the latter usage is not found in another source without a nun. It should be explained to the students that the Tanach preserves only a small vestige of our [Holy] tongue, as the Rambam writes in his Introduction to Sefer HaMitzvos: "The wording of the books of the prophetic tradition ... is not totally within our grasp."

Certainly, you are aware that from Rav Saadia Gaon onward, [our Rabbis] counted and labored to interpret the rarely found words in the Tanach. See the bibliography in Otzar Yisrael, Vol. II, maareches bodedos.

With the blessing "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee

[P.S.] We hope that soon we will have [printed] some of the calendars for the upcoming days, and at that time we will send you twenty to the address you mentioned.

The Peshitsa renders the above verse as: "According to the word of your mouth will be administered the laws of the entire nation." Similarly, the Septuagint and the Vulgate interpret the term eah as "hearken." They explain the intent of the verse without interpreting the term literally. Even so, this explanation is closer to the meanings "provide for" or "arm," than "kiss." For according to the second interpretation, the intent is not hearkening to one's command, but rather "regard with honor."

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) [Yirmeyahu 23:29.]

  2. (Back to text) [For neshek also refers to weaponry.]

  3. (Back to text) [Which are non-literal interpretations of the Torah.]


  An explanation of the Baal HaTurim's teaching as to why Moshe's name is not mentioned in Parshas Tetzaveh; whether the parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh date from before the sin of the Golden Calf or afterwardsTable of contentsOutreach among Jewish soldiers; whether the parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh date from before the sin of the Golden Calf or afterwards  


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