These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on August 18, 2011 by Barer

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This week’s parsha continues with a lot of the same themes as the preceding two, including the second paragraph of the Shma which talks about the agricultural importance of keeping the commandments, as if the Israelites fail to do so, the land that they have come to rely on (which is explicitly differentiated from Egypt and extolled) will dry up and not provide for them.  However, at the beginning of the parsha Moshe seems to provide his own pessimistic prognosis of how this whole experiment will end.  He says “Ki [left untranslated for now] you say in your hearts ‘these nations are too much greater than me, how will I be able to drive them out?’” (7:17).  The word Ki can mean one of three things in Biblical Hebrew: because, when, and if/lest.  In this case, ‘because’ makes no sense, but ultimately the other two definitions both fit, while providing vastly different meanings.  The text continues: “Do not fear them, surely remember what Hashem your god did for you to Pharaoh and all of Egypt” (7:18).  So does Moshe intend to criticize the Israelites for the failure to live up to these commandments that he views as inevitable (which would be implied if reading Ki as meaning ‘when’) or is this simply a warning, in the case that any doubts creep into their minds (implied if Ki means ‘lest’)?  Interestingly, Rashi strongly asserts, in his comments to 7:17, that Ki means ‘lest’ and that Moshe couldn’t have been so negative as to claim that the Israelites were destined to fail.  Rashi even goes so far as to say that the other meanings of Ki do not fit with the verse that follows, which I find strange.  Further, in an aside he makes in his comments further down (7:22), he states that Hashem does know that the Israelites will sin.  I understand why Rashi wants to argue that Ki can only mean ‘lest’ but I find his argument unconvincing.

Will you or wont you?

Inheriting such a land

And all the rules, too