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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach 5781

Parashat Hashavua: Save?

Rav Yosef Carmel

Yaakov left his stingy father-in-law’s house as a rich man, with large flocks of animals, and these were accumulated with special divine assistance from the herds of Lavan’s sheep, through agreements that Lavan repeatedly changed. Yaakov called his wives to the field for a discussion of their situation of when and how to leave Lavan.

Yaakov told them: “Hashem was matzil your father’s livestock and gave them to me” (Bereishit 31:9). They responded: “All of the riches that Hashem was matzil from our father is for us and our children, and now all that Hashem has told you, you shall do” (ibid. 16). Usually the root of matzil means to save, but how was he saving the flock?! Perhaps it relates to the later use of the animals in Yaakov’s attempt to be “matzil” him from Eisav (ibid. 32:12), but that still does not explain what the usage of matzil is here.

Rashi and the Radak interpret the root as meaning to set off to the side. Actually, even the word saving means separating the potential victim from the source of the danger that affects him. Here, then, it would mean that the flock that might have been with Lavan was now moved to Yaakov. The Ibn Ezra explains the similar form of the root in regard to the riches that Bnei Yisrael got from the Egyptians before they left (Shemot 12:36).

The root also comes up in Shmuel (II, 20:6). The context is that David’s forces were having difficulty handling the revolt of Sheva ben Bichri, and David expressed concern that he would escape to a fortified city and be “matzil our eyes.” There, Targum Yonatan translates it as “they will cause us pain.” My student and colleague, Rav Dayan Menachem Jacobowitz suggested that since in Aramaic the letters tzadi and lamed can be interchangeable, the word can be used like matzir, which would really mean to cause pain. It is also possible that it is related to the word tzel (shade), implying darkness, which is often a metaphor for painful times (see Yeshayahu 8:22 and Tzofnat Yeshayahu, p. 257).

Rashi explained in the opposite direction, saying that there is an implied but missing word, and the concern was that Sheva would save himself from before David’s troops’ eyes. The Radak adds possibilities: he will remove our sight and knowledge, i.e., draw the people’s heart after him. The Ralbag understands that this latter approach can also be applied to our pasuk about Yaakov and Lavan.

We humbly present another two suggestions in regard to David and Sheva ben Bichri. It can mean tzel but not from the perspective of darkness but of protection. It is also possible that the pasuk uses lashon sagi nahor, i.e., it is written as a positive, which is a hint of an opposite negative that the pasuk would rather not mention.

This word is one more example of the richness of the Hebrew used in Tanach, which makes the learning of p’sukim more challenging … and rewarding.

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