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Parsha and Manuscript: Toldot - ‘Do not go down to Egypt’

Thursday, 19 November, 2020 - 2:39 pm

MS. Canonici Or. 35 Toldos.pngIn the Torah portion of Toldot,[1] it discusses that after Isaac had given birth to Esau and Jacob and they had grown up, there was a famine in the land of Israel and he desired to find pasture for his flock and food in Egypt. It states:

 

There was a famine in the land—aside from the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham—and Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar. The Lord had appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land which I point out to you. Reside in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; I will assign all these lands to you and to your heirs, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven, and assign to your heirs all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your heirs— inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings.”

 

The question that arises is twofold: What prompted G-d to tell Isaac in the first place: ‘Do not go down to Egypt?’ There is no mention in the text that Isaac intended to go down to Egypt. Secondly, the biblical text does not give any rational reason why Isaac should not go down to Egypt in a time of famine, especially taking into consideration that Abraham and Jacob went down to Egypt to found food when there was a famine in Israel.[2]

 

The Midrash explains the reason why G-d did not want Isaac to go down to Egypt was due to the fact that he was holy and, as an offering that may not leave the Temple inner courtyard, similarly, Isaac, who was born in Israel and was offered as an offering in the story of the binding of Isaac, was forbidden from leaving Israel. This is unlike Abraham and Jacob, whom both were permitted to leave the land in a time of famine.

 

This Midrash is found in Tanchuma and Genesis Rabba (64:3):

 

Do not go down to Egypt. Abraham went down, but Isaac did not go down. Now why did he say, not to Abraham, but only to Isaac: do not go down to Egypt? R. Hosha'ya said: The Holy One said unto Isaac: Because your father came to the land from abroad, he went down to Egypt; but, since you were born in the land of Israel and represent a pure burnt offering, how could you be going down? Ergo (Gen. 26:2): do not go down to Egypt.

 

The same interpretation is found in the commentary of Rashi: ‘Go not down into Egypt: Because he thought of going down to Egypt as his father had gone down in time of famine. He said to him, “Do not go down to Egypt for you are a burnt-offering without blemish and residence outside the Holy Land is not befitting you.”’

 

MS. Oppenheim 34 Toldot.pngSix variants in the Rashi manuscripts

 

In the comment of Rashi, however, there are six versions in the manuscripts:

 

1.     In the printed edition above, as well as MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425),[3] the comment is a single comment addressing the Biblical words: ‘Go not down into Egypt.’

 

2.     In MS. Oppenheim 14 (1340)[4] and MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408),[5] it is found in two comments with the second comment being introduced by repeating the complete citation of the biblical text: ‘Do not go down to Egypt.’

 

3.     In MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225),[6] MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400),[7] however, the comment is divided into two different citations of the biblical verse: The first comment addresses only the first half of the imperative in the biblical text: ‘Go not down’(al tered) – commenting: ‘because he thought of going down to Egypt as his father had gone down in time of famine.’ It is then followed by a separate comment citing only the word: ‘into Egypt’ (mitzrayma) - commenting: ‘for you are a burnt-offering without blemish and residence outside the Holy Land is not befitting you.’[8]

 

4.     This division of the citation of the biblical text into two comments: ‘Do not go down’ and ‘to Egypt’ is also how it is found in MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396),[9] though in this manuscript the second part of the comment does not appear to be a stand-alone comment but rather integrated into the same comment. The comment nonetheless appears to be divided into two parts: the first addressing ‘Do not go down’ and second part addressing the word: ‘to Egypt.’ This is also how it is found in what is considered the earliest manuscript of Rashi - MS Leipzig 1.[10]

 

5.     In MS. Michael 384 (1399),[11] a further version is found: it is a single comment citing first only the words: ‘Do not go down’ but integrates the word: ‘to Egypt’ in the comment itself pertaining not to the command to Isaac to not go down to Egypt, but rather to the conduct of Abraham who did go down to Egypt. The phrasing of the comment is as follows: ‘Because he thought of going down as his father had gone to Egypt in time of famine. For you are a burnt-offering without blemish and residence outside the Holy Land is not befitting you.” By placing the words ‘down to Egypt’ before ‘in time of famine’ it clarifies that the intention of the words ‘to Egypt’ is not a separate citation of the biblical verse before offering a reason why Isaac should not go down to Egypt but rather part of the statement about Abraham who did go down to Egypt.

 

6.     A further minor variation is the spelling of the Hebrew word ke-diy – befitting. In MS Leipzig 1, MS. Oppenheim 34, MS. Oppenheim 14, MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 and MS. Michael 384 it is spelt with two of the Hebrew letter yud. In MS. Canon. Or. 81 it is spelt with just a single yud. This is also how it isspeltin MS. Michael 384 (1399), in the statement: ke-diy (single yud) she-yitol Yaakvo ha-brachot.[12] In the printed edition and MS. Canonici Or. 35, it is spelt with alef and yud.

 

Discrepancies between Rashi and Midrash

 

Leaving the final linguistical variant above aside, what is the reason for these variations? I would like to argue that the editors of Rashi are struggling with making sense with the comment of Rashi pertaining to how Rashi is citing this interpretation from the Midrash. While the comment of Rashi is broadly a collection of Midrashic and Talmudic teachings, his citation of text from the original Midrash is in many cases different to how it is found in the original text of the Midrash or Talmud, thus forming a unique exegetical commentary.[13] Rashi would have reworked the text in a way that is either more concise or more consistent, in his view, with how it is fits more with the literal meaning of the biblical text or for pedagogic reasons or otherwise. In this case, the Midrash is addressing the question: why the distinction between Abraham who went down to Egypt in the time of a famine in Canaan, whereas Isaac was prohibited from doing so. Rashi appears to be addressing the same question. The comment of Rashi as explained in the supper-commentary of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi[14] in fact adds what is missing in the comment of Rashi from the text of the Midrashic teaching. He explains that the underlying analogy of Rashi is arguing that Isaac was compared to a burnt offering that is prohibited from leaving the Temple courtyard. Similarly, Isaac was prohibited from leaving Israel. While this is the context of the Midrashic interpretation, it ignores, however, the fact that the text of Rashi uses different language than the Midrash. Rashi states: ‘Residence outside the Holy Land is not befitting you.’ This phrase is not found in the Midrash. A further discrepancy is the citation from the biblical text: in the Midrash the citation is the biblical text: ‘dwell in this land,’ while the citation of Rashi is: ‘do not go down.’[15]

 

It would seem that it is these discrepancies that it causing the copyists of the commentary of Rashi in the manuscripts to vary in the text of this comment. In the context of the commandment not to leave Egypt there are three ways to present the idea: 1. Remain in the land, 2. Do not leave the land, 3. Do not go down to Egypt. In the first, the emphasis is the importance of staying in the place where one is. The second is not to leave to outside it. The third is defined by the place where one is heading to.

 

It would appear that the versions of Rashi that opens with only: ‘Do not go down’ and ‘to Egypt’ is a completely separate comment, is suggesting that the commandment of G-d is fundamentally not to leave Israel, due the holiness of Isaac and the land of Israel. It’s not so much about why Isaac should not go down to Egypt per se. The versions that cite from the biblical text ‘do not go down to Egypt’ implies that the comment of Rashi is addressing why Isaac wanted to but was not permitted to go down to Egypt.

 

History of Rashi’s text

 

Based on this, we would like to outline the history of the text of Rashi and explain the underlying though process in the variants. The initial text, as found in MS Leipzig 1 and MS. Canon. Or. 81, most likely would have opened with only the citation: ‘do not go down,’ with the aim of explaining that this implies Isaac in fact did desire to leave Israel for Egypt, similar to Abraham who went down to Egypt in a time of famine. In this context, the words ‘to Egypt’ is part of the justification for Isaac’s desire to leave Israel – he was behaving similar to Abraham, who also went down to Egypt.[16] Although, in this version, the word ‘to Egypt’ appears after the words: ‘in time of famine’ – it would have been clearer to have stated them in the reverse: ‘Because he thought of going down as his father had gone down to Egypt (1) in time of famine (2)’ - nevertheless, the words ‘to Egypt’ is in fact part of the sentence about Abraham, who did go down to Egypt in the time of famine, as opposed to the commandment to Isaac to not go down Egypt.

 

This understanding of the text of Rashi is clarified in MS. Michael 384 (1399), where it in fact states ‘to Egypt’ before ‘in time of famine:’ ‘Because he thought of going down as his father had gone to Egypt (1) in time of famine (2).’

 

The order of the words in MS Leipzig 1 and MS. Canon. Or. 81, with ‘to Egypt’ after ‘time of famine,’ however, may have led to the version of the manuscripts that places ‘to Egypt’ as belonging to the second half of the comment, or in a separate comment, pertaining to the reason why Isaac may not leave Israel.

 

This was later clarified in the later manuscripts, MS. Canonici Or. 35, and the printed edition, that includes the complete citation of the biblical text in the opening of the comment: ‘do not go down to Egypt’ or by repeating the whole citation a second time, as found in MS. Oppenheim 14 and MS. Oppenheim 35.

 

Underling issue

 

As mentioned, the difference between these versions relates to how to precisely describe the problem why Isaac should not to leave Israel. According to the Midrash, it is fundamentally about the holiness of the land of Israel that Isaac should not leave such a sanctified place, even temporarily, being that he has also been declared holy, since the binding of Isaac. This is reflected in the versions of Rashi that only cites ‘do not go down’ in the opening of the comment, while the words: ‘to Egypt’ (mitzrayma) is presented as pertaining to the statement about Abraham, who did leave Israel for Egypt. In this context, the concern for Isaac is, like the view of the Midrash, fundamentally about the holiness of the land of Israel – a place that he should not depart from.  

 

The versions of Rashi - MS. Canonici Or. 35 and MS. Oppenheim 14, as well as the printed edition - that cites the whole statement: ‘do not go down to Egypt’ expresses the problem of being outside the land of Israel, as opposed to saying something about the nature of the holiness of the land of Israel itself.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, we have presented a citation of the Midrash found in the commentary of Rashi about why Isaac was commanded not to leave Israel in the time for famine for Egypt but while the Midrash focuses on the commandment: ‘dwell in this land,’ Rashi quotes from the verse the negative commandment: ‘do not go down to Egypt.’ We find five versions in the manuscripts how Rashi cites this biblical text. We argued that the variants in the manuscripts reflect a struggle among the copyists in trying understand the view of Rashi on this subject, in light of the discrepancies between his comment compared to the original teaching found in the Midrash. This can be generally divided into two categories: a. the view that the principle commandment is to remain in Israel and not to leave, due to the holiness of Isaac and the land, thereby explaining the minimalist text that only cites ‘do not go down,’ while ‘to Egypt’ relates to the statement regarding Abraham who he did go down to Egypt. b. The second view is that the principle commandment is to not go down to Egypt, but is not intending to state a pronouncement about the holiness of the land that in the view of Rashi may not yet have been present in the time of the Patriarchs, until after Mount Sinai.[17]

 

 

 


 

[1] Genesis 26:2.

[2] Genesis 12:10 and 46:6.

[3] Fol. 31. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/2919ef13-b210-404c-85f1-0d06860ec752.

[4] Fol. 28. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/8ebfaf0c-9b2a-4ceb-af3b-08602793a7c6.

[5] Fol. 16. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/d83ec5f8-295e-4a01-9ce6-f920166b2314.

[6] Fol. 16. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/Discover/Search/#/?p=c+0,t+,rsrs+0,rsps+10,fa+,so+ox%3Asort%5Easc,scids+,pid+4a83e8ab-6ca2-45c2-b24d-7a53736a5d13,vi+90fb7824-61b9-4a45-aebd-b798c58c3fdf.

[7] Fol. 13. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/2afc2113-f13a-47e2-9413-8e9e388bce23.

[8] An additional variant in MS. Oppenheim 34 is that the text replaces ‘in time of famine’ with ‘in the days of Pharaoh.’

[9] Fol. 24. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/629db8db-d88d-4fb1-bd30-e99d9033a85d.

[10] It’s possible to read this comment however as one comment, though it would have made more sense for ‘to Egypt’ to have come before ‘in time of famine.’

[11] Fol. 20. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/886a59c7-7396-45c4-bb8a-a4f02f041756.

[12] Fol. 20. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/de5adb4d-9fce-4140-af85-b3da8c7b48bf.

[13] Rashi, Grossman, Avraham, p. 88 (Littman Library, 2016).

[14] R. Elijah Mizrachi on Genesis 26:2.

[15] Likkutei Sichot 15, p. 200.

[16] Rabbi Judah Lowe elaborates that why Isaac is in the exact same circumstances as Abraham and therefore there is no reason to say that his case is different and should not be allowed to leave.

[17] Likkutei Sichot 15, p. 205. 

 

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