Parsha and Manuscript: Vayigash - ‘He leads me beside still waters’

Thursday, 2 January, 2020 - 7:43 pm

MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188.pngIn the portion of Vayigash it discusses how Joseph provided food for Egypt, whereby it states first that he provided for his family:[1] ‘And Joseph sustained his father and his brothers and his father's entire household with bread according to the young children.’


It then continues with how Joseph sustained all of Egypt:[2] ‘So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in return for the horses and for the livestock in flocks and in cattle and in donkeys, and he provided them with food in return for all their livestock in that year.’


He guided them


The Hebrew term used for ‘providing for his family’ is: ‘va’yechalkel,’ which means ‘and he sustained,’ while in regard to providing for all of Egypt in exchange for their cattle it uses the term: ‘va’yenahalem,’ which means ‘and he guided them.’


The word ‘va’yenahalem’ can be found, in addition to our verse in Genesis regarding Joseph, in the following ten places:


1.     Genesis 33:14: Now, let my master go ahead before his servant, and I will moveitnahalah’ at my own slow pace.


2.     Exodus 15:13: With Your loving kindness You led (nachita) the people You redeemed; You led them ‘nihalto’ with Your might to Your holy abode.


3.     Isaiah 7:19: And they shall come and all of them shall rest in the desolate valleys and in the clefts of the rocks and in all the thornbushes and in all the shrineshanalolim.’


4.     Isaiah 40:11: Like a shepherd who tends his flock, with his arm he gathers lambs, and in his bosom he carries them, the nursing ones he leadsyenahel.’


5.     Isaiah 49:10: They shall neither hunger nor thirst, nor shall the heat and the sun smite them, for He Who has mercy on them shall lead them (ye’nahagem), and by the springs of water He shall guide them ‘yenahalem.’


6.     Isaiah 51:18: She has no guidemenahel.’


7.     Psalms 23:2: He leads me ‘yenahaleini’ beside still waters.


8.     Psalms 31:4: For You are my Rock and my Stronghold, and for Your name's sake, You shall lead me and guide me ‘u’te’nahaleini.’


9.     II Chronicles 28:15: And the men who were mentioned by name arose and took hold of the captives, and clothed all their nakedness from the spoils, and they dressed them and shod them and fed them and gave them to drink, and they anointed them and led them ‘va’ye’nahalum’ on donkeys, every feeble one, and they brought them to Jericho, the city of palms, beside their brethren, and they returned to Samaria.


10. II Chronicles 32:22: And the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria and from the hand of all, and He led them from ‘va’ye’nahalem’ roundabout.


MS. Michael 384, fol. 32 (1399) .pngRashi


In all the above cases, besides Isaiah 7:19, the term ‘va’yenahalem’ means: ‘lead’ or ‘guide.’ This suggests that this would be the literal meaning also in our case: ‘and he guided them with food.’ Indeed, Rashi clarifies this in his commentary:


And he provided them: ‘va’yenahalem’ similar to (k’mo) ‘va’ye’nahagem’ and he guided them, and similar to this is “She has no guide (menahel)” (Isaiah 51:18),“ He leads me (yenahaleini) beside still waters” (Psalms 23:2).




The same text of Rashi can be found in almost all the Oxford manuscripts, including: MS. Oppenheim 34 (1201-1225), MS. Oppenheim Add. 4° 188 (1301-1400),MS. Canon. Or. 81 (1396), MS. Michael 384 (1399), MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425). In addition, the same precise text is found in: Leipzig B.H.1.


In a single 12th century manuscript of Rashi found at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, known as OX Corpus Christi 165,[3] there is a slight variation, where the commentary of Rashi omits the words: ‘similar to’ (k’mo) between the word as found in the verse: ‘va’yenahalem’ and the word we are comparing the word to for the correct translation: ‘va’ye’nahagem.’ The text of Rashi in this particular manuscript reads:


And he provided them: ‘va’yenahalem,’ va’ye’nahagem’ and he guided them, and similar to this is “She has no guide (menahel)” (Isaiah 51:18),“ He leads me (yenahaleini) beside still waters” (Psalms 23:2).


The question we would like to pose is why is there this subtle difference in the text of Rashi between the manuscripts?


OX Corpus Christi 165.pngInterpretations


There are a few interpretations to the term ‘va’yenahalem’ in the context of Joseph providing food to the Egyptians:


a. Onkelos translates the term that Joseph sustained them with bread.


b. Italian Biblical commentator Rabbi Ovadia ben Jacob Sforno (1475-1550) compares the term to Isaiah 40:11 explaining that it suggests Joseph guided them in the manner in which the food should be eaten in a time of famine – a little at a time, to prevent contracting fatal illness.


c. Similarly, Rabbi Bahya ben Asher (1255-1340) suggests that Joseph guided the Egyptians how to eat the food in a manner that it should last a longer period and not be consumed or wasted quickly.


d. 19th century German Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, author of Biblical commentary Haketav VehaKabbalah, suggests that ‘va’yenahalem’ means literally to guide but is used not referring to the actual guidance but in the context of the intention of the guidance. In the case of Joseph this refers to sustaining them with food.


e. Italian Jewish scholar of the 19th century, Rabbi Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865), known by his acronym Shadal, translates the term as ‘sustaining’ and ‘strengthening’ them (kalkalah v’chizuk), referencing the above two sources in II Chronicles: ‘and led them (the weak) ‘va’ye’nahalum’ on donkeys,’ and ‘He led them from ‘va’ye’nahalem’ roundabout.’  


MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 26 (1201-1225) Vayigash.pngSummary


In summary, there are four ways to explain the term ‘va’yenahalem’ in the case of Joseph providing bread to the Egyptians: a. Literally, to guide them physically from a to b.  b. Ignore the literal meaning of the word –‘guide,’ as it doesn’t make sense in the context of giving food, and rather translate the overall context: he fed them bread. c. ‘Guide’ refers to the intent of the guiding: in Chronicles - to support the weak by guiding on donkeys those who couldn’t walk. In our case, to feed the hungry. d. Metaphorically: guide the people in what manner to eat the food.


The common denominator in all these interpretations is that none of them, besides the first, follows the literal meaning of the term: to guide a person from a to b, as the standard meaning of ‘guiding.’


Guidance - advice


Rabbi Bahya ben Asher and Rabbi Obadiah Sforno, however, apply the concept of guidance in a metaphorical sense – to give advice. In the case of Joseph, guiding the people how to eat the food in a time of famine.


From the above ten verses where the term is used, there are two verses that suggest a metaphorical or spiritual idea of guiding: 1. Isaiah 51:18: ‘She has no guidemenahel.’2. Psalms 23:2: ‘He leads me ‘yenahaleini’ beside still waters’.


She has no guide


The first verse - ‘She has no guide - has three interpretations: a. Ibn Ezra explains it refers to the Jewish people who have no king or judge to deliver them, like a woman who is helpless. b. Radak refers it to the Jewish people who cannot morally guide each other in exile, as everyone is equal in their evil ways. c. 18th century Biblical commentator Rabbi David Altshuler in Metzudat David explains that during exile the Jewish people have no leader.[4] In the above interpretations, ‘guide’ refers to spiritual guidance but not physically leading from one place to another.


He leads me beside still waters


The second verse - He leads me ‘yenahaleini’ beside still waters’ – also has a few interpretations: a. Ibn Ezra explains it as a metaphor, whereby David praises G-d for fulfilling all his needs as a good and compassionate shepherd and does not tire his flock taking it from one pasture to another - but rather allows it to rest by the still waters. b. Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser (1809 - 1879), known by his commentary the Malbim, explains: ‘He leads me ‘yenahaleini’ beside clear waters’ is a metaphor that G-d enables David to see clearly the path in which he will be able to fulfil his desire to leave being a shepherd and arrive at Saul’s home. This does not however mean leading one on a physical path. c. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, explains that ‘He leads me beside still water’ may not be read juxtaposed to ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures,’ but rather the beginning of the verse: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.’ In this context,

‘He leads me beside still water’ refers generally to G-d providing for all of David’s needs, similar to the general statement in Isaiah: ‘She has no guide,’ which is a metaphor for a judge or king, referring to the general state of the Jewish people, but not literally a guide from one place to another, even in the form of an allegory.


Rashi – two verses for guidance


Based on the interpretation of ‘guide’ in these two verses, we can understand Rashi’s suggestion of these two verses as suitable examples for the non-literal meaning of the term ‘guide’ in the context of Joseph providing food for the people of Egypt in exchange for cattle: he guided the people – not physically – but in what way they should eat the food, most economically, or otherwise in the wisest manner during a time of famine.




This may explain the two versions in the Rashi commentary. The printed version and the majority of the manuscripts state: ‘And he guided them: ‘va’yenahalem’ similar to (k’mo) the word ‘va’ye’nahagem’ (and he guided them), highlighting that in the case of Joseph, the terminologies are similar but not identical to the idea of literally guiding a person from a to b, as is the usual way to understand ‘va’ye’nahagem’ (and he guided them).


The version that does not write: ‘similar to’ but rather only states: ‘And he guided them’ - ‘va’yenahalem’ - and translates the word immediately by employing the related word‘va’ye’nahagem’ (and he leads them) – without ‘similar to’ in between, may be following one of the following considerations: a. it would follow the commentaries above that view the intention of the guiding (providing food) equal to the guiding. b. it may not make any distinction between metaphoric guiding and literal guiding. c. It may follow the view, although not the standard one,[5] that both words are indeed interchangeable linguistically, as the words, besides for the single Hebrew letter ‘lammed’ in ‘va’yenahalem’ and gimmel’ in word‘va’ye’nahagem’ are otherwise identical.






[1] Genesis 47:12.

[2] Genesis 47:17.

[3] Fol. 33a. See Likkutei Sichot 15:400 footnote 8 that references another manuscript of Rashi 1413 that also has the same version omitting ‘k’mo’ – ‘similar to.’

[4] Malbim explains it in the context of the Jewish people during exile not having anyone to guide them, similar to a drunk person that is unable to walk without a guide back home.

[5] The changing of these letters don’t follow the rules that only letters that come from the same part of the mouth may be exchanged. Sefer Yetzira 2:3. See Likkutei Sichot 15:400.


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