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(5746) Rashi (Deut 29:10): "both your woodcutters"




1. On the verse (Deut. 29:10):

”Your young children, your wives, and your convert who is within your camps; from your woodcutters to the water-drawers”, (מֵֽחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ)

Rashi cites the heading:

“Your woodcutters”

and explains:

“This teaches that Canaanites came to convert during the days of Moshe, the way the Givonites came during the days of Yehoshua. This is why it is said, concerning the Givonites,"They, 'too,' acted cunningly." Moshe assigned them to serve as woodcutters and water-drawers.”

The commentators write that Rashi’s intent is like what is written in the Tanchuma:

“This teaches that Givonites came to Moshe and he did not accept them, as it is said "They too acted cunningly etc. What does ‘They too' mean? – To teach you that they came to Moshe and he did not accept them.”

Thus, in reality Moshe did not make a covenant with them. But rather, he - immediately - assigned them to serve as woodcutters and water-drawers.  In other words they remained servants to Bnei Yisroel.

However, since Rashi adds (to the Tanchuma)

“(The Canaanites came) to convert

and he omits (that what is written in the Tanchuma) that

“Moshe did not accept them”,

it proves that, according to Rashi’s view (in the simple understanding of the verse), that Moshe did accept them and they were actually converted.

However, according to this, one must understand:

  1. How does Rashi know, according to the simple understanding of the verse, that they were converted?

For seemingly it is the opposite:

Just as Rashi’s conclusion is understood, namely that the “woodcutters etc.” are not from Bnei Yisroel, since the verse places them in a separate category, and does not include them in “every man of Yisroel”,

So too, one could seemingly conclude that they were not converts, since converts were already considered before this, as it states: “and your convert who is within your camps”.

And Rashi himself explains so in the Talmud:

“Since the “woodcutters” are named distinctly, it proves that they are not part of Klal Yisroel and they are not of the category of converts etc.”

  1. What is Rashi’s intent in writing “This teaches (that Canaanites came etc.)” and he does not write: “Canaanites came to convert etc.”
  2. Why does Rashi also cite (in the proof from what is written in Yehoshua: ‘They too acted’) the word “cunningly”? Even without this, his proof it is understood and clear?

2. The explanation in all this is:

In the simple understanding of the verse, it is proof that “your woodcutters” and “water-drawers” are a part of the Jewish people.

For immediately after this the verse explains the intent of “all of you” who “stand”

 (Which includes all the categories that are mentioned in the verse)

Namely, that it is: “that you may enter the covenant of the L-rd, your G-d, and His oath, which the L-rd, your G-d, is making with you this day, etc.” -in other words, a covenant to fulfill Mitzvot.

And from this it is proof that “your woodcutters etc.” are either in the category of Bnei Yisroel or that they are in the in the category of converts. For if this is not so (but they are, rather, servants etc) they do not have a connection – according to Pshat – to pass into the covenant of keeping all Mitzvot.

And since this is so, it is probable that they are considered converts: (because)

  1. From the commonality (tzad HaShaveh) of them in the verse. The categories: “your convert who is within your camps; from your woodcutters to the water-drawers” are all stated in the singular. Whereas the categories that were mentioned before this are all stated in plural.
  2. From the style of the wording from “your woodcutters to (ad/ עד) the water-drawers” it proves that the verse is continuing to explain the specifications of what was written before this: “and your convert who is within your camps”.

(For if this is not so, but they are completely separate categories, in and of themselves, it should have written like the wording of those that are previously (mentioned): “your woodcutters and your water-drawers”).

This is similar to what is written: “Every first-born in the land of Egypt will die, from the first-born of Pharaoh sitting on his throne, to (ad) the first-born of the (Egyptian) slave girl etc.” which are details of “Every first-born in the land of Egypt” which is stated before this.

(Another example is in Shmot) “If the stolen article is found in his hand (possession), an ox to (ad) a donkey to (ad) sheep, he must pay two live animals” etc.

However, according to this it is difficult:

Why does the Torah specifically specify these converts and take them out of the general category: “and your convert who is within your camps” -

For it is simple that there is no reason to exclude them from the general group, simply because they worked at these (difficult) jobs!?

One must therefore say that their status of conversion, is a separate category from (regular) “converts”.

And it is also understood that this special category of converts – was innovated (because of some situation that occurred) close to the time that Moshe stated: “You are all standing etc”

For if not so, the Torah should have specified the law of this special category of converts, in many places before this, where converts were mentioned in the Torah?

Therefore Rashi explains that since we find “a reference in Torah” (Chaver b’Mikra) to converts of a special category in (the book of) Yehoshua, it is probable that this special category (of converts), in the time of Moshe, was like them. In other words that the reason for their conversion was similar to the reason that caused those to convert at the time of Yehoshua, when Bnei Yisroel were preparing to conquer the land of Canaan –

Similarly, at the time of Moshe when Bnei Yisroel were preparing to enter the land of Canaan in order to conquer it, the Canaanites came to become converted and to join Klal Yisroel.

According to this, it is understood that they came to convert right before (Yisroel) entered the land of Canaan and only then was this special category of converts innovated. Therefore they are counted and considered (only) now as a group, in and of itself.

But it still is not understood.

What difference does it make, why they converted? At the end of it all, they are converts like all other converts. Why, therefore are they listed in a separate category?

One cannot say that it is coming to negate the supposition to say that they are not included in “your convert (who is within your camps) “. For what reason is there to make this assumption?

And just because it states that “they came to convert during the days of Moshe“, would one think that they are not included in “your convert who is within your camps“?

Therefore, for this reason Rashi precisely states in the beginning of his comment “This teaches that Canaanites came to convert during the days of Moshe“ and continues: “the way the Givonites came during the days of Yehoshua“.

In other words, the reason that the Torah delineates them into a different category , is to teach us (to tell us) that Canaanites come to convert in the time of Moshe etc. (and there are many things that the Torah does not expressly state, but rather alludes to), like all the occurrences that are told of, in the Torah.

And since it is not that straightforward, namely that in the words that are told to us, that the intent of the verse is to allude to the general occurrence and to its details, therefore Rashi adds:

“This is why it is said, concerning the Givonites,’They too, acted’ “

From this, it is a proof that a similar thing happened before, namely in the time of Moshe that the Canaanites come to convert.

Similar to what is stated here “woodcutters and water-drawers“,it is also expressly stated there that Yehoshua appointed then to be woodcutters and water-drawers. From the two verses together, the special manner of this conversion is clarified, and the intent of the words: “from your woodcutters etc. “ is understood

However, one could ask on this:

When the student sees what is told of the Givonites - that Rashi cites – one finds a contrary proof.

For in the time of Moshe, there was no occurrence such as this. For if we say that there already was an occurrence that Canaanites come to be converted in the time of Moshe etc., why does it state that “all the congregation complained against the princes“ in the time of Yehoshua? They acted properly, like Moshe had done. Moreover, Yehoshua should have answered them like Moshe did?

To resolve this Rashi also cites the words “(They too), acted cunningly“. Whereas in the time of Moshe, plainly that the “Canaanites came to convert”, with open intent. And one should not learn from the occurrence in the time of Moshe that Yehoshua also had to act accordingly. Therefore, “all the congregation complained“ in the occurrence of the Givonites and Yehoshua was not able to answer their claim by stating that Moshe acted so.

3. From the homiletic style of Torah in Rashi's commentary here (Yayina shel Torah):

There is a well-known saying of the Alter Rebbe on the verse “from your woodcutters to the water-drawers“ that:

  • “Woodcutters“ (מֵֽחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ) comes from the word “advice”  (עצה).  The intent of this is that we must “chop” (לחטוב) and remove (ולהסיר) the “advices” (העצות) that are from the “many thoughts in a man's heart“.
  • “Water-drawers” (שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ) means one must “drain out” (לשאוב) the water that "promotes the growth of all kinds of enjoyments“.

Yet it is possible and one could claim:

This is fine regarding “Yissachar”, namely those whose occupation is Torah study and each one is occupied with his own Torah study, fulfillment of Mitzvot and the Avodah of prayer. In such a case certainly there is a prohibition of mixing in one’s “many thoughts“ and his delight in worldly matters.

However, regarding “Zevulun”, namely those whose occupation is business, when he is occupied with “trade” (מסחר), including the times when he is eating and drinking etc. in this matter, since he is dealing with physical things, one must have the aid and reliance on his thoughts, and it matters that he should have pleasure in it. For this draws success “in all that you do”.

On this comes the lesson in Rashi’s commentary ““This teaches that Canaanites came to convert . . and Moshe assigned them to serve as woodcutters and water-drawers.”

This means that even the Avodah of a “Canaanite“ (according to the translation that it is a “trader”) , must in a manner of woodchoppers and water-carriers , as aforementioned .

And if one should rebut and claim, that this is an extremely difficult Avodah – namely to attain a level that, even in one’s physical aspects, one must completely rely and trust in G-d and not mix in his own thoughts and pleasures.

On this Rashi states “Moshe assigned them to serve as woodcutters and water-drawers “. Namely that the power for this comes from the level of Moshe that is within each person. And regarding “Moshe” (which is within the soul of each one of Yisroel), even the aforementioned Avodah is “a small matter” (מילתא זוטרתא היא).

MSichas Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech, 5729


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