Another perspective on “other gods”

In my previous blog post, “Other Gods”, I posed a difficulty with Onkelos’ inconsistent translation of “other gods” in both verses in which they appear in the Ten Commandments.

After discussing my problem with my beloved Chavrusa, Rabbi Heshy Lowey, he shared an excellent explanation. Both verses read, “There shall not be to you other gods in my presence.” The term “Al Panai” is very problematic and Rashi offers his interpretation. According to Rashi, the intention of the verse is not to maintain idols in one’s possession ever. The Ramban claims, (in his commentary to Exodus), the Torah is saying we may not have besides Hashem other gods (elohim); we may not accept or believe in other gods and that includes all the angels on high and from among all the hosts of heaven, who are called elohim.

The Ramban concludes his thesis by saying that his argument is supported by Onkelos who translates: “You shall not have another god besides me.” Onkelos could not have understood the prohibition to be against possessing idols, as Rashi suggests, for then the words “besides me” would have no meaning. Rabbi Lowey suggested that the same argument can be used as to why Onkelos could not have translated :“the mistake of the nations,” as he usually does.

A Novel Approach to “Endowment”

At Shalosh Seudos this past Shabbos, I shared with the congregants a “cop” I had thought of many years ago when studying in Ponevez yeshivah. The author of the classic commentary on the Rambam, Mishneh L’Melech, Rebbi Yehudah Rozenes, authored an original classic work called, “Perashas Derachim”, a Biblical commentary composed of twenty-six “derashot”. It is considered a classic because it is a commentary on the Torah based on clear Halachic rulings, some of them completely novel[1].

In his fifth drasha Rebbi Rozenes makes the claim that the silver and gold vessels and clothing that the Jews took from the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 3:22; 11:2 [no mention of clothing!]; 12:34) were rightfully theirs in order to fulfill the requirement of endowment to a servant[2]. (He brings a Sifrei[3] and Rashi[4] as primary sources). He then claims that the animals that Moshe requested from Pharoh (Exodus 10:25) and actually received (Exodus 12:32, 38) were also rightfully theirs for the fulfillment of the “endowment” mitzvah. Nosson Dovid Rabinowich

Why the need for the animals to fulfill this commandment if it was already fulfilled through the vessels and the clothing? The Perashas Derachim resolves this problem by quoting a Mechilta[5] that claims the promise of Hashem to Avraham[6]: “and afterwards they will leave with great wealth” was fulfilled through this flock and cattle. Here too, the question must be asked, why couldn’t the promise to Avraham have been fulfilled by the gold, silver and clothing they had taken?

The answer Rebbi Rozenes claims is that the Mechilta agrees with the Sifrei[7] that the “great wealth” was halachically theirs due to the mitzvah of endowment and one cannot fulfill this commandment with anything that is not in the category of blessing, i.e., does not increase naturally.[8] Therefore, silver, gold and clothing cannot qualify as an “endowment”. Only through the cattle and flocks that they took from the Egyptians was the mitzvah of “endowment” fulfilled.

With proper respect to Rebbe Rozenes, I once suggested that since the Torah teaches us in this week’s parshah (8:4): “Your garment did not wear out upon you”, i.e., their clothing would grow with them, there is no reason then why the ‘endowment’ could not have been fulfilled through the clothing. Clothing that grows with it’s wearer is a tremendous intrinsic blessing and certainly qualifies.

My other serious difficulty with Rebbi Rozenes’ acceptance of the “endowment” approach of the Sifrei is that it seems to contradict the Babylonian Talmud’s understanding that the silver, gold and clothing (and, I will assume, flock and cattle) was the Jewish slaves’ salary for their two hundred and ten years of work.[9]

I welcome your thoughts.


[1] The famous Halachic authority, Rebbe Yosef Teumin, author of the classic “Pri Megolim” wrote and published a summary of the “Perashas Derachim.” An excellent edition of the work was published by Yitzchak Ohana in Jerusalem, 1992.

[2] Deuteronomy 15:14 : “Endow him generously from your flocks, from your threshing floor and from your wine cellar.”

[3] The Sifrei, noting the juxtaposition of the commandment of endowment to the following verse: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Hashem, your God, redeemed you: therefore, I command you regarding this matter…” makes the following point: Just as I “endowed” you in Egypt as it says (Ex. 12:36): “they emptied Egypt so, too, you should grant your servant an endowment.”

[4] Rashi, on this verse (Deut, 15:15) comments: I gave you two grants when you were slaves: from he spoils of the Exodus from Egypt and the spoils of the sea (Exodus 15:22, cf. Rashi’s comment there). Rashi’s comment is actually taken from the Sifrei and is simply suggesting that if a servant is very worthy, it is appropriate to give him a greater endowment as the Jewish slaves in Egypt received.

[5] Exodus 15:38

[6] Genesis 15:14

[7] In a future blog I hope to discuss in-depth the relationship between the Mechilta and the Sifrei.

[8] Cf. Kiddushin 16b

[9] cf. Sanhedrin 91a. Rebbi Rozenes himself quites the Gemara earlier in his drasha.