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Machloket in the Chumash


Hope you’re doing well dear rabbi.

When I read the Chumash with a commentary, I see that rabbis have machloket all the time and they seem to ‘guess’ things, as if they’re not 100% sure on what they’re talking about. For instance; Rav A says “Oh, Jacob did this because of x”, and Rav B says, “No, that’s not the case. He did it because of y.” Now, this is an historical event we’re talking about. Both of them can’t be right at the same time. For instance:

Artscroll Chumash page 187:

“Why Deborah was with Jacob at this point is the subject of another dispute between Rashi and Ramban. Rashi cites R’ Moshe HaDarshan who states that she was the nurse Laban had given to Rebecca when she left to mary Isaac. (24:59). Rebecca — not knowing that Jacob was on the way — had sent Deborah to Haran to tell him that it was finally safe for him to return home, but the aged nurse died on the way home. Ramban maintains that it is unlikely that Rebecca would have sent an elderly woman on such a strenuous trip. He suggests that Deborah had returned to Paddan-aram after Rebecca’s marriage, but when Jacob left Laban, he took Deborah with him, so that in tribute to his mother Rebecca, he would support her childhood nurse in her old age.” end quote.

One of them is 100% wrong, no? So how am I going to trust the wrong side on everything else he says from that point on? And I’ve seen many times Rashi admit “I don’t know what this means”.

True, on some halachic issues they both can be right at the same time. But history is history. And it’s not like secular history. We’re not really sure what Napoleon did back in the day but we MUST be sure what patriarch Jacob A”H did.

Don’t Jews have the best mesorah in the world? An unbroken chain from Har Sinai? If yes, why isn’t everything crystal clear?

Thank you



Thank you for your important question. These topics need to be discussed and understood.

Before addressing your actual question, having an unbroken mesora doesn’t mean that we will know every single thing that happened with the avos. We don’t know what Yacov at for supper on any particular day, nor do we know who thier next door neighbor was. What we have to know about them we know, and whatever the Torah didn’t feel was important for us to know we don’t necessarily know.

But getting back to your question, you are correct, the Jews have the best unbroken mesorah, all the way back to Har Sinai, and in fact for close to thousand years there was practically no such thing as a machlokes about halachos, because the mesora was clear, even though it contained tens of thousands of halachos. It was given from Moshe to Yehoshua, etc. as delineated in Pirkei Avos. The oral law was handed down from Teacher to pupil in an unbroken chain, which is in itself magnificent. However, unfortunately Klal Yisroel went through very difficult times, and things did start to become unclear. Wherever there was a doubt the Mishna discusses it, and different opinions are stated. Then when things got even harder. Rabeinu Haladosh decided to even write it down on paper, in order to make sure that things stayed clear. Then later on Ravina and Rav Ashi decided that not only do the Mishnayos have to be written down, but even the explanation has to be written, therefore they authored the Talmud, which is an explanation of the Mishnayos.

The Gemora in Megilla 15b asks a question, “Why did Esther invite Haman to the fest that she made for King Achashveirosh”? The Gemora gives 11 answers from different Tannaim and Amoraim as to what they felt her intention was. Then the Gemora says that Rabba bar Avuha met Eliyahu Hanavi, and he asked him, what was real intention. Eliyahu Hanavi answered, “she had all of these intention in mind!”. Meaning that she had (at least) 11 reasons and calculation for what she did!

Regarding the fact that nowadays we don’t know everything, yes that is very true. We are not all knowing, even about certain things that happened in the Torah, and yes there are point, although minor, that we don’t know. This is one of the things that we lament about following the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash Eicha 2-9 “Malka visoreha bagoyim ayn Torah”. According to Targum Unkelos this means that since the Jews were exiled, the level of Torah knowledge has gone down. (This is referring to, even before the time of the Tannaim, we can only imagine what it was like before that.) IY”H Moshiach will come and everything will be clarified, but for the meantime, we have to do the best we can with the knowledge that we have.

Although the above is correct, nevertheless, the great sages were able to derive all of the oral Torah from the words of the written Torah. This needed tremendous depth in understand all the nuances of the text, comparing the text of different verses, and adequate knowledge of how to use the 13 principles of how to “darshan” (derive information from) the Torah. If a person in on the correct level he can do, as he Gemora says (Temura 16a) that Otniel ben Kenaaz was able to “bring back all of the halachos that were forgotten as a result of Moshe Rabeinu’s passing”. This was through knowing how to correctly study the passages in its proper depth.

Regarding what you write that they are “guessing”, I take issue with that. Rashi writes that he knows it from R’ Moshe Hadarshan. There are plenty of times that Rashi writes that he doesn’t know. Additionally, even the Ramban, if he didn’t feel very strongly that what he was saying is true he wouldn’t have offered an opinion. He was not forced to say something, and he can ask a question without “guessing” his own story!

Having said that, your question is really touching on an important idea regarding torah learning and how we understand numerous ideas that are brought in Chazal. There is a Gemora Gittin 6a-b, which discusses what happened regarding the story of “Pilegesh b’givah” the concubine wife that was killed, which caused a storm in Klal Yisroel. The Gemora discusses what happened. R Eviyatar says that he found a fly, and R’ Yehonatan says that he found that he had a hair in a very sensitive place, which causes him to get upset. The Gemora continues that R’ Eviyatar met Eliyahu Hanavi and asked him, “What are they doing now in the heavens? He answered him, they are now studying the story of Pilegesh b’givah, and Hashem said “Eviyatar my son says that he found a fly, and Yehonatan my son says that he found a hair”. To this R’ Eviyatar said “chas vshalom! Can it be that there is a doubt in heaven as to what happened”?! To this Eliyahu Hanavi answer “Elo v’elo divrei Elokim chaim”. That both opinions are “the word of the living G-d.” Now this Gemora needs understanding, it seems that the Tannaim were missing in their knowledge of Jewish history, and how can it be that there is an argument about a fact, either the fact is this way or the other way? Why don’t we say that one of them is 100% wrong? Nevertheless, from the above Gemora we see that Hashem doesn’t look at it this way, and indeed there is room for BOTH of them to be correct! The question though is, OK we will accept that both are correct, but how do we understand it?

The Gemora over there continues, that he found a fly and it didn’t bother him, but when he found the hair it did bother him. Therefore, indeed both happened, and we are not going to say that any of them are wrong, rather that both of them are correct, from the angle that they are seeing it, and there is room for both of them to be correct.

In general, the understanding of this is that when a person reaches a level of torah study and torah knowledge, that he can understand the words deeply, and derive his opinion from the words that are written, (which is a level that is way, way above us), if his understanding is solely in order to understand the Torah. Then his analysis of the words and understanding will be considered “divrei Elokim chaim”- a part of the living Torah! This is the general rule, then as a side point the Gemora goes on to explain to us how both can indeed be correct. However even if the Gemora wouldn’t have gone to the length of explaining to us how they are true, we would accept that as fact, and if WE don’t understand it, that is because we are not yet on the level to understand it, (And IY”H one day we will merit to understand it, if not in this world then in the next.)

Getting back to the technicalities of your question. The difference between Rashi, who is quoting R’ Moshe Hadarshan, (who definitely knew how to see this in the text), and the Ramban is that according to Rashi, Rivka sent Devora to get Yackov when she felt it was already safe, according to Ramban she sent her to Charan (which is in any case where Lavan lived and Yackov was) to live and Devora on her own decided to live in Yackov’s home and help with raising the children. It is possible that indeed both happened, for example, that Rivka sent her earlier to go back to Charan, and then later sent her a message to get Yackov. Or it could be that she was sent earlier, and she stayed there to help with the children and then came back with Yackov.

In the final analysis, what I am saying is only a suggestion, but what Rashi and Ramban are saying is truth. Both are correct, and if we merit it, then we will indeed understand it. By the way there are other explanations, but this will have to suffice for now.

May Hashem help us understand His torah correctly

Best wishes



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