Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
“But, as for you, your carcasses shall fall in the wilderness” (14,32), as the Targum has it: “Yours”. Since He had spoken of the children, of their entry into the Land and He wished, in contrast to say: But you shall die; the text employs the expression atem “you” (English Version: “But as for you”.) (Rashi)
a. Why does Rashi Quote Targum Onkelos?
At first glance at the Hebrew text it would seem that the personal pronoun “atem” is redundant. In addition, if a pronoun is called for, it should be a possessive pronoun - “shelachem” following the word “u’fig’re’chem”.
Rashi first cites Onkelos in order to render the definition of “atem” as having possessive meaning - i.e. as if it stated “shelachem”. Rashi is simply providing the correct meaning. In Tenach, you do find this stylistic double usage of a possessive pronoun in order to highlight the contrast between a statement and the context preceding it. See for example Song of Songs (1-6): ...they made me guard the vineyards; my own vineyard (carmi sheli) I did not guard.
b. Why did he not rest content with the Targum, but added his own words: “since He had spoken...” What did he wish to achieve by this?
Rashi then adds the additional comment to explain why the personal pronoun “atem” was used instead of the possessive “shelachem”. This usage renders the verse’s translation: “but as for you (atem) your carcasses shall fall in the wilderness.” Thus Rashi’s additional comment is to highlight the focus and context of the verse in contrasting the fate of the parents (verse 32) to the fate of the children mentioned in the previous verse.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem