Biblical verse Ex02-20b
discussing Jethro's advice to his daughters who had been saved from
rude shepards by Moses states
And he said to his daughters, And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man?
Call him, that he may eat bread.
Rashi, commenting on the underlined phrase he may eat bread.
Maybe he will marry one of you. [The statement "eat bread"] resembles
the verse Gn39-06
And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand;
and he knew not what he had, save for the bread which he ate. And Joseph was handsome and good looking.
Notice how both verses - Gn39-06, Ex02-20b - refer to bread. Rashi interprets
the word bread as referring to marriage! To defend this he references Gn39-06.
Rashi on Gn39-06 states
Bread refers to his wife - the Bible used a discrete language!
In the preceding paragraph we have presented the basic Biblical and Rashi texts.
The verse simply said Jethro suggested to his daugthers to invite Moses for a meal.
However Rashi interprets bread / meal as referring to marriage. Here Rashi uses
symbolism. Bread has a soft texture like a woman. Freshly baked bread
is warm like a woman. Bread has other attributes associated with intimacy: For example,
lovemaking is metaphorically referred to as kneading.
Let us summarize:
This creates a problem. Why did Rashi deviate from the simple meaning of the text which causes,
in this case, no problems, and use a symbolic interpretation that is not warranted?
- The verse seems to say that Jethro suggested his daugthers invite Moses for a meal
- But Rashi says that Jethro was suggesting that they propose to him marriage for one of them
I would suggest, as we have often done in this list, that Rashi was not
providing an exclusive explanation of the verse but rather a supplementary
explanation of the verse. In other words we would translate the verse as ...and he said
to his daughters, "But where is he? Why did you leave the guy? Invite him over for a dinner-date.
Here by using the English idiom dinner-date we preserve both the primary meaning of the verse,
invite him for a meal as well as the secondary meaning of the verse have a date - maybe
he will marry one of you.
This use of simultaneous primary-secondary meanings in a Biblical text is particuarly
useful in verses requiring a symbolic interpretation.
In passing we notice how this verse gives advice for abusive women. While there are many groups
these days for abusive women I have not seen the Jethro incident cited. Quite simply since Jethro's
daughters were abused by the shepards. As a typical reaction of abuse they didn't want to associate
with any men. Their father, a Priest, acted as therapist. If someone treats you nicely you neend't
fear abuse. Start discretely with a dinner-date and let things develop.