In Devarim, 32:48, the pasuk uses the phrase בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה (on that very day). Rashi there comments

בשלשה מקומות נאמר בעצם היום הזה,

(: Heb. בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. In three places Scripture employs the phrase: בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה [which has the meaning, “at the strongest light of the day”].)

[text and translation from here.]

Rashi then goes to explain the 3 uses: Bereishit 7:13 (Noach entering the teivah), Shemot 12:51 (the Exodus), and the Devarim quote, Moshe's death. In each case the point is that Hashem ensured that the event took place at that time, over the objections of others.

This website points out that Rashi, in his count ignores Bereisht 17:23 (and 26). The meaning there apparently does not indicate any objection that Hashem had to overcome. Rashi's commentary has to do with the specific day and Avraham's circumcising despite the challenges of others,

On the very day that he was commanded (Mid. Ps. 112:2), during the day and not at night. He was afraid neither of the heathens nor of the scorners. [He circumcised in the light of day] so that his enemies and his contemporaries would not say,“Had we seen him, we would not have allowed him to circumcise and to fulfill the commandment of the Omnipresent” (Gen. Rabbah 47:9).

and later (17:26) simply an indicator of a particular day,

when Abraham reached the age of ninety-nine and Ishmael [reached the age of] thirteen,“Abraham was circumcised, and [so was] Ishmael his son.”

But there are also other uses of the phrase. In Vayikra 23, the phrase is used 4 times (21, 28, 29, 30) regarding the cessation of work on Shavu'ot and Yom Kippur and the self affliction on Yom Kippur.

While one could also say that these uses don't conform to the explanation Rashi gives so he doesn't include them, doesn't their existence indicate that Rashi's explanation is wrong? He identifies three uses and says that the uses point to the phrase's meaning, but ignores that the phrase is used 6 other times where its use DOESN'T point to that explanation. He draws a conclusion from an intentionally selective sample almost as if his conclusion came first (that the phrase had to mean something) so he only chose citations which support that conclusion.

Is there any explanation to Rashi's selective comments and his excluding examples when coming to a decision about the significance of the phrase? If the phrase more often DOESN'T mean "over the objections of others" why insert that understanding at all? Why not just say that the phrase means what it says -- precisely on that day?


The Sefer Zikaron explains that Rashi doesn't mean to suggest that these are the only instances of the phrase, nor that this is the only possible way of understanding its significance. Rashi is merely pointing out that in these three cases there is a similar meaning.

Other commentaries point out that these three cases involve [historical] occurrences that were dictated by God to occur specifically by day, unlike the case of Avraham who chose to do it by day on his own.

As for the necessity to explain a deeper significance to the phrase, the commentaries suggest that the word 'בְּעֶצֶם' doesn't add anything to the plain meaning of the verse, and therefore requires explanation.

  • But what is the value of an explanation which has value in a minority of the cases? There is no commentary about its use in the other instances! – rosends Nov 7 '16 at 17:23
  • @Danno This explanation does apply to the majority of cases (all of them, actually) where God dictated that a historical occurrence take place specifically during the day, which is all that Rashi (really the Sifri) is saying according to the commentaries mentioned above. If the Sifri was trying to give a one-size-fits-all explanation of the phrase, you would be correct that there would be little value, but it isn't - it's just pointing out that in this kind of context there is a common connotation to the phrase. – Jay Nov 7 '16 at 18:47
  • then the text should have said "this phrase happens 6 times and it means..." but instead, he says it occurs 3 times and gives an explanation (overcoming other challenges) which only applies to those 3. – rosends Nov 7 '16 at 18:50
  • @Danno No, it shouldn't have. There was no reason for the Sifri to mention those other instances of the phrase, as it was trying to demonstrate a link between only three of them - the only three which exist in the context mentioned above. So when it says 'this phrase occurs 3 times....', it is not attempting to give an absolute total of instances of the phrase in general, but only in that context. The other instances are irrelevant to the point it's making. – Jay Nov 7 '16 at 19:05
  • But if the explanation is to account for the use of a word and it is then applicable to all uses of the word then its logic should be relevant to the other cases. But it isn't. – rosends Nov 7 '16 at 19:36

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