In Breishit 39:6 it says that Potiphar did not pay attention to anything that Yosef handled "except for the bread that he (Potiphar) eats."

"וַיַּעֲזֹב כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ בְּיַד־יוֹסֵף וְלֹא־יָדַע אִתּוֹ מְאוּמָה כִּי אִם־הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר־הוּא אוֹכֵל וכו'׃

Rash"i explains that here lechem is a "clean language version" for "wife". I read Siftei Chachamim's explanation on Rash"i, and I'm still puzzled as to why Rash"i doesn't go with the literal meaning that it means "bread" (or "food").

First - What would it mean to "eat" someone's wife? I.e. - if Rash"i is stating that the Torah used "Lashon Naki", he's implying that the other way is not "naki". But, "eating" one's wife doesn't sound like it means anything at all. How does Rash"i state that it's not "naki". And even if it weren't, how does Rash"i know that it means "wife"? It could be anything.

Second - Why couldn't it mean "bread"? After all, we see that when Yosef's brothers arrived and Yosef invites them to eat at his home, the Torah states that the Egyptians wouldn't eat bread with the Hebrews. Potiphar clearly knew that Yosef was a Hebrew and he wouldn't want Yosef touching his bread. So, why not go by the literal translation esp. where there is clear support for the idea?

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    Especially when the Torah uses it pretty freely like in "וַיָּשִׂימוּ לוֹ לְבַדּוֹ וְלָהֶם לְבַדָּם וְלַמִּצְרִים הָאֹכְלִים אִתּוֹ לְבַדָּם כִּי לֹא יוּכְלוּן הַמִּצְרִים לֶאֱכֹל אֶת־הָעִבְרִים לֶחֶם כִּי־תוֹעֵבָה הִוא לְמִצְרָיִם" Ber 43 or "וַיֵּשְׁבוּ לֶאֱכָל־לֶחֶם וַיִּשְׂאוּ עֵינֵיהֶם וַיִּרְאוּ וְהִנֵּה אֹרְחַת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִים" ibid 37
    – Al Berko
    Nov 29, 2018 at 23:20
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    For what it's worth, many languages use "eat" as a crude term for sexual intercourse. Nov 29, 2018 at 23:29
  • @AlBerko good proof, it is in fact used by many of the mefarshim to support their disagreement with Rashi mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Bereshit/39.6#e1n6 Nov 30, 2018 at 4:10
  • The reason they didn't eat bread together was because Jews ate lamb while for egyptians, it was their god; they couldn't tolerate the Jews because of this, not because they thought they were tameh. Leaving only the other explanation. See Rashi on the word to'eva in the case with Yosef and his brothers during the meal. Nov 30, 2018 at 9:46
  • Actually, it's B"R 86,6, not Rashi, he's seldom original. See the new link, also Sifarya's translation gives you the answer below.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 1, 2018 at 17:49

2 Answers 2


I assume that the answer lies three p'sukim later:

אֵינֶנּוּ גָדוֹל בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה מִמֶּנִּי וְלֹא-חָשַׂךְ מִמֶּנִּי מְאוּמָה כִּי אִם-אוֹתָךְ בַּאֲשֶׁר אַתְּ-אִשְׁתּוֹ


Neither has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife.

39:6 says Yosef had access to everything but Potifar's bread, and 39:9 says Yosef had access to everything but Potifar's wife. Rashi reconciles this by saying that "bread" in this instance must be a euphemism for wife.

  • It's an acceptable answer. But, it could be either definition as Potiphar didn't allow a Hebrew to touch his bread, either. Thus, it's curious as to why Rash'i opts for the other definition. BTW - It seems that Ibn Ezra is also puzzled by that interpretation.
    – DanF
    Nov 29, 2018 at 23:50
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    Many mefarshim say this, such as sifsei chachamim, kli yakar, etc. See also the Baal Haturim, who brings a Gematria to this effect. @DanF Nov 30, 2018 at 4:09
  • @רבותמחשבות Perhaps, what has me curious is the language usage. How does lechem become a "synonym" for "wife"?
    – DanF
    Dec 2, 2018 at 2:42
  • @DanF euphamism... Dec 2, 2018 at 2:59

The simple answer is that, as in most cases, Rashi is simply citing a Midrash. Bereishit Rabbah (Parshah 86) says:

ויעזוב את כל אשר לו ביד יוסף כי אם הלחם אשר הוא אוכל, לשון נקי

This is Rashi following his style of not being a strict pashtan, but instead incorporating midrashim into the Biblical narrative. Indeed, those rishonim who are more strict pashtanim (e.g. Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, etc.) do interpret "lechem" as bread. Ibn Ezra even adduces your second point as proof:

והנכון בעיני שכל אשר לו היה בידו חוץ מהלחם שלא היה אפילו נוגע בו בעבור היותו עברי כי הנה מפורש כי לא יוכלו המצרים לאכל את העברים כי פוטיפר ידע שיוסף עברי הוא וכן אשתו אומרת ראו הביא לנו איש עברי

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