Shemot III: Peshat as Self-Defense
ושאלה אשה משכנתה - במתנה גמורה וחלוטה, שהרי [כתוב] ונתתי את חן העם. כמו שאל ממני ואתנה גוים נחלתך. זהו עיקר פשוטו ותשובה למינים:Here, commenting on Shemot 3:22, Rashbam reveals another of his areas of concern: Christian use of Tanakh against the Jews. This verse features God telling Moshe that at the time of the Exodus, the Israelites will ask for expensive items of gold and silver from the Egyptians as they depart, and they will receive all of this bounty. The key question here regards the word ושאלה. This root often refers to borrowing, as it does in Shemot 22:13. If so, then the Israelites claim to be borrowing these items from the Egyptians and then make off with them in the dead of night. This was used by Christians to support the notion that Jews were inherently untrustworthy. Rashbam fights back, arguing that context here implies that the Egyptians gave all of these items as gifts and cites proof from another verse in Tanakh where שאל can bear this meaning. He thus simultaneously deciphers the peshat and refutes the Christian claim. Whether Rashbam is correct about peshat here is unclear. After all, Shemot 12:36 suggests that the Israelites took advantage of the Egyptians through this “borrowing”, and this was hardly extravagant payback for hundreds of years of slavery. [See also Shmuel’s comment justifying this class action on Pesahim 119a.] Indeed, in the present case, we may have a fair degree of apologetics at work. But what is clear is that peshat was used at times to battle Christian interpretation. Rashbam’s commentary on Bereishit 49:10 also uses peshat to fend off a Christological interpretation of Tanakh, and one can imagine how a return to “the plain sense” of Scripture would have been an effective tool in parrying theological attacks fueled by highly allegorical and metaphorical readings of the Bible.