This week’s parsha contains many famous and thought-provoking stories, but I would like to focus on what I see as an emerging motif in the Rashbam, where he criticizes his grandfather’s reading of a verse before offering an alternate interpretation which he sees as sticking more closely to the pshat, the simple reading of the text. In the blessing that Hashem gives Avram regarding the sojourning of his descendents in Egypt for 400 years, which will be followed by inheriting the Land of Cana’an, Hashem says: “And the fourth generation will return here because the sin of the Amorites is not complete until now [then]” (15:16). Rashi explains that the fourth generation refers to B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel), as after they are go down to Egypt, there will be three generations, and the fourth will inherit Cana’an. Rashi explains his theory by saying that Yaakov went down to Egypt, and Calev – the only other person besides Yehoshua to enter the Land who came from Egypt and did not die during the forty years in the desert – is four generations removed from Yaakov. However, the Rashbam does not think the verse is talking about Israelites here. There is a simple flaw with Rashi’s logic, in his mind: if the text just finished saying that the Israelites will be in Egypt for 400 years (15:13), why would it then also explain how many generations that works out to – in any case they will be there for 400 years! So instead, the Rashbam sees this verse as referring to the inhabitants of Cana’an, who will be driven out of the land after four generations. Yes, it’s true that B’nei Yisrael will return after four generations, but our verse is speaking from the perspective of the nations (specifically the Amorites) who dwell there currently. And why is it important that four generations go by between B’nei Yisrael going down to Egypt and the Amorites being kicked out of the Land? The Rashbam sees this as Hashem treating all peoples the same. In Shmot 20:5 it says that Hashem “visits punishment on the sons from the fathers for four generations to those who hate me,” which the Rashbam interprets as Hashem giving all sinners four generations to change their ways before punishment is visited upon them. So Hashem, though expecting that the Amorites would be kicked out when the time came, still gave them four generations with the chance that, if they changed their ways, they would not be expelled from Cana’an. I think that this interpretation is all the better because the Rashbam thinks that this is the simplest way to read the verse.
To correct our ways
We are all equal to God: