Slight divergences between the Torah’s words or phrases and Targum Onkelos’ rendering of them are often laden with meaning.
One such seemingly minor change is in the Targum’s translation of Moshe’s words: “Were we to slaughter the deity of Mitzrayim in their sight, will they not stone us?”
Moshe, of course, was replying to Par’oh’s suggestion that, if the nation’s Jews needed to have a festive gathering, they could hold it within Egypt’s borders. Moshe responded that, since animal sacrifices would be part of the celebration, and Egyptians worshiped sheep, the suggestion was a non-starter.
The Targum renders “will they not stone us?” as “will they will not say to stone us?”
Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop, zt”l, in Mei Marom, observes that Par’oh could certainly have posted soldiers to protect the Jews celebrating in Egypt. And so Moshe couldn’t really have expressed a fear of being attacked. He was expressing instead a refusal to get people upset.
How much there is to learn from this about middos, Rav Charlop muses. “Even when it comes to the greatest mitzvah, one should not do it in a way that causes others pain, even if there are no real repercussions.”
Obviously, there are mitzvos that might in themselves upset others; they must be performed all the same. But when a mitzvah or minhag might cause pain or outrage to some – kapparos in some public places is an example that comes to my mind – concern for the feelings of others are not something to be ignored.
© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran