Friday, June 17, 2005

Behaalotcha #2: Who Is The Naar?

When Eldad and Medad start prophesying in the camp, we find (Bemidbar 11:27):

כז וַיָּרָץ הַנַּעַר, וַיַּגֵּד לְמֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר: אֶלְדָּד וּמֵידָד, מִתְנַבְּאִים בַּמַּחֲנֶה. 27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said: 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.'
כח וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו--וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה, כְּלָאֵם 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: 'My lord Moses, shut them in.'
כט וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה, הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי; וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל-עַם יְהוָה, נְבִיאִים--כִּי-יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֶת-רוּחוֹ, עֲלֵיהֶם. 29 And Moses said unto him: 'Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the LORD'S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His spirit upon them!'
A literal translation of הַנַּעַר would be "the young man," not "a young man."

Who is this young man?

An open-canon approach allows that persons mentioned in a verse might not be mentioned elsewhere, and thus the identity of the person would only be found outside the canon of Biblical text. Adopting this approach, the young man is some young, random Israelite.

Chazal generally tend to assume a closed-canon approach - and so we would expect to be able to identify the young man with some other Biblical personality.

Add to this that the definite article, the heh hayedi'a, is used, perhaps suggesting that this is some known young man.

Rashi states that some say that this was Gershom, Moshe's firstborn. This would make sense in context - what identifiable young man would run to report to Moshe?

In the Sifri on Bemidbar, they report that some say that this was Yehoshua ben Nun, pointing out the pasuk in Shemot 33:11:

יא וְדִבֶּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ; וְשָׁב, אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, וּמְשָׁרְתוֹ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן נַעַר, לֹא יָמִישׁ מִתּוֹךְ הָאֹהֶל 11 And the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he would return into the camp; but his minister Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the Tent.
Thus, Yehoshua ben Nun is elsewhere identified as a naar, a young man. I would further say: He is also the known mesharet of Moshe, as we see both in this pasuk in Shemot and in one of the verses cited above in Bemidbar. We may add to this the fact that Yehoshua ben Nun is mentioned in the immediate context in Bemidbar, so if we are adopting a closed-canon approach, we do not need to look far for the young man's identity.

In the Sifri, Rabbi Shimon objects, based on the next pasuk:

כח וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו--וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה, כְּלָאֵם. 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: 'My lord Moses, shut them in.'
From the fact that Yehoshua is having this response, Rabbi Shimon says, we may deduce that the young man in the preceding verse is not Yehoshua.

I would answer to this that it is not uncommon to have a character first referred to without a name, and later refer to him by name. To throw out some examples, we have Moshe, we have Rivka, and best of all, we have Elimelech, Naami, Machlon and Kilyon.

Further, וַיַּעַן does not need to mean answer. Do a study of the root, and discover that it often means to speak up. So Yehoshua could speak up with his suggestion to Moshe of what to do, and need not be responding to the naar, who in this case would be himself.


Anonymous said...

Maybe this is not a good place to ask, but I'm confused on ages in Sh'mot. Moshe is said to have been 80 years old when G-d appeared to him in the burning bush. In the desert, he lived his years from 80 to 120. Would his first-born Gershom be young enough then to be called a "na'ar"?

joshwaxman said...

Interesting question. I'll see if I could find more on it, but off the cuff, I would point out that the Eldad and Medad incident in Bemidbar 11 seems to occur within the context of the quail, which in turn happened at Kivrot HaTaavah (see verse 34). They went to Chatzerot next (verse 35).

In Bemidbar 33 we have the list of encampments:
Ramses-> Succot-> Etam -> Pi HaChirot -> Marah -> Elim -> Red Sea -> Midbar Sin -> Dofka -> Alush -> Refidim -> Midbar Sinai -> Kivrot HaTaavah -> and on.

So of a total of 42 encampments, it was 13 encampments from the start, and 6 from the Red Sea. So without knowing the specific year, it seems fairly early.

Meanwhile, Yosef is called a naar even when he is explicitly 17 years old (see Bereishit 37:2). So it is possible for Gershom to still be young enough to be called naar.

Further, as I posted in this post on parshablog, firstly, naar can mean other things (such as servant), and further, according to traditional chronology, Binyamin is called naar even though he is 30 years old, and Yosef is called naar even though he is 28 years old.

I'll see if I can find more information about what year this is supposed to be, and how Gershom would then be.

joshwaxman said...

just a slight update:
According to Bemidbar 10:11 and on, we read that they left midbar sinai "in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony...And the children of Israel set forward by their stages out of the wilderness of Sinai"

If they went to Kivrot HaTaavah from there, it would seem possible that this happened in the second year, and so that would be fairly early - enough for Gershom to still be quite the youngster.


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