Tuesday, August 09, 2005

haftarat Matot: Yirmiyahu, Baby-Faced Prophet?

In Yirmiyahu's initiation prophecy, he protests that he is unable to deliver the message, just as Moshe, Yeshaya, and others protested. Yirmiyahu's protest is unique:

ד וַיְהִי דְבַר-ה, אֵלַי לֵאמֹר. 4 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying:
ה בְּטֶרֶם אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ: נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם, נְתַתִּיךָ. 5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.
ו וָאֹמַר, אֲהָהּ ה אלקים, הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר: כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי.
6 Then said I: 'Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child.' {S}
ז וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֵלַי, אַל-תֹּאמַר נַעַר אָנֹכִי: כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁלָחֲךָ, תֵּלֵךְ, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוְּךָ, תְּדַבֵּר. 7 But the LORD said unto me: say not: I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.
ח אַל-תִּירָא, מִפְּנֵיהֶם: כִּי-אִתְּךָ אֲנִי לְהַצִּלֶךָ, נְאֻם-ה. 8 Be not afraid of them; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.
ט וַיִּשְׁלַח ה אֶת-יָדוֹ, וַיַּגַּע עַל-פִּי; וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֵלַי, הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי דְבָרַי בְּפִיךָ. 9 Then the LORD put forth His hand, and touched my mouth; and the LORD said unto me: Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth;
What is meant by הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר: כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי, translated above as 'behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child?'

Literally, it means 'behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am a child.' This is generally taken metaphorically, on a pshat level. That is, he does not know how to speak impressively and eloquently. The young boy from the countryside, from Anatot {Yirmiyahu 1:1} is unsure of his ability to speak to his elders, and to the sophisticated people in the cities and in the royal court.

This is similar to Moshe, in his initiation prophecy {Shemot 4:10-12}:

י וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-ה, בִּי אֲדֹנָי, לֹא אִישׁ דְּבָרִים אָנֹכִי גַּם מִתְּמוֹל גַּם מִשִּׁלְשֹׁם, גַּם מֵאָז דַּבֶּרְךָ אֶל-עַבְדֶּךָ: כִּי כְבַד-פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן, אָנֹכִי. 10 And Moses said unto the LORD: 'Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.'
יא וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֵלָיו, מִי שָׂם פֶּה לָאָדָם, אוֹ מִי-יָשׂוּם אִלֵּם, אוֹ חֵרֵשׁ אוֹ פִקֵּחַ אוֹ עִוֵּר--הֲלֹא אָנֹכִי, ה. 11 And the LORD said unto him: 'Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh a man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? is it not I the LORD?
יב וְעַתָּה, לֵךְ; וְאָנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִם-פִּיךָ, וְהוֹרֵיתִיךָ אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר. 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt speak.'
Now, later, by Moshe, one might read further evidence that this is a physical malady. In Shemot 6:10-12:

י וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 10 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
יא בֹּא דַבֵּר, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם; וִישַׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאַרְצוֹ. 11 'Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.'
יב וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה, לִפְנֵי ה לֵאמֹר: הֵן בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא-שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי, וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה, וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם. 12 And Moses spoke before the LORD, saying: 'Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?'
but this might also be taken as feeling like an unsophisticated orator when having to face the cultural elite in Pharaoh's palace (this although he grew up in the palace!).

Turning back to Yirmiyahu, it is possible to take his statement absolutely literally. That is, he is having a conversation (in his prophetic dream) with Hashem, and when Hashem wants him to go out and prophesy, at this young age, he protests:

הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר: כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי - I do not know how to speak, for I am a child.

That is, he is literally a child, say, of 1 month old, or 1 day old, and does not yet know how to speak. Hashem responds that He will put the words in Yirmiyahu's mouth, and Yirmiyahu will say what Hashem wants. Just as Hashem can open the mouth of a donkey, He can open the mouth of an infant.

Indeed, Hashem's words to Yirmiyahu before he makes this protest reinforces this message, and perhaps even anticipates the question:

בְּטֶרֶם אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ, וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ: נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם, נְתַתִּיךָ - "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations."

That is, Yirmiyahu is sanctified and known to Hashem before birth, and perhaps was even so appointed as a prophet unto the nations since before birth. Thus, he might begin his prophetic career as a very young child.

This is not how any midrash or commentator I have seen take the pasuk, but the reading is there. (Not that I think this is the correct reading - but it is a potential reading.)

Perhaps this reading is what prompted the Koran to claim that Jesus spoke in infancy. Often, features from neviim are taken and attributed to Jesus. In Sura 19:
22 So she conceived him, and she retired with him into a remote place.
And the labour pains came upon her at the trunk of a palm tree, and she said, ‘O that I had died before this, and been forgotten out of mind!’
and he called to her from beneath her ‘Grieve not, for thy Lord has placed a stream beneath thy feet,
25 and shake towards thee the trunk of the palm tree, it will drop upon thee fresh dates fit to gather;
so eat, and drink, and cheer thine eye; and if thou shouldst see any mortal say,
27 "Verily, I have vowed to the Merciful One a fast, and I will not speak to-day with a human being."’
28 Then she brought it to her people, carrying it; said they, ‘O Mary! thou hast done an extraordinary thing! O sister of Aaron!
Thy father was not a bad man, nor was thy mother a harlot!’
And she pointed to him, and they said, ‘How are we to speak with one who is in the cradle a child?’
31 He said, ‘Verily, I am a servant of God; He has brought me the Book, and He has made me a prophet,
32 and He has made me blessed wherever I be; and He has required of me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live,
33 and piety towards my mother, and has not made me a miserable tyrant;
34 and peace upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up alive.’
35 That is, Jesus the son of Mary,-by the word of truth whereon ye do dispute!
Thus, Jesus speaks a few moments after birth, and when his mother is accused of adultery (verse 28-29), Jesus defends her, and announces he is a prophet.

Similarly, in Sura 5:
109 When God said, ‘O Jesus, son of Mary, remember my favours towards thee and towards thy mother, when I aided thee with the Holy Ghost, till thou didst speak to men in the cradle and when grown up.
though this last might be taken metaphorically. Finally, Yusuf Ali in his commentary on the preceding verses brings up Luke 2:
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
Perhaps they got this idea of an infant speaking from Yirmiyahu. Or perhaps in answer to Jesus' status of a shetuki {=one who knows his mother but not his father, from the word "silent," derived from the fact that if he asks about his father, his mother silences him; though Jesus' status would seem to be more extreme than that, given his mother's betrothed state at the time of conception} they make him not silent and able to answer for his parentage even though his mother is unable.

This idea is borrowed in the medieval, semi-pornographic work, "The Alphabet of Ben Sirah." (See here for a relevant quote.) In that work, which builds upon the Apocryphal book of Ben Sirah (Sirach), Yirmiyahu is forced to commit onanism when he chances upon, and rebukes, some evil men from the tribe of of Ephraim in the bathhouse committing this sin. He is despondent, fasts, and ritually immerses in the mikvah. His unmarried daughter immerses in the same mikvah soon after for the purpose of eating terumah (for Yirmiyahu is a kohen), and thus immaculately conceives. She, like Mary above, is suspected of sinning, but her son is able to speak from birth and defends her to the people, explaining who his father is and how his mother did not sin. (He later succeeds in a contest against the king's wise men.) We may even have a link here, because the Apochryphal Ben Sirah is authored by Jesus (Yeshua) ben Sirah, while here we have ben Sirah, with Sirah being Yirmiyahu.

This story also appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, about Merlin. Here, Merlin's mother was impregnated by an incubus, and a two-year old Merlin was able to defend his mother's virtue and save her from execution. Like Ben Sirah, he was able to best the king's wise men in a content of the mind. For more, see here, in an essay I wrote in college about Jewish midrashic sources for Arthurian legends.


Anonymous said...

You know, it hadn't even occurred to me that one could read hineh lo yadati daber as "I don't know how to speak" in a literal way -- but I like the connection you draw between that and the Qur'anic passage from which you quote. Fascinating stuff.

Josh M. said...

Your reading is supported by Yalkut Shim'oni 1:262 ( http://www.tsel.org/torah/yalkutsh/yermiyahu.html ) , which says that Yirmiyahu rebuked his mother when he was born (later explaining that he was directing his rebuke towards k'nesses Yisroel).

However, as an argument against the specifics of your reading, when do we ever find na'ar referring to an infant? To the contrary, Rashi makes a note of the Torah shifting from yeled to na'ar in its description of Moshe being found in the basket (v'tiftach va-tir'eihu es ha-yeled v'hinei na'ar bocheh), and notes that his crying was not that of a mere infant, but rather one of an older child.

joshwaxman said...

thanks for the references. I'll check out that Yalkut.

as regards naar referring to an infant, check out the Ramban on that pasuk - he gives several examples of naar referring to a newborn, and to someone less than 13 years old.

he writes: ולדעתי אין צורך לכל זה כי הילד מיום הולדו נקרא נער במו שנאמר...

His first example: Manoach asking how to treat the naar who is born. See Judges 13:8.
וַיֶּעְתַּר מָנוֹחַ אֶל-ה, וַיֹּאמַר: בִּי אֲדוֹנָי--אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַחְתָּ יָבוֹא-נָא עוֹד אֵלֵינוּ, וְיוֹרֵנוּ מַה-נַּעֲשֶׂה לַנַּעַר הַיּוּלָּד.

His next example is David asking for mercy for his newborn naar in II Shmuel 12:16:
וַיְבַקֵּשׁ דָּוִד אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, בְּעַד הַנָּעַר; וַיָּצָם דָּוִד צוֹם, וּבָא וְלָן וְשָׁכַב אָרְצָה

His next example is by Yismael.

His next example is by I Shmuel 1:24:
וַתַּעֲלֵהוּ עִמָּהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר גְּמָלַתּוּ, בְּפָרִים שְׁלֹשָׁה וְאֵיפָה אַחַת קֶמַח וְנֵבֶל יַיִן, וַתְּבִאֵהוּ בֵית-יְהוָה, שִׁלוֹ; וְהַנַּעַר, נָעַר.

where this was just after he was weaned.

Thus, there is ample precedent for naar to mean an infant. There is also ample precedent for naar to refer to someone much older than 13. (Yosef, Binyamin, for examples.)

However, within halachic definition, naar is a very specific age. This sets the stage for a hyper-literal reading, which we call midrash. Thus, that pasuk about Moshe is yet another example of naar meaning infant. Rashi does not come up with this on his own. Rather, he is citing a midrash from Sotah 12b.

But then, we have one midrashic reading (naar interpreted as older child by Moshe) against another midrashic reading (naar interpreted as infant by Yirmiyahu). Meanwhile, on a peshat level, either is acceptable. Midrashic conflicts are not bothersome - they are allowed and expected.

Thanks again for the reference to the Yalkut!

joshwaxman said...

for other readers of the blog, here is the relevant midrash:

ירמיה הנביא היה מארבעה בני אדם שנקראו יצירים, הראשון הוא היה אדם שכן כתיב וייצר ה' אלהים את האדם, השני הוא היה יעקב שנאמר כה אמר ה' בוראך יעקב ויוצרך ישראל, השלישי הוא היה ישעיה דכתיב כה אמר ה' יוצרי מבטן לעבד לו, הרביעי הוא היה ירמיה דכתיב בטרם אצרך בבטן ידעתיך. יציאתו של ירמיה לעולם זעק זעקה גדולה כבחור ואמר מעי מעי אוחילה חושש אני לבי קרבי זעו עלי שבר על שבר אני ששברתי כל הארץ, ומנין שאמר ירמיה כן שכן כתיב מעי מעי אוחילה קירות לבי הומה לי לבי לא אחריש. פתח פיו והוכיח לאמו, אמר לה אמי לא עברתני כדרך הנשים ולא ילדתני כדרך היולדות שמא היו דרכיך כדרך הסוטות ונתת את עיניך באיש אחר כהסוטה אחר בעלה למה אינך שותה המים המאררים העזת פניך, ומנין שאמר ירמיה כן שכן כתיב ומצח אשה זונה היה לך, כיון ששמעה אמו דברים הללו אמרה מה ראה זה לומר לי כך שלא בעונתו, פתח פיו ואמר לא עליך אמי אני אומר ולא עליך אמי אני מתנבא אלא לציון ולירושלים אני אומר שהיא מקשטת את בנותיה ומלבשתן זהורית ומעטרת אותם בזהב יבאו השונאים וישודדו בהם שנאמר ואת שדוד מה תעשי, אמר לו הקב"ה בטרם אצרך בבטן ידעתיך עד של יצרתיך במעי אמך מניתיך להיות מתנבא על עמי, וענה ירמיהו ואמר לפני הקב"ה רשבש"ע איני יכול להתנבאות עליהם אי זה נביא יצא להם ולא בקשו להורגו, העמדת להם משה ואהרן לא בקשו לרגום אותם באבנים, העמדת להם אליהו בעל קווצות היו מלעיגים ומשחקים עליו הרי מסלסל קווצותיו שמו איש בעל שער, העמדת להם אלישע והיו אומרים לו עלה קרח עלה קרח, איני יכול לצאת ידי ישראל לא ידעתי דבר כי נער אנכי, אמרה לו רוח הקדש הלא לנער אני אוהב שלא טעם טעם חטא גאלתי את ישראל ממצרים וקראתים נער שנאמר כי נער ישראל ואוהבהו. ובאהבת נער אני נזכר לכנסת ישראל שכן כתוב זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך, טול את הכוס הזה של חמה והשקה את הגוים, נטל ירמיה את הכוס ואמר למי אשקה תחלה אמר לו את ירושלים ואת ערי יהודה שהם ראש לכל הממלכות, כיון ששמע ירמיהו כך התחיל פותח פיו וארד את יומו שנאמר וארור היום אשר יולדתי בו, אמר ירמיה למי אני דומה לכהן (גדול) שעלה גורלו להשקות מים המרים וקרבו את האשה אצולו ופרע את האשה ופרסם את שערה נטל את הכוס להשקותה נסתכל בה שהיא אמו התחיל צווח אמר אוי לי אמי שהייתי משתדל לכבדך והרי אני מבזך, כך היה ירמיהו אומר אוי לי עליכי אימא ציון שהייתי סבור אני מתנבא עליך דברים טובים וניחומים והריני מתנבא דברי פורענות. ירמיה היה משלשה נביאים שנתננבאו באותו הדור, ירמיה, צפניה, וחולדה הנביאה. ירמיה היה מתנבא בשווקים. צפניה בתוך בתי כנסיות. וחולדה אצל הנשים:

Josh M. said...

Thanks for the sources - it occurred to me afterwards that Yeshaya 7:16 could also be a source for a young definition of na'ar, but the sources of the Ramban are clearer evidence.

joshwaxman said...

yes - that's also a good pasuk - though, as you mention, one needs slight outside reference to know at what age a child starts to eat curd and honey.


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