Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Divrei Yirmiyahu

Last year, Josh Waxman at parshablog made an interesting post (which he reposted this year) in which he suggests that Yirmiyahu's complaint "Lo yadati dabeir ki na'ar anochi" - "I cannot speak, for I am a child" is not merely a figurative statement that, because he is young and from the countryside, he does not have the necessary speaking skills needed to be a prophet, but rather it is a literal statement that he is physically unable to speak - in other words, that is a young infant who is physically unable to speak. See there for the full post.

In a comment there, I provided both an additional support and an attack on his contention. On the one hand, Yalkut Shim'oni Yirmiyahu 1:262 mentions a prophecy that Yirmiyahu delivered immediately after his birth:

"My mother! You have not conceived me like the normal way of women, and you did not bear me like the normal way of childbearing women. Perhaps you are like a wayward woman, and you have set your eyes upon another man, like a Sotah? Why do you not drink the accursed waters of the Sotah? You have been very brazen!"

When his mother protested her newborn son's false accusations (especially in light of that he shouldn't be speaking at all at this age), he responds that he is referring to Tzion and Yerushalayim, not to her, his physical mother.

Hence, we see a Midrashic source which supports the possibility that Yirmiyahu's call to prophecy was when he was in utero (as opposed to his merely being designated as such at that time, as in v. 5).

However, I'm not sure how well this reading of the verse in Yirmiyah works. My impression is that the word na'ar refers more to a lad or a teenager - examples of the word's usage include Yishma'el (at age 14, when he was sent away by Avraham) and Yosef (at age 17). The word is used by Moshe when he was found by Bas-Par'o (Sh'mos 2:6 - va-tiftach va-tir'eihu es ha-yeled v'hinei na'ar bocheh), but there, Rashi comments on the strange usage of the word, and explains that, while he was only a yeled, his cries were stronger, like those of a na'ar; this implies that the word usually refers to an older child.

I do not have a concordance handy (is there a good Hebrew one online?), but one possible argument against this contention of mine is Yeshaya 7:16: "For before the lad knows to reject evil and choose good, the land which you fear shall be abandoned of its two kings". Here, it would seem that na'ar can also refer to a very young child, although it would seem to still be one who is able to talk.

Update: In a response to my comment, Josh W. quoted the Ramban on the above verse in Shmos, who brings several clear proofs that na'ar, indeed, can refer to a newborn child, as well as to an older child.

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