Wednesday, August 03, 2016

ki na'ar anochi -- is there an age requirement to becoming a navi?

In the haftarah to Parshas Pinchas, Yirmiyahu says to Hashem that he is unfit to be a prophet because he is a “na’ar.” Most of the translations I’ve seen render this as “a lad” or “young boy“ or something similar. There are two problems with this translation:

Binyamin is called a na’ar by his brothers, but when he appeared before Yosef he was already married and had 10 children. Yosef is called a na’ar (“v’hu na’ar es bnei Bilha v’es bnei Zilpah…”) even though at that time he was a teenager. Yehoshua (“u’meshorso Yehoshua bin Nun na’ar lo yamish m’toch ha’ohel”) must have been a middle aged man and he is still called a na’ar.

Even granting the possibility that na’ar here means young man, why should Yirmiyahu’s age have been a barrier to nevuah? Radak points out that Shmuel was able to receive nevuah when he was very young -- why not Yirmiyahu?

Radak explains that the word na’ar means an apprentice or someone in training. Yehoshua was Moshe’s apprentice; Yosef may have been serving his older brothers, bnei Bilha and Zilpah. Yirmiyahu’s argument was not simply that he was too young to be a navi. What he was saying is that he was still merely an apprentice navi – there was someone above him, greater than him, who G-d should have chosen. This echoes Moshe’s argument that since Aharon was an experienced, established navi, there is no reason to select him to deliver G-d’s message.

I wanted to just add that this may not just be a practical argument, but it may be a halachic argument. The gemara (Meg 14b) asks how Chuldah could prophesize while Yirmiyahu, who was a greater navi, was around. (I’m not 100% sure I understand the gemara’s question – if G-d starts speaking to you, how can you not prophesize, regardless of how much greater others may be? I assume what the gemara means is that receiving nevuah requires some kind of prior preparation. If there is someone greater already acting as a navi, that bars others from making those necessary preparationsto receive nevuah themselves.) The gemara answers that since she was a relative of Yirmiyahu’s, he was mochel. It sounds like there is a din similar to that of moreh halacha b’makom rabo with respect to nevuah. Maybe this is what was bothering Yirmiyahu – as a talmid, or apprecntice navi, he was in a similar position as Chulda and al pi din had to defer to the greater navi.


  1. One non-dispositive datum: Miriam said a ne'vu'ah about Moshe as a small child. However, that was before matan torah.

  2. Anonymous5:33 PM

    RSRH explains Ve'hu naar ess bnei Bilhah ve'ess bnei Zilpah, by Yoseif, in his beautifully unique way. Hayah Ro'eh ess echav ba'tzon, his sole interaction with the brothers was limited to his occupation, ba'tzon. However, he'hu naar, socializing was only with the bnei ha'shfachos. Naar meaning acting his young age. Gut Shabbos.

  3. Ramban Vayeishev: ועל דרך הפשט איננו קשה שיקראנו נער והוא בן שבע עשרה שנה כי בעבור היותו קטן מכולם יקראנו כן לומר כי לא היה מתחזק כאחיו ויצטרך להיותו עם בני בלהה וזלפה מפני נערותו וכתיב ברחבעם בן שלמה (דהי"ב יג ז) ורחבעם היה נער ורך לבב ולא התחזק לפניהם והוא בן ארבעים ואחת שנה במלכו וכן השלום לנער לאבשלום ( יח לב) ובנימן ברדתו למצרים גדול ממנו ויקראנו נער פעמים רבים ואונקלוס תרגם והוא נער והוא מרבי עם בני בלהה יאמר כי מיום היותו נער הוא עמהם הם גדלוהו כאב והם ישרתוהו גם נכון הוא

    1. The pasuk by Yehoshua doesn't fit with this pshat so well though.

  4. The Gemara Sanhedrin 17a explicitly links Moreh Halacha Lifnei Rabo to Nevuah, says that Eldad and Meidad were "k'moreh halacha lifnei rabo", in regards to their prophecy.