Thursday, December 27, 2018

Moshe, Yirmiyahu, Gidon, and Spider Man

When Pharoah's daughter discovered a basket floating down the river, the Torah tells us, "VaTiftach va'tireyhu es ha'yeled," she opened the basket and saw a child, "V'hinei na'ar bocheh," and there was a lad/young man who was crying.  Rashi is troubled by the change in the description of who she saw/heard -- baby Moshe is described as a yeled, meaning a baby, and then as a na'ar, which is usually refers to an older child.  (Yosef as a teenager is described as a na'ar.)  Rashi explains the discrepancy by saying that baby Moshe, the yeled, had the voice of a na'ar, a more mature child.  Ramban takes issue with this interpretation, as it would be abnormal for a baby to have such a voice.  Ramban writes that it was not the tone of voice which the Torah is describing as being that of a na'ar, but rather it is the intensity of the crying.  Seforno writes that the cry was a purposeful cry, not the random crying of an infant.  Kli Yakar takes it a step further and suggests that Moshe was crying over the plight of Klal Yisrael, not a baby's crying for it's own needs. 

Obviously Kli Yakar is projecting onto baby Moshe some of what made mature Moshe into "Moshe Rabeinu" our leader, similar to the way Rashi explains that when Yocheved saw that her baby was "tov" it meant the house was filled with a special light, not just that this was a good baby.  I would contrast this stream of parshanut that sees Moshe's greatness as inherent from birth with interpretations like that of Maharal and Oznayim laTorah who write that Moshe's parents are described simple as a nameless "ish m'beis Levi" who married a "bas Levi" because these could be any man/any woman -- there was nothing inherently special about Moshe's family or background.  Greatness is achieved and earned and is therefore accessible to all, not bestowed or granted on a predetermined recipient.  L'havdil eleph havdalos and then some, one of the reasons Spider Man is such a great movie (I refer to the 2002 version, not the  garbage that came later) is because we get to watch Peter Parker, an ordinary teenager, grow into a superhero.  Modern readers/viewers like to watch our heroes develop, not appear fully formed, inherently gifted, from the get-go.  I don't know if readers in earlier ages shared that same preference.  In Tanach we find both models, e.g. Yirmiyahu is told by G-d that from conception he was chosen as a prophet, yet, we have heroes like the shofeit Gidon who seems far from the first , ideal choice to be a leader yet nonetheless he got the job.  It would be interesting to do a fuller study of the idea of a leader in Tanach and see which of these two models -- greatness inherent from birth vs greatness acquired over time or through struggle -- predominates.

Getting back to our story (we are getting to the good part), Chizkuni and others offer a different solution to the textual problem Rashi raised.  They suggest that yeled and na'ar refer to two different people: Moshe is the yeled who bas Pharoah sees in the basket; the na'ar who is crying is Aharon, who is distressed over his brother's plight.  R' Josh Hoffman a"h (netvort 5767) suggests a beautiful reading of the latter part of the pasuk in light of this Chizkuni.  "Va'tomer mi'yaldei ha'ivrim zeh" -- bas Pharoah recognized this as a Jewish child not because of seeing baby Moshe, but because she heard this na'ar bocheh, because she heard Aharon's crying!  Who else but a Jewish child would shed tears not because of his own needs, not because of his own suffering, but simply because he empathizes with the plight of a fellow Jewish baby.  Nosei b'ol im chaveiro is the hallmark of Klal Yisrael. 


  1. couldn't then the Torah use 'yoneik' (Bamidbar 11:12) for Moshe and 'yeled' for Aharon (who although 3 years old hardly cuts the figure of "a teenager"/na'ar), or yoneik and olale (Yirmiyahu 44:7)? or maybe olale and yeled?

    "she heard Aharon's [empathic] crying!"

    his reward: v'dibeir-hu lecha el-ha'am v'haya hu yeeyeh-lecha l'peh, 4:16

    {'your local boy Parker, "a superhero"? tell that to L.A.; tell it to the old man [Joseph Takagi] who just got his business suit stained bigtime. bigtime.' J. Mc.}

  2. This may be relevant to your most interesting piece

    She opened [it], and she saw him the child, and behold, he was a weeping lad, and she had compassion on him, and she said, "This is [one] of the children of the Hebrews. From the Children of the Hebrew is this"

    After being placed in a Teiva which was put in the water, Pharaoh`s daughter comes by and rescues the young boy. Upon opening the basket she sees ‘a naar bocheh” a crying naar” and says [lit] מילדי העברים זה from the infants of the Hebrew –is this. Curious, is that she spoke a more lengthy phrase- from the infants of the Hebrew –is this/he, rather than simply saying –ivri hoo or yeled ivri zeh.

    Another [point to bring up regarding] [curiosity in] this passuk is the discussion in the Gemora (sota 12a) regarding the correctness of using the word naar (והנה נער בכה) which is typically associated with an older boy. Moshe was now only three months old, more appropriate would have been “hayeled boche, the infant was crying (just as passuk, begins and ends with a word bearing that root; hayeled, miyaldei). Rebbe Yehudah explains that though he was a yeled, a mere infant, he cried like a naar –with a more developed and mature voice. To this Rebbe Nechemya responds; if so, then you have turned Moshe Rabbenu into a person with a defect! Rebbe Nechemya therefore offers an alternative explanation for the use of the word Naar.

    Why was it important for Moshe to have already had, from infancy, a more mature voice and why did Bas Paraoh say the unwieldy phrase; From the Children of the Hebrews is this [one]"

    Rav Meir Shapiro [of Daf Yomi fame in Imrei Daas and in attachment # 8] explains, that an infant cries [instinctively] when they are in need/when their needs are unmet. Be it the change of a diaper or needing to be fed, an infant knows only his wants and needs –and reacts accordingly; they are completely self-absorbed, focusing solely on their own comfort. When taken care of and provided for, nothing bothers them; they are happy and content, satisfied and quiet. Any tears they cry are for themselves and their unmet needs or discontent.

    A naar however, an older boy, can look outside himself and see the distress of another. A teenager, and even a younger child can know when something is amiss and their parents are silently struggling or dealing with a pressing issue. They are able to feel the pain and concern, not only of themselves –but even of others. The tears they cry, may not be for themselves but for others. They can experience and feel pain at the awareness of the deep distress of another.

    That the basket floating in the water, and as Rav Shapiro writes, moving in the waves, carried a crying infant inside. Those cries and any accompanying tears, makes perfect sense/ is perfectly understandable; the baby within was in mortal danger. But after having been retrieved by Bas Paraoh, she saw a strange sight. A (now) perfectly safe child was crying. No danger existed, yet the crying continued. She realized, writes Rav Shapiro, that the child was not crying because of its own hurt and pain, but of the pain and suffering if its nation. Although miraculously saved from his own danger and distress, the child inside was consumed with thoughts of the other children that have been being killed or were being now thrown in the river? The cries she heard were not those of a self-absorbed infant, a yeled, but the empathetic cries of a Naar who was thinking of others. She therefore said (the more cumbersome) “miyaldei haivrim zeh” the cries (of this/zeh naar) are from the Hebrew infants/miyaldei Haivrim. The child was crying, not of its own suffering, but for the suffering of the other yaldei haivrim, Hebrew infants.

    Even in his infancy/yaldus, Moshe had a keenly developed concern for others, and much like an only-older-Naar –felt their pain and cried for them.

  3. do we find here in a single pasuk, where a yeled becomes a na'ar, the progression that bas Paro saw when she opened the teva (when her prophetic eye was opened)? a progression that includes the youthful Moshe striking the Mitzri dead*?

    this** bas Paro, who was she?

    if Paro was the Voice of Egypt, then she was, yes, a bas kol! a bas kol announcing here--without a single word--that the beginning of the end of our oppression would come from in the king's own palace.

    this bas Paro, who was she?

    who was she to experience such vision? none but the daughter of a yefas to'ar, of an unsung Es'teir whose suit of sackcloth was no deterrent to Paro's ever watchful minions (who'd one day glimpsed the unfortunate Hebrew at her ceaseless labors, and bore her away...)

    *why though did she envision Moshe crying (bocheh)? because he'd just killed a man (Ariel's agonized burst of tears after shooting 'Mara', in the film A Stranger Among Us, amply demonstrates this phenomenon)

    **true there're many midrashim about bas Paro, but the Torah has 70 faces! (and some say, as many facets as would fill 70 gigabytes)

    --like the ben sorer u'moreh who, born of a union with a yefas to'ar*, would grow up to kill*, so Moshe ["L'havdil eleph havdolos"], the foster grandson of such a union ["L'havdil..."], would grow kill! *Rashi, Dev. 21:11; San.72a

    {J. Mc. would be sore bigtime at a misquote of him in comment one the other day, which should read 'your homeboy Parker', rather than 'your local(??) boy'}