Ask The Rabbi

"Naar-ish"

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Na'ar, Definition

Peter Persoff wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

You wrote that Isaac was 37 at the time of the akeida (binding of Isaac). I have heard that, but I always imagined Isaac to be age 13 at the akeida. I think the angel said "Do not lay a hand on the lad (na'ar)." How do we know Isaac's age, and why did the angel refer to him as a na'ar? Thank you for your email.

Michael Zidile from New York, New York wrote:

Hi. My name is Michael, and I am researching a topic: In Bereshet, the word na'ar (youth) and ish (man) are interchanged a lot, and I was wondering the possible reasons behind this. One example is when the Torah discusses Yaakov and Esav and uses the terms na'ar and ish.


Dear Peter Persoff and Michael Zidile,

Literally, na'ar means "a youth." It can also mean a servant or attendant.

The commentaries explain that na'ar generally indicates behavior rather than age. A na'ar is a person who shows youth in his actions. This is sometimes negative, as with Joseph, who was described as acting like an immature youth. Sometimes it is positive, as when describing Joshua who - at age 42 - is called a na'ar in reference to his serving and learning from Moses like a young student.

The Torah says that Yitzchak was born when Sarah was 90. Sarah died at age 127 when she heard about the akeida. Yitzchak was therefore 37 at that time.

Nachmanides points out that a child may be called na'ar from the moment he is born. He also points out that when na'ar is used in contrast to ish, the meaning is a subordinate (na'ar) in contrast to a superior (ish).

Sources:

  • Genesis 17:25, Exodus 33
  • Rashi, Genesis 23:2, 22:3 & Exodus 2:6, Chronicles I 22:5
  • Nachmanides, Genesis 21:9, 37:2, Exodus 2:6, 33:11
  • Ibn Ezra, Genesis 37:21


 
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