Thursday, June 16, 2005

Behaalotcha #1: Parsing Moshe's Prayer

Moshe has an extremely short prayer in this week's parsha, yet people still often get it wrong. What is the meaning of El Na Refa Na Lah?

I would say the simplest translation and parsing that comes to mind is: "God Please, Heal Please, Her." In part I would venture this comes from the song Yedid Nefesh, as usually sung: Ana, El Na, Refa Na, La.

The pasuk, in Bemidbar 12:13:

יג וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-ה לֵאמֹר: אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ 13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: 'Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.'
Looking at the trup (cantillation), there is an etnachta on the word לֵאמֹר, dividing the introduction in the verse from Moshe's actual speech. In the remaining half of the verse (Moshe' speech), there is a zakef katon on the word אֵל, a tevir on first נָא, a mercha and tipcha on רְפָא and נָא respectively, and the silluq (=sof pasuk) on the word לָהּ.

Based on the continuous dichotomy rules as laid out by Wickes, we first have:
אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ

Then, we divide this in two:
אֵל || נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ

so the word אֵל is off by itself.
(Feel free to ignore the justifications I offer in blue.)
(We know this because both the zakef katon and the tipcha are disjunctive accents which work to subdivide a clause ending in silluq, and for both to appear, the zakef katon must first subdivide - otherwise, we would have a different trup on the word אֵל, since the clause does not end anymore in a silluq.)

Of the remaining speech:
נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ

we subdivide as follows:

נָא רְפָא נָא || לָהּ
so the word לָהּ is off by itself, and נָא רְפָא נָא is off by itself.
(We know this because the only trup present which is a disjunctive accent which subdivides a clause ending in silluq is the tipcha, which is present on the second word נָא.)

Of the remaining speech:
נָא רְפָא נָא

we subdivide as follows:

נָא || רְפָא נָא
so the first נָא is off by itself.
(We know this because the tevir is a trup which is a disjunctive which subdivides a clause ending in tipcha, and that is on the first נָא.)

Of the remaining speech:
רְפָא נָא

there is no need for further subdivision since we only need subdivide clauses of three words or more. (Indeed, the trup on the word רְפָא is a mercha, which is a mesharet, or a conjunctive accent, serving a tipcha. So no further subdivision happens.)

In summary, then, with smaller numbers representing earlier, and thus more major, dichotomies, we have:

אֵל |1| נָא |3| רְפָא נָא |2| לָהּ

Or, using colons, dashes, and commas:

אֵל: נָא, רְפָא נָא -- לָהּ

So now we know the parsing. What about the meaning?

Rashi, who always channels midrashim, generally assumes that נָא means please. Here he says that this comes to teach us proper conduct - that one who wishes something from his friend should first introduce it with one or two entreaties and only then ask for the favor. He thus takes both instances of נָא to mean please.

Modern scholars say that נָא as please is rather late, and Biblical נָא means "now." Indeed, Onkelos consistently translates נָא as כען, which means "now," only occasionally translating it as please. Here, he translates the first נָא as "please" (בבעו) and the second as "now."

God, please heal now, her.

Note there seems to be a kerei and ketiv at play here. That is, why did Moshe choose specifically אל as the name of God?

Consider the context:

יא וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה: בִּי אֲדֹנִי--אַל-נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת, אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ. 11 And Aaron said unto Moses: 'Oh my lord, lay not, I pray thee, sin upon us, for that we have done foolishly, and for that we have sinned.
יב אַל-נָא תְהִי, כַּמֵּת, אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ, וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ. 12 Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.'
יג וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-ה לֵאמֹר: אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ.
13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: 'Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.'
That is, it is poetic repetition of Aharon's אַל-נָא, even as in those cases, the two words are placed together.

1 comment:

Nachman Levine said...

Hello Josh! And Mazal Tov!

I would argue for a closer reading of Rashi. While in 12:1 (Vetedaber) he says" "KOL NA lashon bakashah" in 12:13 ("Leimor") he reads the the prayer as a request for a response, and the response in 12:14 is: NOT NOW but in seven days (and see Hizkuni), making NA as now part of the body of the petition ("sheeilosav") and not a term of entreaty ("tachanunim"). And in Bereishis 12:11 (and other places Rashi reads NA as: NOW.

Thus Rashi writes here that one should precede a petition with "SHENAYIM SHELOSHAH divrei tacahnunim" =TWO OR THREE words of entreaty, since "E-il" is clearly entreaty, as is the FIRST NA, while the SECOND "NA" is ambigious (just as Onkelos read the first as Bevau and the second as ke-an) and even possibly having the effect of being multivalent.

As for the poetic reptition of Aharon's speech(and this may be one in 12:13 too) there is possible wordplay in 12:12. There is of course a third sense of "NA", used only once (ibn Ezra) in Shemos 12:8-9: "VeACHELU es HABASAR . . . AL TOCHELO mimenu NA" where it has the meaning of "CHAI" [raw] (Onkelos, Rashi, ibn Ezra). Thus in the unit Aharon's "paraphrase": "AL NA tehi keMEIS . . . VEYEIACHEIL hatzi BESARO" as a request for her flesh to be cured from MEIS to CHAI and Moshe's response plays on all three meanings.

Good Shabbos!
Nachman Levine


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