Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Treats for the Shabbos Table: Biblical Birthdates - Revisited

I opened this blog in July of 2008 and it just recently reached its 6-month "anniversary". Based on my Site-meter reports, I cannot say that the size of my readership is anything to brag about but it certainly has grown since the early days of its existence.

So, for those of you who have joined us more recently, it is probably safe for me to rehash one of my earliest Parsha posts from my opening salvo. Our challenge in this post was to resolve an apparent inconsistency in the Torah. I originally posted it during Parshat Maasei because one of the fuses to the "time bomb" is found in that Parsha. Also, because the other primary Parshiot - this week's Parsha, VaEira, as well as Parshas Ki Tisa - were 6-8 months away at the time.

Let's rehash the puzzle from the frame of reference of this week's Parsha.

The Torah tells us (Shmos 7:7) that Moshe was 80 years old and that Aharon was 83 years old when they "spoke to Pharaoh". The question is: When exactly did they "speak to Pharaoh"?

What difference does it make?

Here is our problem. The Exodus from Egypt occurred on 15 Nissan 2448 and the entry to Eretz Israel was on 10 Nissan 2488. Moshe died 33 days before the entry on 7 Adar 2488. He was 120 years old and Chazal tell us (see Rashi Devarim 31:2) that the date of his death was the date of his birth and that this is a general standard for tzaddikim. Thus we know that Moshe first became 80 years old 40 years earlier on 7 Adar 2448.

Now, we assume that this initial altercation with Pharaoh is referring to just before the series of the 10 plagues which we learn from Chazal lasted about 1 month each. In other words, this altercation would have taken place not later than 10 months before the Exodus or in the area of 15 Sivan 2447. Thus, if Moshe did not reach his 80th birthday until 7 Adar 2448, almost 9 months later, the Torah is not completely accurate that he is 80 years old. He is actually only 79 years old!

Of course, many readers will probably jump up and say that the Torah is not a stickler for complete years and since he was in his 80th year he can be considered to be 80 years old already. This is known as Miktzaso K'Kulo.

In truth, for the most part, we are forced to say this. It's the only approach that works. Of course, this assumes that the altercation with Pharaoh was before 1 Av 2447. If it was later than that date, we are faced with a conflict. Assuming Aharon was also born on the same date as his death, and he was 123 on 1 Av, 2487 it emerges that his 83rd birthday was 40 years earlier on 1 Av, 2447. Thus, if we say Miktzaso K'kulo, as of 2 Av 2447, he would already have to be counted as 84 years old.

This may actually be the message of the Ohr HaChaim. The Ohr HaChaim on Shmos 7:7 makes a very terse and almost cryptic remark. He writes:

Perhaps, on the first day that they spoke they were such, but not afterward. And the extent of the term "when they spoke" implies "when they initially spoke".
What is bothering the Ohr HaChaim?

It looks to me that he must have grasped that if Moshe and Aharon were not precisely 3 years apart, but rather 3 years and 7 months apart (assuming Aharon was born on 1 Av 2364 and Moshe was born on 7 Adar 2368) there will be significant time periods (about 7 months/year)where if Moshe is considered 80 years old, Aharon, by the same token, must be considered 84. As such, this 3 year discrepency did not hold true for the entire time period of the 10 months but rather only for the first month or so.

Still, the Ohr HaChaim is too concise to be conclusively understood and one would expect him to be a bit clearer if this is what he meant. Regardless, he does not seem to challenge the basis that Moshe is already considered to be 80 years old even though his real birthdate is 9 months off.

That said, it's no problem to say that the altercation was between 7 Adar 2447 and 1 Av 2447. In fact, the Midrashim support this time frame, so we are in the clear. The only problem is that when the Torah discusses ages of people in relation to the mandate for the census (Parshat Ki Tisa) or for the laws of Arachin, the Torah clearly does not approve of the Mikktzaso K'Kulo method. I explained this in detail in my original post so it can be referenced there. Click HERE to view.

As such, it appears that the Torah uses inconsistent methods to calculate ages. This was the problem that I posed. In a subsequent post, I posited that, indeed the Torah is not being consistent but I suggested a possible rationale for the inconsistency. Click HERE to view.

Aside from this suggestion, I am stumped. What stumps me more is that, to date, with the possible partial exception of the Ohr HaChaim, I have not found any authorities who give any attention to this issue.


Anonymous said...

Could it mean that these were their ages the _last_ time they spoke with Pharaoh (on the night of the 15th of Nissan 2448)? At that point Moshe had indeed already passed his 80th birthday, and Aharon's 84th birthday was still four months off.

Yechezkel said...

I entertained this approach in the original post in a paragraph beginning: "For Ramban and followers of PBD..."

My comment on it was:

With this we can say the Torah is consistent about birthdays but is being chronologically subversive. This is trading one "dochek" for another, but perhaps it is preferable.

Thank you for commenting.