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HaGoan R' Aaron Levine zt"l
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Provide yourselves men who are wise and understanding and well known to your tribes and I shall appoint them as your heads. (Devarim 1:13)

The above posuk states that Moshe attempted to recruit leaders who were chachamim and nevonim, i.e., wise and understanding. Rashi explains that the word navon means one who is meivin davar mi’toch davar, i.e., understands one matter from another matter. What does Rashi mean with this interpretation? Let us say for example we are presented with rule A. We assume that it applies in every given circumstance. We are then presented with rule B that contradicts rule A. In order to reconcile the two we are forced to say that rule A applies in a specific set of circumstances and rule B applies in a different set of circumstances. Thus our understanding of rule A is no longer the same as it was before we compared it to rule B. It is only by comparing rule A to rule B that we derive a true understanding of rule A. Likewise for rule B. We have thus derived “one matter from another matter.”

If this is Rashi’s true intent of meivin davar mitoch davar we may ask the following questions:

The posuk (Devarim 1:15, see Rashi) informs us that Moshe did not succeed in finding individuals who possessed the quality of navon. Without the quality of navon one may believe that he has true understanding of any given law when in truth he does not know its exact parameters. How then can Moshe appoint to leadership positions men that did not posses the quality of navon?

Rashi further explains that the difference between a chacham and a navon may be compared to the difference between a moneychanger who is independently wealthy and a moneychanger who seeks a livelihood as a businessman. The chacham is compared to a wealthy moneychanger. When merchants present money to the wealthy moneychanger he converts their money to the desired currency. However, when the merchants do not need his service he sits idle. On the other hand, a navon is compared to a moneychanger who is also a businessman. When he lacks customers, he invests the money in his business ventures. It is noteworthy that it is very rare for Rashi to support his explanations with analogies. Why then did Rashi do so here? Also, how does the analogy of the moneychangers fit into the above explanation of chacham and navon?

Furthermore, why does Rashi add the word mi’toch in his explanation? Seemingly it would have been more accurate for Rashi to simply write “meivin davar mi’davar,” i.e., “understand a matter from a matter” instead of “understand a matter from within a matter.” How does the word mi’toch i.e., within, fit into Rashi’s explanation?

Let us suggest an alternative interpretation of Rashi’s words. Lets us presume that a chacham is certainly knowledgeable of the laws after comparing them to all other laws. In other words, a chacham is one who knows how to understand “a matter from another matter.”  However, the chacham’s understanding is limited to the understanding of the law in its simple interpretation and application. This knowledge certainly suffices for positions of leadership, and that is why Moshe did not have a problem in appointing chachamim to such positions. The navon on the other hand has the advantage that he possesses the ability to “understand a matter from within the same matter.”  The navon possesses a deep insight where he is capable of uncovering the deeper meaning buried within the simple meaning of any given law.

For example, if a law from shulchan aruch is presented to both the chacham and the navon, the chacham can provide a detailed explanation of the law. He can elaborate on all of its details, exceptions and nuances. The navon on the other hand, can in addition provide the symbolic significance of the law. He may be able to derive a homiletic insight and expound upon the Torah perspective of a given issue from the law. The navon does not just understand one matter from another matter but also understands one matter from within the same matter.

Rashi compares the chacham and navon to moneychangers. The primary use of a moneychanger’s money is the conversion of a merchant’s funds. The chacham is comparable to the wealthy moneychanger. When this moneychanger lacks merchants who seek his service, he has no use for the money. Thus, when the money is not used for its primary intention it remains idle. Likewise the chacham’s scope is limited to the simple interpretation and application of the law. However the navon is compared to the moneychanger who is also a businessman. This moneychanger also uses his money for ventures other then its primary use. Likewise, the navon makes use of his knowledge to derive Torah insights in areas that are outside the scope of its simple interpretation and application.


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Efraim Levine 5761/2001