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Torah Commentary
B'haalot'cha (June 9, 2012)

Benjamin J. Zeidman, Assistant Rabbi

THIS WEEK’S PARASHAH is B’haalot’cha, and it is sweeping in scope. It begins with the set-up and ritual for the Tabernacle, continues with additional rules for the Levites who service that place, and concludes with Miriam stricken with a skin affliction. In the meantime, the Israelites complain, they are sick of eating manna, and Moses becomes distressed. Another strange day in the desert for the Israelites…

Yet, something strikes me as a little stranger than usual. It begins with Moses himself complaining about the burden of taking care of this multitude of people. God, disappointed, allows Moses the ability to share that heavy responsibility with 70 elders. God literally takes the weight of the Israelite community, the emotional impact it is having on Moses, and spreads it over 70 people. Immediately those 70 have a brief ability to prophesy, to tell the future.

So that is certainly strange, but here’s what’s stranger than strange. At the other side of the camp, all the way over there, two Israelites develop the ability to prophesy at that same moment — even though they are not part of the 70. And unlike the 70 who are able to prophesy briefly, these two, Eldad and Medad, are prophets for the rest of their lives.

Talmud teaches that Eldad and Medad are special. Moses has a hard time picking who the 70 elders will be. (Remember, there are 12 tribes, and 70 does not divide by 12 very neatly.) How can Moses choose which tribes will be represented in this new leadership? Well, our Rabbis teach that Eldad and Medad humble themselves and bow out of the honor, feeling that they do not deserve the distinction. Because of this, God grants them with the ability to see. And they see. They see that Moses will not enter the Promised Land but that Joshua will take his place. They see that the Israelites soon will be eating meat, more meat than they can handle. They even see that God will protect the Israelites in the end of days.

Eldad and Medad are two individuals barely mentioned in our Torah portion. Yet, we see how the Rabbis can spin a web around the text, elevating it and teaching from it lessons that are there, although deeply embedded: the importance of humility, the humanity of Moses, and the wisdom of knowing when to lead and when to follow.


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