parasha

A Story of Humility and Sensitivity

Bs”d Beha’alotcha 5780

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

The stories of our ancestors’ wanderings in the desert provide us with glimpses into the beginnings of the Jewish nation.  It sometimes seems like they were serial complainers – about water and food, about leadership and the Land of Israel. It can’t be denied that a significant portion of the book of Numbers is spent telling stories of this nature, with the purpose, of course, that these ancient stories and midrashim be read to educate.  However, within these stories, there are some personalities who are exceptionally positive ones.  We will focus on two of these today: Eldad and Medad.

The story begins, of course, with a complaint.  The Children of Israel cried out:

"Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now, our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna to look at!"

(Numbers 11, 4-6)

This complaint was so illogical!  The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt.  They were stripped of freedom and worked in hard labor.  Was the food they ate in Egypt “free of charge”?! They forgot how dearly they paid for that food and now suddenly yearned for Egypt?

This is a common phenomenon.  People in despair search for a way out.  When they manage to get out of the situation, they slowly forget how desperate it was, and they start to miss the old, familiar, and routine situation they had before.

This complaint made Moses despair of his own ability to lead the nation.  He turned to G-d movingly:

"Why have You treated Your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in Your eyes… Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them…? Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying on me, saying, 'Give us meat to eat.' Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me.”

(Ibid Ibid, 11-14)

Moses asks for help and he gets it.  G-d instructs him to assemble seventy of the nation’s elders to help him lead the nation.  And so he did, and seventy of the elders were privileged to have one prophecy.  At this point, we meet Eldad and Medad:

Now two men remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them. They were among those written, but they did not go out to the tent, but prophesied in the camp.

(Ibid Ibid, 26)

What is the story of these two anonymous people?  The midrash on the book of Numbers – the Sifre – reveals additional details:  Moses was supposed to assemble the seventy men from among the nation’s elders and wished to do this equitably.  But the problem was that the nation had twelve tribes, and if he had taken six elders from each tribe, he would have ended up with seventy-two elders.  So, what did Moses do? A lottery.  Seventy elders would win the lottery and two would return to their homes.  Eldad and Medad were supposed to participate in the lottery, but they did not see themselves as worthy of leading the nation.  They hid so they wouldn’t be found.  But one who is chosen cannot escape his destined role.  The result was that they received the prophecy when they were in the camp.  It was not temporary, as with the other elders, but the spirit rested upon them permanently.

Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor, a 12th century French rabbi and biblical commentator, shed light on another aspect of Eldad and Medad.  In his opinion, the reason they did not go to Moses’ tent like the other elders was because of sensitivity toward others. They were concerned for the honor of the two elders who would not come up in the lottery so they chose not to participate in advance.  They preferred to give up their own respectable status just so someone else would not be embarrassed.

Eldad and Medad, two anonymous people who are never mentioned again in the bible, teach us of the importance of humility and of sensitivity as a condition for spiritual virtue.

 

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