Our parasha, Beha’alotecha, contains Ha-shem’s command to Moshe to create the first Sanhedrin to assist him in his juridic responsibilities:
Then Hashem said to Moshe, “Assemble for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the people’s elders and officers, and you shall take them to the Tent of Meeting, and they shall stand there with You. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will increase the spirit that is upon you and bestow it upon them. Then they will bear the burden of the people with you so that you need not bear it alone.” Bamidbar 11:16-17
Shortly thereafter, Moshe fulfilled Hashem’s charge and “assembled 70 men of the elders of the people and stood them around the Tent.” Hashem, in turn, conferred Moshe’s additional spirit upon them; this ruach hakodesh immediately enabled them to prophesy.
At this juncture we are met with Eldad and Medad, whose story diverges from the 70 men of the elders of the people: “They did not go out to the Tent, but prophesied in the camp.”
Why did Eldad and Medad elect to remain in the camp? This question is addressed by Rabbi Shimon in Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 17a: “At the time the Holy One blessed be He said to Moshe, ‘assemble for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel,’ Eldad and Medad said: ‘We are not fitting for this greatness.’ The Holy One blessed be He then said: ‘Since you have rendered yourselves small [that is, humbled yourselves], I will add greatness to your greatness.’ And what greatness did he add to them? All the other prophets [that is, the seventy men of the elders of the people] prophesied and then ceased so doing, they, however, prophesied, continued, and did not stop.” (Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 17a)
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According to Rabbi Shimon, Eldad and Medad did not believe they were worthy of being members of the Sanhedrin; accordingly, Hashem recognized their exceptional anavah (humility) and, like Moshe Rabbeinu, rewarded them with the gift of ongoing prophecy. While the Torah is silent regarding the substance of their prophecy, our Gemara presents three possible answers, in this order:
•Moshe will die and Yehoshua will bring the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. (Anonymous opinion)
•Abba Chanin said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer that they prophesied about the great piles of s’lav (quail) that would soon be found in and around the camp.
•Rav Nachman said: “They were prophesying about the matter of Gog and Magog.” (Sefer Zechariah 14:1-21)
These approaches differ both in timeframe and content. Abba Chanin in the name of Rabbi Eliezer focused on the immediate future, wherein the s’lav would be dumped before the lusting people and eventuate in a makka rabah m’ode (very mighty blow) as punishment for their unfettered hedonism.
The anonymous opinion maintained Eldad and Medad prophesied that Yehoshua, rather than Moshe, would lead the people into Eretz Yisrael. In stark contrast to these views, Rav Nachman suggested that Eldad and Medad did not speak about the foreseeable future at all but, instead, gave voice to the violent war and universal upheavals that would precede the coming of Mashiach.
On the aggadic level, this plurality of interpretations is an outstanding example of eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim Chayim (these and those are the words of the living G-d), one of the essential principles of Rabbinic analysis that contributes to the dynamic nature of the Torah.
Each of these prophecies reflect the extraordinary level of ruach hakodesh bestowed upon Eldad and Medad.
The narrative of Eldad and Medad teaches a crucial lesson: Authentic anavah leads to genuine greatness.
This idea was given powerful voice by the Ramban when he declared humility the most valuable middah one can cultivate: “When you consistently act with the middah of anavah… the spirit and divine illumination of the Shechinah will rest upon you, and you will [merit] the World to Come.”