Moses’ job of leading the Israelites was not easy. Not only were the people “stiff-necked,” they also spent a great deal of time complaining. When the nation cried out that they wanted meat (Numbers 11), not manna, Moses asked God why he alone was to bear the burden of an entire nation. God told him to appoint 70 elders whom He would endow with the prophetic abilities of Moses-but only for a limited time.
While the Torah records the command and the action, the Midrash provides some additional details. For instance, Moses chose six men from each tribe (for a total of 72), and each man had to draw a lot. The two men who drew blank lots would not be included in this first Sanhedrin (Supreme Court of Jewish law) (Sanhedrin 17a). When the appointed time came, however, only 70 men appeared. Eldad and Medad remained in the camp. According to Rabbi Shimon, “They stayed, because they felt they were unworthy of greatness” (ibid).
These two men sought no honor, and as sometimes happens when true heroes refrain from glory, they were rewarded with something greater. The Torah records that when the spirit of God came upon the elders, “a young man ran [to Moses’ tent] and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camps’” (Numbers 11:27). When Joshua wished to have the men contained, Moses replied, “Would that all God’s people were prophets, that God would put His spirit upon them!”
Whereas the elders had prophecy only about the events of the next day, Eldad and Medad foresaw the future (according to Targum Yonason, Eldad foresaw Joshua’s succession as leader of the Israelites). But their reward was more than just prophecy. It is recorded in Numbers Rabbah 15:19 that Eldad and Medad entered the Promised Land (the other elders did not) and had their names recorded in the Torah.
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