Three Books in One and Eldad and Meidad Prophecy (More or Less)By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
When the Ark traveled, Moshe would say, “Arise, Hashem, and scatter Your enemies before You!” When it rested, he would say, “Return, Hashem, to the multitudes of Israel.” In the Torah, these two verses are flanked by a set of inverted letter Nuns. We are told that they constitute a “Book unto themselves.” (This would mean that the “Five Books of Moses” are really seven Books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers up to these two verses, these two verses, the rest of Numbers, and Deuteronomy. See Talmud Shabbos 116a.)
The people started looking for reasons to complain, so G-d sent a fire to consume them. The people ran to Moshe, who prayed for them, and the fire died down. The place was then called Taveirah, from the word for “burning.”
You may recall that a large group of international tag-alongs had accompanied the Jews when they left Egypt. (See parshas Bo, Exodus 12:38.) This group then started griping about the manna. They started complaining that they missed the meat they supposedly enjoyed without limit in Egypt. (They conveniently overlooked the part about the slavery and oppression that they “enjoyed” there as well!) Their attitude infected the camp and soon everybody was griping about the meat, or lack thereof.
Moshe turned to G-d, exasperated. “Good grief!” he exclaimed. “How long must I put up with this? I just can’t handle it anymore! Why don’t You just do me a favor and put me out of my misery?” (As usual, our direct quotes are rather loosely translated.)
G-d responded to the stress Moshe felt from having to go it alone. He had Moshe gather the 70 elders of the nation to the Mishkan, where He said He would deputize them to share Moshe’s burden.
G-d told Moshe to inform the people to expect meat the next day – enough to last them a whole month! They would eat meat until they were literally sick of it! Moshe was incredulous – was there enough meat in the world to accomplish that? “What, do I suddenly have limitations?” G-d responded. “Leave everything to me!”
Moshe gave the people the message. When G-d metaphorically descended to speak to Moshe, the 70 elders were imbued with a fraction of his capacity for prophecy. Verse 25 tells us “v’lo yasafu.” This is one of those unusual terms that can be interpreted in two different ways. It either means that the elders did not cease prophesying after this incident, or that they did not continue to do so. (See Rashi on 11:25 for the latter interpretation; Onkelos there for the former.)
The problem with having 70 elders representing 12 Tribes is that ten Tribes have six elders and two Tribes only have five. (12 X 6 = 72. 72 – 2 = 70.) The two representatives not selected (by lottery) to be elders were named Eldad and Meidad. Even though they were not named elders, they also received the gift of prophecy. They went out in the camp and started foretelling future events. (Talmud Sanhedrin 17a says that they were predicting that Moshe would die and Joshua would lead the Jews into Israel.) When word of this reached Moshe, Joshua begged him to have Eldad and Meidad sequestered.
“Are you jealous on my behalf?” Moshe asked his attendant. “That’s sweet, but completely unnecessary. I only wish that all of G-d’s people could relate to Him in this manner!”