Someone gives you a gift and says, “Here, I was saving this for just the right moment.” That is what I love about discovering new insights in the Torah; it was there all along just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. The first paper I wrote in rabbinical school was based on a few verses from this week’s parashah, Beha’alotkha; Numbers 11:24-29 to be exact (see these verses below). Consumed with both the concept, reality and authenticity of prophecy as I was at that time, here was a treasure trove of material. We do not sometimes see the words that can change our lives, we are not given the meaning until it means something to US. Well, that’s the whole point, that’s why we keep at it. Now, after years of rabbinic training and more years of life experience, I see something I missed back then; what I could not have seen at that time.
When Moses cried out to God about the burdens of leadership, he was directed to call 70 elders to the tent of meeting. He did, they came, and Moses shared the Ruah Elohim (spirit of God) that was upon him with those assembled; they all began to prophesy. All seems to be fine with this, until a report reaches Moses that there are two who remain in the camp who are speaking their prophecy from the camp rather than the tent. Others are threatened but Moses is at peace with it. So it seems that even those who have been called (Num 11:26 v’heimah baketuvim- they were recorded) to prophesy and to roles of leadership may not appear at the forefront of the crowd, or in the crowd at all. They may not appear in places where they are expected to be found. And when they are found in those unexpected places, they create a challenge to authority, they upset the balance; they challenge those who live in the world of black and white. While the majority of those called to prophesy came to the Tent of Meeting, Eldad and Medad for whatever reason chose to remain in the camp, amongst the people.
Because they did not conform, because they did not fit the pattern, they are discounted and even vilified. Because they chose to stay behind and not stand in the circle of the elected in the Tent of Meeting does not make their prophecy any less valid. In fact, it appears that those who gathered at the Tent of Meeting received their prophetic powers as passed through Moses while the men in the camp, Eldad and Medad, received their prophecy directly from God. When we are called by God to speak God’s word, it does not matter where we stand – in the circle or out. Each in his own way, place, and time we do God’s work and make God’s word known as we are called to do. This time when I read these verses and saw those words that I had not noticed before, what I saw gave me a feeling of validation and courage and peace in knowing that it is perfectly fine to prophesy from wherever it is that we stand.
Numbers Chapter 11 (New JPS Translation)
24- Moses went out and reported the words of the Lord to the people. He gathered seventy of the people’s elders and stationed them around the Tent. 25- Then the Lord came down in a cloud and spoke to him; He drew upon the spirit that was on him and put it upon the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they spoke in ecstasy (Others: “prophesied”), but did not continue.
26- Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them – they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent – and they spoke in ecstasy (Others: “prophesied”) in the camp. 27- A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!” 28- And Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” 29- But Moses said to him, “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!”
Rabbi Bonny Grosz lives in Reston, Virginia. She is the Founder and Director of the Community Rabbi Foundation, www.communityrabbi.com . Bonny also has a healing and counseling practice, Bonnygrosz.com