Portion of the Week / Moses' half-brothers
Moses' problem is that he is a solitary figure, and the solution to that involves distribution of authority - i.e., a dissemination and expansion of his channel of communication to God among the elders.
In this week's Torah portion, Moses complains to God about the difficulty of leading the nation: "I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me" (Numbers 11:14 ). In response, God instructs him: "Gather unto Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and speak with thee there; and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone" (Num. 11:16-17 ).
Moses' problem is that he is a solitary figure, and the solution to that involves distribution of authority - i.e., a dissemination and expansion of his channel of communication to God among the elders. This does not spell absolute decentralization, but does allow for a broadening of authoritative boundaries. Moses thus delegates his "spirit" among these men and they begin prophesying, and the same thing happens among his successors: Authority and prophesy are intertwined. However, the Torah relates: "But there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad; and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were recorded, but had not gone out unto the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp" (Num. 11:26 ). These two figures deviate from the model God proposes; they are not part of the process of widening of authority, but Moses' spirit infuses them and they begin to prophesy as well.
An unusual agada (legend ) is incorporated in Targum Jonathan regarding this week's reading. Targum Jonathan is an Aramaic rendering of the Torah that includes legends and midrashim, in addition to a literal translation. The legend there concerning Eldad and Medad presents a very different impression from that deriving from a literal reading. When translated into English, the verse is expanded and reads: "But there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad; they were the sons of Eli-zaphan, son of Parnakh, who fathered them with Jochebed, daughter of Levi, after Amram divorced her; he [Amram] married [that is, remarried] her, and afterward she gave birth to Moses; and the spirit of prophecy rested upon them [Eldad and Medad]."
When Amram learned that Pharaoh had decreed the killing of the first-born sons, he divorced Jochebed. After they remarried, she gave birth to Miriam, Aaron and Moses (according to the legend appearing in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sota 12a). However, during the period she was divorced, according to Targum Jonathan, Jochebed married Eli-zaphan and they had two sons, Eldad and Medad. Eli-zaphan, a prince, led the tribe of the children of Zebulun, as we read in Parashat Massei (Numbers 34:25 ).
This startling bit of genealogical information reveals Eldad and Medad as Moses' half-brothers. At first glance, the former two appear to rebel against Moses and the elders by attempting to present an alternative form of authority, another option to the form of leadership Moses was raised on. However, the essence of this alternative is described thereafter in Targum Jonathan: "And they were among those elders who ... did not leave the Tabernacle because they hid there in order to escape from the rabbinate; and they prophesied in the camp."
It emerges that the alternative Moses' half-brothers offer is not merely another form of leadership: Eldad and Medad present a form of prophecy that is disconnected from that of other leaders. This prophecy is an anarchic option - something that opposes the concept of, and even demarcates the limits of authority. When Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, they are democratizing the religious experience; theirs is a prophecy that does not entail the amassing of political power. Moreover, according to the legend, at least part of their prophecy relates directly to Moses: "Eldad prophesied, saying: 'Moses will die and Joshua, son of Nun, who serves the camp, will succeed him and speak with the Children of Israel; he will lead them into the Land of Canaan and bequeath it to them"' (Targum Jonathan and the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 17a ).
It is Joshua, Moses' servant, who wants to stop Eldad and Medad: "And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: 'My lord Moses, kla'em [shut them] in'" (Num. 11:28 ). The literal translation of kla'em is "imprison them," or "destroy them," as Rashi suggests. However, as befits its rather interpretive approach, Targum Jonathan explicates the verse as follows: "My lord Moses, seek mercy from God and remove their spirit of prophecy." Eldad and Medad reveal the fact that Moses will die and will be succeeded by Joshua. Threatened by the idea of his leader's mortality and transience, Joshua asks that their prophesying be stopped. However, it is precisely this anarchic suggestion that reveals and fulfills Moses' profound wish. Indeed, he says to Joshua: "Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:29 ). Translated into English, this verse is rendered by Targum Jonathan as "Are you jealous for my sake because they are prophesying my death and the fact that you will succeed me? I want all of God's people to be prophets, I want God to grant all of them his spirit."
Moses' problem is that he alone bears the burden of the people on his shoulders. God's solution to ease this is a careful distribution of the facility of prophesy and the delegation of leadership to the elders. This distribution creates a small anarchic enclave, in the form of Moses' two half-brothers. As far as Eldad and Medad are concerned, there is no connection between authority and prophecy, and no connection between, on the one hand, leadership, and on the other, a bond with God and knowledge of the future. Quite the contrary: Eldad and Medad's extensive knowledge of the future is precisely what curtails Moses' power as a leader - which Joshua sees as a threat, but which in fact eases Moses' loneliness and burden. It is as if Moses was waiting for someone to stand up and point out the fact that he is not unique, that he can be replaced, that he has a brother.