Torah: Numbers chapters 8 through 11.
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 to 4:7.
Chapter 11 of the Book of Numbers begins the story of a series of rebellions against Moses' leadership. In chapter 11, we are told that the Israelites started complaining over their unvaried diet of manna, manna, nothing but manna. They demanded meat and fish - apparently there were no vegetarians in this crowd - as well as cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (Numbers 11:4-6). Moses cries to the Lord - there is nothing he can do to satisfy the mob's demand for meat! (Id. 11-15).
The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone. Id. 16-17.The Lord then told Moses to tell the mob that the Lord will give them meat for a whole month! They will eat meat until they become sick of it. Id. 18-19. Moses is incredulous:
“Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you. ” Id. 21-23.Then comes one of my favorite passages in the Five Books of Moses:
So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied —but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Id. 24-29.The Talmud, Sanhedrin 105b, quotes Rabbi Yose ben [son of] Honi: "Of everyone a man is jealous, except his son and his student." These two elders, Eldad and Medad, were neither sons nor students of Moses, but Moses was not jealous that they were prophesying. Rather, he wished that every one in the Israelite community shared his wisdom, that all were prophets of God.
Moses understood that a society, or a movement, with one wise and revered leader and everyone else a follower, is a society or a movement that is doomed to failure. No one man or woman is perfect, no one man or woman is infallible, no one man or woman will lead us to the Promised Land. Only when wisdom and commitment and power is dispersed among the many can a society or a movement succeed.
Many of us placed so much hope in the election in 2008 of President Obama, and a Democratic majority in the Congress with a super-majority in the Senate, and many of us have been disppointed with the results of the past four years. Instead of single payer health care reform, we got a hodgpodge of regulation of private insurers, and even that modest gain may be struck down by the partisan hacks who control the Supreme Court. We hoped for a stimulus program that would restore full employment, and instead we got compromise with meager results, and even this modest spending was brought to an end. We hoped for boldness to halt and to reverse the rapidly expanding concentration of more and more wealth into the hands of the few to the detriment of the many, and instead we got, well, nothing. And in 2010 we lost the Congress to a gang of misfits such as Boehner, Walsh and Bachmann, and many governorships to misfits such as Walker, misfits who are determined to abolish the Great Society and the New Deal and the Progressive Era and return all of us to the days of wage slavery and the robber barons.
But in websites such as Daily Kos, and in the Occupy Wall Street movement, we see the worthy successors of Eldad and Medad, men and women who are not dependent on the success or failure of the occupant in the White House, but who will fight for justice and equality. We are all heartbroken over Wisconsin, but we must not emulate the Israelites who in chapters 11 to 25 of Numbers gave way to despair. We must all strive instead to be Eldad and Medad, to speak the truth to power, and not sit back and hope Obama gets it right.