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   by Jacob Solomon

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Moses said to (Joshua): 'Are you jealous for my sake? If only all G-d's people became prophets through G-d's putting His Spirit on them.' (11:29)

The narrative intertwines two foci which made themselves felt soon after the Israelites left Mount Sinai. Firstly, craving for meat, rather than being grateful for the manna supplied in the wilderness. Secondly, Moses' despairing of having to cope with that latest round of demands from the grumbling Israelites. G-d responded by telling Moses to choose seventy worthy sages who would become prophets though Moses. G-d would place enough of His Spirit on Moses so that each elder would receive that quality of prophecy - receiving directly and interacting with G-d's Communication. Thus: 'they shall bear the burden of the people with you, and you shall not have to suffer them by yourself'. (11:17)

The elders left the camp, and were inducted into their prophetic roles through Moses, discreetly, at the 'exclusive' Tent of Meeting (11:24). Two of those destined to receive prophecy (c.f. 11:26) got it directly from G-d - independent of Moses - in the Israelite camp. Their acting as prophets was public - in the Israelite camp. Their being ordained as such without connection with Moses appeared to cause a constitutional crisis. It raised the potential of a person claiming to have direct communication with G-d, putting his understanding of His Word above Moses.

To Joshua, that was out of order. It had the potential of undermining the official chain of command of authority over the Israelites. Moses, however, did not see it as a threat. Instead of stifling the two prophets Eldad and Meidad, he as good as put out the welcome mat: 'Are you jealous for my sake? If only all G-d's people became prophets through G-d's putting His Spirit on them.' (11:29)

The differences between Joshua and Moses appear to center on issue of what constitutes leadership. Joshua's model was conventional. Moses gave direction under G-d's command, and all issues remained under him and the official hierarchies of elders, judges, and officers. Everything of importance had to go through the system - or the network of authority with Moses at the helm would collapse.

Moses however saw things differently. He understood that G-d's Word does not just come from 'up above', but also from 'down below' - from the grass roots level. However rigid the system of authority, it can only work if it has the support of the people. What better, in his eyes, for true prophecy - true receipt of the Word of G-d - to be experienced by a person who is 'one of the masses' - someone who 'remained in the camp' with the people, rather one of the remote exclusive fraternity at the Tent of Meeting.

For Moses own earlier life came from acting from the grass roots level - outside the system - in his striking the Egyptian, intervening in violence between two Hebrews, and stopping the Midianite shepherds jumping the queue. More important, he was still an outsider when he made his first contacts with the elders of the Israelites in Egypt, on his return from Midian. His experience taught him that leadership works through harmony between social forces from below and social forces from above - as is true with all successful government and organization today.

Joshua, in contrast, did not have the benefit of those experiences. His understanding of leadership was entirely as part of a hierarchy - Moses' 'servant Joshua… did not depart from the Tent' (Ex. 33:11). By the time Joshua became part of the picture, Moses' position at the top of the Israelite pyramid was well established. He saw leadership as something to be imposed from directly above…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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