In this week’s reading, G-d tells Moshe to assemble 70 of the Elders of Israel, for them to be prophets to the people [see Num. 11:16-17 and 24-29]. They would form the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Rabbinic Court.

There were 12 tribes, and the division was to be as equal as possible. So we do the math: with six representatives per tribe and twelve  tribes, that’s 72 people, but there were only supposed to be 70. No tribe, Rashi explains, volunteered to only have five. So they drew lots: 70 pieces of paper said “elder,” two of them were blank, and those two people were not among the 70 Elders who remained with Moshe in the Tabernacle.

The spirit of prophecy still rested upon those two, Eldad and Meidad, and they prophesied in the camp with the rest of Israel. Yehoshua (Joshua) was very upset by this, and ran to tell Moshe, and to ask Moshe to stop them.

Rashi explains that Yehoshua was upset because they were prophesying that Moshe would die, and he, Yehoshua himself, would lead Israel into their land. And that made Yehoshua upset! And Rashi also says something still more stunning: how would Moshe stop them? By giving Eldad and Meidad communal responsibilities! That would make the spirit of prophecy leave them.

Other commentators (the Ba’alei HaTosfos) ask how communal responsibilities would obstruct prophecy, and explain: they would be saddened by all the problems they were dealing with, and prophecy only comes to a person in a state of happiness.

All of this builds a very different picture of leadership from that to which we are accustomed. We think about people running for office, wanting rulership, wanting the opportunity to make the rules that everyone has to follow. The Torah tells us that Yehoshua was upset by prophesy indicating he, not Moshe, would lead Israel into the Promised Land, and also that communal responsibilities would deny Eldad and Meidad a level of closeness to G-d that they otherwise enjoyed.

The difference is that “public service” must really be just that. It takes special people to be able to lead and yet be humble, think about the public rather than themselves, and remain happy and satisfied rather than becoming depressed while dealing with everyone’s problems. And one clear characteristic of these people, shared by Moshe (called by the Torah “the most humble of all people”) and Yehoshua, upset to hear people declaring he would lead, was that they did not want leadership, they had it thrust upon them.

We are all leaders in whatever respect, we all find responsibilities placed upon us. And the Torah gives us the sort of leaders we will do well to emulate.

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