In this week’s Parasha, Moshe Rabenu is having a tough time as a leader and seemingly has a breakdown.
This is potentially one of the lowest emotional ebbs of his entire career as a leader.
The people are complaining, and for once in his life Moshe lacks the strength to carry on. It is a crisis in his life like no other.
The people approach Moshe and complain of the Manna, they remember the fish and cucumbers, melons, leaks, onions and garlic, yet ““Now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!” (Bamidbar 11:4-6)
Moshe’s reaction in praying to Hashem seems to show his frustration; “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? . . . I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favour in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (11: 11-15)
Hashem’s response is to ask Moshe to gather 70 elders;
Ve-atzalti Min Haruach Asher Alecha Vesamti Alehem – “and I will take of the spirit which is on you and will place it on them.”
This is a very odd thing. What were the 70 elders supposed to do? Moshe already had other leaders and an established system of delegation in place. How were these different and how were they going to help solve this specific crisis of finding meat for the people in the midst of the wilderness.
In fact we don’t seem to find they did anything at all.
Yet from that moment on, we seem to see a marked change in Moshe’s life from a man who was suffering breakdown and spiritual crisis, to a revitalised Moshe.
This is apparent from the next episode in the Torah speaking about Eldad and Medad.
Eldad and Medad are the protagonists of a cryptic episode in the Torah.
The Gemara Sanhedrin 17a tells us what happened (we’ll paraphrase):
When G‑d said to Moshe, “Gather for Me 70 men of the Elders of Israel,” Moshe responded, “How shall I do it? If I select six from each of the 12 tribes, there will be a total of 72, which will total to two extra. But if I select five from each tribe, there will be a total of 60, lacking 10. However, if I select 6 from this tribe and five from that tribe, I will bring about envy between the tribes!”
What did he do? He selected six from each tribe and he brought 72 slips. On 70 of them he wrote “Elder,” and he left two slips blank. He mixed them and placed them in the box. He then said to the 72 chosen candidates: “Come and draw your slips.” Everyone whose hand drew up a slip that said “Elder” was now appointed as one of the 70 sages.
During this whole saga, Eldad and Medad, who were chosen by their tribes to represent them, didn’t come forward, as they said: “We are not fitting for that level of greatness; we are not worthy of being appointed for that level of greatness; we are not deserving of being appointed among the Elders.”
G‑d said: “Since you have made yourselves humble, I will add greatness to your greatness.”
And what is the greatness that He added to them? All the other elders who were given prophecy at that time prophesied for a period of time and then stopped, but Eldad and Medad prophesied and did not stop.
But when these two humble sages suddenly started spewing prophecy around the Jewish camp, Moshe’s loyal student Yehoshua suggested to Moshe that they be locked up.
They said that “Moshe will die, and Yehoshua will bring the Jewish people into Land of Yisrael.”
When Yehoshua heard this, he was furious and suggested to Moshe that they be locked up.
We would have expected Moshe to also be furious, but something had changed, he approached this scenario differently to above.
The Torah continues with another challenging episode.
When his own brother Aharon and sister Miriam spoke against him, they are struck with Tsaraat (spiritual leprosy).
The Torah then defends Moshe stating “Now the man Moshe was very humble, more so than any man on earth.”
Nevertheless, rather than being happy at their punishment, we find Moshe defending his sister and pleading with G-d for her recovery.
Moshe faced both this crisis and the one of Eldad and Medad with calm and generosity of spirit.
We see, in short, a man transformed from agonising spiritual crisis to peace of mind and serenity. Something had happened to change Moshe’s life and the lives of those around him. What was it?
Perhaps it was the simple fact that Ve-atzalti Min Haruach Asher Alecha. It was that Moshe Rabenu was given a glimpse — and it is very rare for anyone to be given such a glimpse — of the influence he had on those around him.
He saw how his spirit rested on them, he saw how they were able to see through his eyes, hear through his ears, and be lifted to the heights by his spirit.
That was enough. And though he never ceased to struggle, thereafter he could live content, knowing that others were different because of him.
Moshe didn’t just teach us how to live, he lived and allowed us to watch him. He was able to see in his lifetime the positivity and legacy he would leave long after he was gone.
When we see so much devastation in the world due to the current pandemic, when people’s lives have been turned upside down and we try and take heed of this turbulent world. Let us take a moment to internalise that the dead are not dead – they have passed away into the eternal life. And with all of us that are alive, if we continue their legacy, then they live on through our actions.
Remember: To live in the hearts we leave behind, is not to die!
That is the greatest satisfaction anyone can have, creating an eternal bond.