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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Beha'alotcha

Hirsch At Your Table

The First Sanhedrin

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary
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וירדתי ודברתי עמך שם ואצלתי מן הרוח אשר עליך ושמתי עליהם ונשאו אתך במשא העם ולא תשא אתה לבדך. (Nm 11:17)
As a consequence of the people's food-related complaints, God recognizes the problem of Moshe serving as the sole leader of a population estimated at over 2.5 million people. He commands Moshe to select seventy leaders from among the people and to bring them to the אוהל מועד. There, God Himself will descend to speak to him and to transfer some of the leadership powers and responsibilities from Moshe to these community representatives.

How was this transfer of responsibilities implemented? The word used in this verse for the burden of responsibilities is משא, burden. The transfer of those responsibilities involves more than just the acceptance of the task to help provide leadership for the multitudes of Jews. The words ונשאו, משא, תשא are all from the root נ-ש-א which means "to lift and remove." In this verse, the three examples of the root refer to raising and placing the responsibilities of leadership on these community representatives.

With the transfer of responsibility, there is also a transfer of the ability to deal with these matters that is called רוח/spirit. And this transfer requires God Himself to descend/ וירדתי and to speak/דברתי to Moshe. But what is this concept of רוח as it pertains to God's influencing man?

The word רוח is from the root ר-ו-ח which means "to force open space" and allow for special deeds. The word ירדתי is from the root י-ר-ד which means "to descend." The word דברתי is from the root ד-ב-ר which means "to combine separate items into one," such as organizing coherent speech.


There are two kinds of רוח/spirit, that emanate from God. The first is a type of inspiration that God has planted in certain men's hearts that enables the achievement of outstanding deeds. Tanach is replete with examples of this kind of Divine inspiration. Yosef had it; Betzalel had it; Yehoshua had it; and many of the prophets had it. This type of רוח is connected to the natural talents that God has given to certain individuals. Using those talents, the person imbued with this רוח is able to multiply the effectiveness of natural and normal human activities.

The second kind of רוח, we will call רוח נבואה/prophetic spirit. This רוח is not an internal or inspirational motivation that enhances natural talents, but an externally imposed ability granted to a human being. This רוח elevates the person to heights not available to ordinary or even exceptional people. It is יד ד'/God's hand, a gift from God that enables a person to speak prophetically. The person becomes a type of conduit for God's message. This verse refers to the latter case since it refers to the רוח that had been on Moshe, רוח אשר עליך, that would now be placed/שמתי by God on the elders.

The word נבואה is from the root נ-ב-א which means "to transmit God's word." The word שמתי is from the root ש-ו-ם which means "to place."


Although one might conclude from this explanation that the entire process involved a lessening of the רוח that had been given to Moshe, i.e. something was taken from Moshe and given to the elders, this was not the case. There was no diminishing of Moshe's prophetic powers here. This can be learned from the word ואצלתי, which many commentators translate as "taking." Hirsch, however, defines this word not as "taking" but as connoting a "holding back".

The word ואצלתי is from the root א-צ-ל which means "to set aside" by holding back and not permitting absorption.


God was in constant communication with Moshe. God's speaking to Moshe was the process of רוח הנבואה. God now states that some of His message will not go to Moshe but will be held back so that it can go to these elders to enable them to function as leaders of the Jewish people. Moshe will still enjoy a level of Divine communication never before and never after enjoyed by a human being, but some of the messages communicated will go to those who will assist him in leading the newly formed nation.


Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
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