Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beha'alotcha
To dedicate this lesson

Choosing Seventy Leaders

Hashem told Moshe that he should gather 70 men whom he knew to be among the leaders of the people.


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Sivan 8 5782
The nation’s complaints toward Moshe prompted him to ask Hashem for help in putting additional leaders at his disposal to handle public needs. As Moshe said: "I will not be able by myself to carry this entire nation, for it is too heavy for me" (Bamidbar 11:14). Hashem responded that Moshe should gather 70 men whom he knew to be among the leaders of the people, and that Hashem would place upon them some of the spirit that Moshe had received to enable them to succeed in their new task (ibid. 16-17).

The pasuk does not explicitly detail the criteria for these appointees. Rashi picks up on the words "that you know that they are the elders of the nation and their officers" and identifies them as the taskmasters who were responsible in Egypt to ensure that their brethren, the slaves, kept up with the Egyptians’ expectations of them (see overlapping title in Shemot 5:14). They were rewarded for sparing their brothers from the Egyptians’ whippings and absorbing them themselves by receiving the distinction of leadership and Divine Spirit.

According to Rashi, selfless dedication to the nation is the top factor in the future leader’s resume. Only one who can put his own self-interests aside and put up with great difficulties is worthy of such a high post and spiritual level.

The Ramban paves a new path in the matter, whose elements we will now summarize: 1. The number 70 represents leadership. For that reason, there are 70 "officers" (angels) over the nations of the world. There are also 70 special angels in Hashem’s "government" (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 24). Likewise, there are also 70 members of the Sanhedrin. 2. The number 70 represents all of the opinions and all of the points of strength. After hearing all of the possible points of view, the decision-making body can arrive at a proper decision. This approach highlights the importance of humility, in that all must get used to hearing other opinions, as unity comes from a proper approach to diversity, not from uniformity. 3. When leadership is chosen in such a way, the number 70 provides the right backdrop for having the Divine Presence dwell among the assembly. Such Divine Presence is the greatest goal, and it comes about when people are able to combine their strengths for a common goal.

The Ramban also takes this idea into the realm of the judiciary. The Sanhedrin are not only the "eyes of the congregation" but also the members of the highest court of justice. Therefore, this court, sitting in the Temple complex has to include 70 members to be valid. In his time, it had to have Moshe presiding over them. This is hinted at by the pasuk (Tehillim 82:1): "Hashem is present among the congregation of G-d, in the midst of the judges shall He judge." It is His Divine Presence that gives the court its spiritual ability.

May our general leadership and our judicial system be blessed with the Divine Assistance to act in a manner that promotes the needs of the people.

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