Seventy Points of View
From "Chemdat Yamim" Parsha Sheet
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
Our parasha contains two episodes that teach much about the personal life and leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. The first deals with the imbuing of Moshe’s spiritual power and prophecy to 70 elders. The second deals with Aharon and Miriam’s criticism of Moshe in regard to his relationship with his wife, Tzippora. In both cases, Moshe’s personality emerges in its glorious heights, especially in the area of humility.
The appointment of the elders to leadership positions was apparently a reaction to Moshe’s complaint, "I cannot carry on my own the burden of the nation, for it is too heavy for me" (Bamidbar 11:14). The Ramban (ad loc.:16) points out that the choice of 70 elders was not a matter of convenience but a deep matter. There are 70 nations of the world with 70 languages since Hashem mixed them up at the Tower of Babel. Corresponding to the 70 nations, 70 of our forefathers sojourned to Egypt. The significance of 70, says the Ramban, is that it "includes all the opinions and the powers, leaving nothing missing." The 70 were under Moshe, the 71st, as in the Sanhedrin for all generations, where a nasi presided over 70 members. The Ramban hints that as Hashem presided over the 71, making Him the 72nd, Hashem’s full name has 72 letters.
Some view Moshe as existing on a different plane from other nevi’im. Some view him as the symbol of all prophets throughout history. Either way, we learn an important lesson. There was a need for 70 elders under Moshe’s tutelage. Only thus were the different possible approaches represented so that the Divine Presence would rest on the assemblage. We see also that a multitude of views need not cause divisiveness in the nation. In fact, the Ramban says that Moshe on top of the 70 is a hint at the unity of Bnei Yisrael, "one nation in the land."
Hashem agreed with Moshe that he could not lead alone, and Moshe internalized the message deeply. When Yehoshua reacted harshly to Eldad and Meidad’s presumptuous behavior (however one understands the details), Moshe reacted in an understanding manner. "If only Hashem would make all of His nation prophets" (ibid.: 28-29). The master of all prophets did not seek lone control of leadership opinions or prophecy.
Moshe’s lauded humility could be taken as a sign that one could criticize him freely. The next episode counters this misconception. His siblings, Aharon and Miriam, objected to something they noticed about Moshe and declared: "Did Hashem speak only to Moshe? Did He not speak also to us?" (ibid. 12:2). Hashem reacted harshly to the criticism and pointed out that while Moshe was the most humble person, all should realize that he was a qualitatively greater prophet than all others. As a result, Miriam was afflicted with leprosy.
Moshe reacted to the censure of his detractors with an immediate prayer for Miriam’s welfare. May we be blessed with the leadership that resembles Moshe to the extent possible.
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