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Parashat Baha’alotcha 5777: Prophecy and generations

Moshe loses his temper in this Parashah. He complains to God about being chosen to lead this people, moans about having to put up with all their tantrums, requests, sins, rebellions and so. It is not the first time that the Children of Israel complain, but this time Moshe explodes as he never did before. Why? The book of Bamidbar started with a pretty idyllic image of all the people ordered by tribes, each one on their own camps, surrounding the Sanctuary, with God’s presence dwelling between them and the People preparing to live a life of holiness, love of God and study of His Torah. However, from chapter 11 and on, the situation changes radically. The differences are so great that the Sages saw this two parts as different books, separated by the verses “Vayehi Binsoa Aron”, “and it was when the ark moved”, that has reversed letters nun at the beginning and end of the verses. This difference proves that something doesn’t work anymore. It is not only Moshe though. If in the past God just gave the people what they wanted: water, manna, meat, etcetera; now there is going to be anger and punishment. Now and in the future. There is also another difference about the nature of the complaints. In Shmot, the people asked for basic needs: water and food. In Bamidbar the problem is the menu: “Nu? Really manna again?”. But if that’s was all the issue, then a month of meat based diet on the base of quail should have done it. However, the direction of the Parashah is different: God asks from Moshe to take 70 elders of Israel to the Sanctuary and He would take some of Moshe’s spirit, of his prophecy, and give it to them in order to help carry the burden of the people. It is not the first time that Moshe tried to get help, we saw in Parashat Yitro Moshe following the advice of his father-in-law to designate helpers, but the difference was that those elders were not supposed to turn into leaders, but to judge the simple cases to ease the amount of work for Moshe. Here it is different. God says he will take a little from Moshe’s prophecy and give it to the elders, who were already leaders of the people.

The complaints of the Israelites changed. These leaders are from the same generation of the elders that left Egypt and remember the slavery they suffered there. How will they understand the new generation? This generation is not fighting for survival anymore; they want some comfort and luxuries in life. As we saw in the recent history of our people, idealism, excitement and charisma can be huge forces and can enable us to defeat many obstacles, but at the end they won’t stand forever. There will come a time when saying “when I was your age I had to walk 40 minutes to school, way up, round trip” will not impress the new generation. The difficulties and struggles of the past generations will be part of the collective memory, but won’t be personal, not something that we can connect to. They won’t be able to be the force that creates identity. Maybe in this way we can understand Eldad and Meidad, the ones that did not heed the call to go to the Sanctuary with the elders, they stayed in the camp with the people, the complaining people. Maybe they saw the gap between the generations and saw these complaints not as rebellion, but as a natural process of development. The people changes. Eldad and Meidad were right it seems. Even if they did not go to the Sanctuary they still received the holy spirit and starting giving prophecy, what shows that God recognized them as leaders of the people. Moshe understands what happens and when Yehoshua asks from him to stop them, Moshe recognizes their leadership and maybe their subtle criticism against the “elders”. The Sages wrote in the Talmud that none of the elders received again prophecy, it was a onetime deal, but Eldad and Meidad continued to be prophets until their last day.

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