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Eldad and Meidad: Prophets in the Camp

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Beha’alot’cha

Eldad and Meidad

Prophets in the Camp

Sponsored by Fred and Judy Farbman in honor of the Bat Mitzvah of their granddaughter, Jordan Farbman, this weekend

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.


In the Torah portion of Beha’alot’cha we read about the appointing of the 70 elders who were to assist Moshe in caring for the Jewish people. (This was a forerunner of the Sanhedrin.) The Torah describes how two men by the names of Eldad and Meidad remained in the camp and how they started to prophesize. Although Yehoshua asked Moshe to have them arrested, Moshe said that he wished that all of the people would become prophets and that they should not be disturbed.[1] The Talmud says that Eldad and Meidad were worthy to be elders, but that they chose to stay in the camp.[2]

This article will discuss the identities of these two men, the only Jewish prophets after the Exodus identified by name in the Five Books of Moshe besides Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, as well as some of the details of this enigmatic incident.

Who Were They?

It is unusual that the Torah does not identify the tribes to which these men belonged nor the identity of their fathers.[3] A possible reason for this may be that when the father’s name of a prophet is given, it indicates that he, too, was a prophet.[4] Since the fathers of Eldad and Meided were not prophets, their names are not mentioned.[5] This would not explain why the names of their tribes are not given.

Due to this lack of clarity, there are various opinions as to their backgrounds:

●      Moshe’s Maternal Half Brothers

The Targum Yonatan[6] writes that they were Moshe’s maternal brothers who were born to his mother during the time that Amram divorced her.[7] At that time she married Elitzafan ben Parnach from the tribe of Yissachar[8] and mothered two sons, Eldad and Meidad.

●      Moshe’s Paternal Half-Brothers

Some say that Amram, Moshe’s father, divorced his mother Yocheved when the Torah was given in order to follow the law that one may not marry one’s aunt.[9] He then married another woman and together they had Eldad and Meidad. This would make them Moshe’s paternal half-brothers. Their names allude to their identity as Eldad can be read as “אַל דוֹד (Al Dod)” – not (from my) uncle [or aunt], and Meidad can be read as “מִי דוֹד (Mi Dod)” – Someone (else other than my) uncle [or aunt].

This interpretation is difficult to understand as this story took place less than a year after the Torah was given, which would mean that they were less than a year old at that time. In fact, another version of this opinion[10] states that Amram divorced Yocheved while still in Egypt due to the gossip about his marriage (the marriage between a nephew and his aunt) as such a union would become forbidden.

It is noteworthy that according to this opinion Eldad and Meidad were Levites and since they were supposed to be elders of the Sanhedrin, it seems that this Sanhedrin included Levites. (i.e., the 12 tribes who each contributed elders to the Sanhedrin included Levi while Efrayim and Menashe counted as one tribe.)[11]

●      Leaders in the Tribes of Binyamin and Efrayim

According to other sources,[12] Eldad and Meidad were not brothers, nor were they related to Moshe.[13] Rather, they were from other tribes, eventually becoming leaders of their respective tribes. Specifically, Eldad was Elidad ben Kislon who later became the leader of the tribe of Binyamin[14] while Meidad was Kemuel ben Shiftan who later became the leader of the tribe of Efrayim.[15]

What Did They Prophesize?

The Talmud[16] brings three opinions as to what Eldad and Meidad prophesized: 

1)     “Moshe will pass away, and Yehoshua will bring the Jewish people into the land.”

This is alluded to in verse 27 which says that they were מִֽתְנַבְּאִים – “prophesying” in the camp. The word מִֽתְנַבְּאִים can be broken up to read מֵת נְבִיאָם – their prophet will die. Alternately, the word can be an acronym for משה תנוח נפשו בגן אלה-ים יהושע מכניס – "Moshe’s soul should rest in the garden of G-d and Yehoshua will bring them in.”[17]

2)     “The Slav (quail) will rise, the Slab will rise.”

Since the Slav began to descend on the Jewish camp right after this incident, it is logical to surmise that their prophecy concerned this event.[18]

3)     The Prophecy about the War of Gog and Magog in Yechezkel chapter 38

This is alluded to in Yechezkel who addresses Gog (at the end of the above-mentioned prophecy) and says, הַאַתָּה הוּא אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי בְּיָמִים קַדְמוֹנִים בְּיַד עֲבָדַי נְבִיאֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַנִּבְּאִים בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם שָׁנִים.[19] This can be interpreted to mean: “Indeed, you are the one that I spoke about in days gone by, through my servants the prophets of Israel, two of whom prophesized in those days.” The two prophets refer to Eldad and Meidad.[20]

Some say[21] that the first prophecy (about Moshe’s passing) was said by Eldad, the second (about the Slav) was said by Meidad, while the third (about the war of Gog and Magog) was said by both of them “as one.” This is difficult to understand since the Talmud says[22] that no two prophets use exactly the same words to express their prophecy.

The Missing Two Prophets

The Talmud says[23] that the Jewish people had 48 prophets who prophesized about matters that are relevant to the Jewish people at all times. Rashi enumerates 46 of them but says that he does not know who the last two are. It has been suggested[24] that, according to the opinion that Eldad and Meidad prophesied about the war of Gog and Magog, which is relevant for all times, they might be the missing two prophets in that list.

Five Extra Blessings

The Talmud[25] and later commentaries[26] say that because Eldad and Meidad showed extraordinary humility as they voluntarily stayed behind although they had been chosen to be part of the 70 elders, they were superior to the other elders in the following five ways: s

1)     The other elders only prophesized about the events of the next day whereas Eldad and Meidad prophesized about what would happen in 40 years. 

2)     Some say that they prophesized about the Messianic era.

3)     The other elders passed away in the desert whereas they merited to enter into the land of Israel.[27]

4)     The names of the elders were not specified whereas Eldad and Meidad’s names are given in the Torah.

5)     The elders only prophesized once whereas Eldad and Meidad continued to prophesize. This is because the prophecy of the elders was a derivative of Moshe’s prophecy whereas they achieved independent prophecy.

 

May we merit to emulate the prophets and achieve true humility!


[1] Numbers 11:26-29

[2] Sanhedrin 17a. See Rashi on the Ein Yaakov who explains that some say they stayed behind for fear of the embarrassment of not being chosen and others say they stayed behind out of humility as they didn’t feel worthy to be elders.

[3] There are only several Jewish people mentioned in the Tanach whose tribes, fathers’ names, or birthplace are not given explicitly. Here are a few that I found: Shifra and Puah (Exodus 1:15) [but see Abarbanel who says that Shifra and Puah were the titles of all of the Egyptian midwives of that time] , Gad HaNavi (I Shmuel 22:5), Natan HaNavi (II Shmuel, 7:2), Shmaya HaNavi (I Kings 12:22), Geichazi the student of Elisha (II Kings 4:12), Shevna the Scribe who was previously in charge of King Chizkiyahu’s house (Isaiah 22:15 and 36:3), Ovadiah HaNavi (Ovadiah 1:1) [who may have been the same as Ovadiah, Achav’s chief of staff (I Kings 18:3)], and Nodiyah,, the false Prophetess (Nechemiah 6:14).

[4] Megillah 15a

[5] This would also explain why the names of the fathers of Natan Hanavi and Gad HaNavi were not mentioned (see above). As far as Geichazi, Shevna, and Nodiyah, since they all turned out to be wicked, the Torah does not wish to dwell on their identities. 

See below that some say that Eldad and Meidad’s father was Amram. Although he is unique in that he never sinned (see Shabbat 55b), to the best of my knowledge, he was not a prophet.

[6] Numbers 11:26

[7] See Sotah 12a that Amaram divorced Yocheved when Pharaoh decreed that all baby boys be killed. See here for more information. See here as to why Amram married his divorcee despite the fact that she had married someone else in the interim.

A slightly different version of this matter is that Yocheved remarried Elitzafan ben Parnach after Amram passed away and Eldad and Meidad were born from that union (Remazim Velikutim Yeshanim al Chamisha Chumshei Torah by Rabbi Y. Hershler [Jerusalem 1985]).

[8] Numbers 34:25

[9] See Ibn Ezra on Gen. 46:27 who quotes a piyyut (poem) according to which Moshe’s mother Yocheved lived to the age of 250. Since she was born as the Jewish people were entering the land of Egypt, this would mean that she was alive at the time of the giving of the Torah\, and beyond that, up until the end of the 40 years in the desert.

As for Amram, while we don’t know exactly when he was born and when he passed away, we know that he lived for 137 years and that his father, Kehat, who was alive when the Jewish people entered Egypt (Gen. 46:11) lived to be 133 (Exodus 6:18 and 20). As such, if Kehat was five when the Jewish people came to Egypt, for example, and fathered Amram at age 100, Amram would have been 115 years old at the time of the Exodus and would have been alive at the time that the Torah was given.

[10] Midrash Talpiyot by the author of Shevet Mussar, Anaf Eldad UMeidad

[11] See Yalkut Biurim on Sanhedrin ibid who quotes various opinions on this matter.

[12] This opinion was found in a notebook written by Rabbi Amram, quoting Rabbi Hillel of Eretz Yisrael (Da’at Zekeinim ibid). It is also quoted (regarding Eldad) in Rabeinu Bachaye on Numbers 34:17 in the name of the Midrash Tanchuma. According to Rabeinu Bachaye this explains why Elidad is not referred to as a Nasi (leader) as are most of the other tribal leaders listed there. This is because he had a more important title – that of a Navi (prophet).

[13] The opinion that says they were maternal half-brothers of Moshe says that their father was Elitzafan ben Parnach (see above) who was the leader of the tribe of Zevulun. As such, the opinion that says they were leaders of Binyamin and Efrayim disagrees with that view. In addition, in quoting this opinion, Rabeinu Bachaye (ibid) calls Meidad “the friend” of Eldad which would indicate that they were not brothers.

[14] See ibid 34:22

[15] Ibid, verse 24

[16] Sanhedrin 17a

[17] Ba’al HaTurim

[18] Rashi, as explained by the Aruch LaNer on Sanhedrin, ibid.

[19] Yechezkel 38:17

[20] Please note that the interpretation of the word שָׁנִים as "two" instead of “years” is not the simple interpretation.

[21] Targum Yonatan ben Uziel

[22] Sanhedrin 89a

[23] Megillah 14a

[24] Rame of Fano and Hagahot Baruch Ta’am , quoted in the Yalkut Biurim on Sanhedrin 17a

[25] Ibid 17a

[26] Da’at Zekeinim, quoting the Midrash Tanchuma

[27] This follows the opinion (see above) that Eldad and Meidad were the same people as Elidad ben Kislan and Kemuel ben Shiftan who entered the land of Israel and helped apportion the land for their respective tribes (see Numbers 24:17). It is possible that they were under the age of 20 at the time of the exodus and were therefore not included in the decree to die in the desert.

If they were the sons of Elitzafan ben Parnach, they would have been more than 60 years old at the time of the Exodus and may have not been included in the decree to die in the desert (see Bava Batra 121b). 

While according to the opinion that they were the sons of Amram they would be Levites who were not included in the decree to die in the desert.


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

Sun, June 23 2024 17 Sivan 5784