Classic Questions

How were candidates written in the lottery? (v. 26)

Rashi: All of them were written down, mentioned specifically by name, and [chosen] by lot. This is because the number [of 70 candidates split into] 12 tribes came to six per tribe, with the exception of two tribes who would receive only five each. Moshe said, “No tribe will listen to me to deduct an elder from its tribe.”

What did he do? He took 72 lots and wrote on 70 [of them] “elder” and two of them he left blank. He chose six men from each tribe, a total of 72, and he said to them, “Draw your lots from the box.”

Whoever picked [a lot saying] “elder” was sanctified. To the ones who picked a blank lot, he said, “G‑d does not want you.”

Why did Eldad and Medad “remain in the camp”? (v. 26)

Talmud: According to one view, they feared failure and did not want to pick a blank lot, so they did not participate in the lottery.

Rabbi Shimon said that they felt they were not worthy of greatness, so even after winning the lottery they did not go to the tent to be appointed by Moshe (Sanhedrin 17a, according to Rashi).

The Rebbe's Teachings

Eldad and Medad (v. 26)

The Talmud cites two dissenting views for why Eldad and Medad declined to participate in the lottery by which the 70 elders were picked—either because they feared rejection, or because they did not see themselves worthy as of a position of leadership (Rabbi Shimon’s view).

What is the rationale behind the dispute?

The Explanation

When G‑d revealed Himself to Moshe in the burning bush, the Torah relates that “Moshe hid his face because he was afraid to look at G‑d” (Shemos 3:6). Our Sages debate whether Moshe’s attempt to shield himself from this prophetic revelation was praiseworthy or not:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha maintains that Moshe acted incorrectly. Thus, we find later that when Moshe asked G‑d, “Show me, please, Your glory!” (Shemos 33:18), G‑d punished Moshe by withholding Divine revelation from him, saying, “You will not be able to see My face” (ibid. 20). Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha explains that it was as if G‑d were saying, “When I wanted, you didn’t want. Now that you want, I don’t want” (Brachos 7a).

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani in the name of Rabbi Yonasan dissents, and argues that Moshe acted correctly at the burning bush by hiding his face. He was thus rewarded with a radiant face when coming down from Mount Sinai (Shemos 34:29).

It could be argued that this is the basis of the Talmud’s dispute here, concerning Eldad and Medad:

The first view in the Talmud is in accordance with the view of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha, that it is inappropriate to refuse a prophetic experience, because the very fact that such an opportunity is granted is a sign that G‑d deems the person fit for prophecy. Therefore, this opinion maintains that Eldad and Medad must have “remained in the camp” due to a fear of drawing a blank lot.

However, Rabbi Shimon's view is in accordance with the view of Rabbi Yonasan, that rejecting an opportunity for Divine revelation is a genuine act of humility. Therefore he maintains that Eldad and Medad intentionally missed the opportunity to share some of the “spirit of Moshe” (v. 25) because they felt that they were not worthy.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 28, p. 324)