In the portion of Behaalos’cha, Moshe tells G‑d that he cannot bear responsibility for the Jewish people all by himself. G‑d responds by saying: “Assemble 70 of Israel’s elders… I will cause some of the spirit that you possess to emanate, and I will place it upon them. You will then not have to bear the responsibility alone.”1

Concerning the emanation of Moshe’s spirit to the elders, Sifri notes:2 “What did Moshe resemble at that time? He resembled a candle placed on a candelabrum, from which many additional candles were lit — which did not diminish its own light at all. So too, Moshe’s wisdom was not diminished at all [by the emanation of his spirit.]”

A similar comment is found in the Midrash :3 “Did this [emanation] possibly affect Moshe’s degree of prophecy? Not at all! Rather, this was similar to a burning candle from which many other candles were lit, and whose own light was not diminished. Here as well, nothing became lacking in Moshe, for the verse attests:4 ‘No prophet like Moshe has arisen in Israel.’ ”

Although the Sifri and the Midrash seem to convey the same thought — that no diminution in Moshe resulted from the emanation of his spirit upon the elders — a closer examination of the wording used reveals that they differ in their reasoning as to why there was no diminution in Moshe.

Sifri states that Moshe “resembled a candle placed upon a candelabrum.” What difference does it make whether the candle was placed on a candelabrum or not? Evidently, this placement is crucial to the Sifri ’s explanation as to why Moshe was not diminished.

The Midrash , in turn, buttresses its statement that “nothing became lacking in Moshe” with the testimony that Moshe was the greatest prophet of all. What proof is there from this verse? Was it not possible for “something to have become lacking in Moshe” without affecting his stature as the greatest prophet? Clearly, according to the Midrash, the degree of Moshe’s greatness was the reason why no change occurred in him.

How are we to understand this?

In light of the fact that Moshe was so much loftier than the elders, logic would dictate that it would be necessary for him to descend from his natural level in order for his spirit to be imparted upon them.

That this descent did not occur can be attributed to one of two factors: a) at that time, Moshe was on a lower plane than he normally was — already on a level comparable to that of the elders, or b) Moshe was so great that, even though he remained on his rarefied level, he was still able to impart his spirit upon others without causing a change in himself.

Herein lies the difference between the commentary of the Sifri , a book of Jewish law that views matters from a simple and more practical outlook, and the Midrash , a book of Aggadah that views matters from a more spiritual perspective:

Moshe’s plea to G‑d that others share the responsibility came as result of and immediately after the sin of the “complainers” — individuals who came forward with perfidious complaints and made spurious demands. Since Moshe’s greatness was a direct result of his leadership role,5 it is understandable that the descent of the Jewish people because of the “complainers” caused a corresponding descent in Moshe as well.

Thus, according to the Sifri , “At that time Moshe resembled a candle placed upon a candelabrum,” i.e., readily accessible to all, for Moshe too had undergone a descent, so sharing his spirit with the elders would not cause an additional descent.

According to the Midrash , however, the emanation of Moshe’s spirit didn’t affect him because he was so lofty — “No other prophet like Moshe has arisen in Israel.” He thus was able to remain on his rarefied level even as his spirit spread to others.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, pp. 75-81