This letter was addressed to R. Meir Chayim Chaiken.

B”H, Purim Katan, [14Adar I,] 5708

Greetings and blessings,

You note that Rashi (in hiscommentary to Sanhedrin 17a, entry mi) states that the reason Eldad and Meidad did not go to the Tent [of Communion] was not because of humility, but because they feared that they would receive a blank lot.1 This appears to contradict his commentary on the Torah (Bamidbar 11:26).2

a) Rashi in his commentary on the Torah quotes the statements of the Sifri which follow the opinion of Rabbi Shimon as quoted in the Talmud. [Rabbi Shimon] differs with the first opinion in the Talmud whose perspective is explained by Rashi in the aforementioned gloss to the Talmud. See the addition to Rashi’s commentary that is printed in the Ein Yaakov which indicates this. (See also the Yalkut Shimoni to [Bamidbar 11:16] which brings another opinion: that [Eldad and Meidad] were not included in the lottery at all. Six elders were included from every tribe, but only four from the tribe of Levi. They were listed by name.)

b) On which basis does Rashi interpret the first opinion in the Talmud in this manner?

We are forced to come to this interpretation. The first opinion of the Talmud states that their names remained in the container. This implies that Eldad and Meidad did not participate in the lottery and did not go to take lots.

If so, if one would say that [their decision came because] they said: “We are not worthy of this greatness,” [their actions were improper]. The judgment of the lottery is determined by G‑d. If [they felt that they were not worthy], they should have been certain that they would receive a blank lot. Why then would they not participate in the lottery?

Therefore we are forced to say that they [refrained from participating] because according to their opinion, they would have received a blank lot.

c) What is the source [that motivates] the first opinion [in the Talmud] to say that the intent of Eldad and Meidad did not stem from humility, but, on the contrary, [out of fear that they would not be chosen]?

It is possible to explain that it is not appropriate to say that [these two] would receive a lot stating “elder” and still [refrain from going to the Tent of Meeting and instead] remain in the camp out of humility. Since they were designated from Above for prophecy, they should not have refrained from [accepting] this [mission]. [Hence we are forced to say that their hesitation stemmed from the fear of not being chosen.]

According to this [explanation], the difference of opinion between the first opinion [of the Talmud] and Rabbi Shimon parallels the difference of opinion in Berachos 7a whether Moshe was punished for hiding his face3 or if he received a reward for it.

Alternately, it is possible to say that even according to the opinion that Moshe acted desirably [by refusing the mission], that was because he was granted a vision of [G‑d’s] face, as it were; that is unreachable for other prophets (aside from Moshe; see the commentary of the Chiddushei Aggados of the Maharsha). With regard to Eldad and Meidad, by contrast, [their prophecy involved] the emanation of Moshe’s spirit to the 70 elders.4 [Hence] according to all views, they should not have refrained from accepting this prophecy if they were already chosen for it from Above. This is the rationale of [the Talmud’s] first opinion. Rabbi Shimon, by contrast, maintains that these 70 elders were sanctioned to execute judgment, render halachic rulings, and exert authority over the Jewish people. Hence [Eldad and Meidad] demurred. ([In contrast,] the collection of responsa entitled Lachmei Todah, responsum 16, cites the Zohar as stating that these 70 elders did not replace the 70 elders mentioned in Parshas Mishpatim with regard to rendering judgment. Instead, their function was to enable the Divine presence to rest [within Israel]).

There is room for elaboration concerning all the above, but this is not the appropriate place. With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson