The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Behaalotecha: would God that all the Lord's people were prophets

In the Torah, the final verses from the tenth chapter of the Book of Numbers [Numbers 10: 35-36] are surrounded by backward versions of the letter nun: ׆
Numbers 10:35 is recited in a synagogue whenever the Torah scrolls are taken from the Ark. Nobody knows why the backward nuns appear. They also appear in Psalm 107. The Rabbis of the Talmud believed that the backward letters denoted that the text was in the wrong sequence in the Torah, and there are lots of debates as to where the text should actually go. This is one of the weird things about the Torah as it is written by scribes, as opposed to the text in a printed book.

In the next chapter, the people complain about having to eat nothing but manna. Moses hears the people weeping in their tents, and he asks God for help, saying, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me." [Numbers 11: 14].

God responds by commanding Moses to gather the seventy elders of the tribes, the seventy wisest men among the people, and having them convene around the Tent of Meeting. God descended, and allowed some of His essence to fill the tent, much like the Shekhinah dwelling in the Tent of Meeting. The holy essence of God permeated these men, and they were given the gift of prophecy. Two men remained in the camp but were also given the gift of prophecy. Their names were Eldad and Medad. The two men immediately began to prophesy, and this alarmed the people, who went to Moses, but found Joshua, son of Nun, instead, who pleaded with Moses to stop the men from prophesying. "And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" [Numbers 11: 29].

The Talmud suggests that there were six wise men from each of the Twelve Tribes, making 72 in all. But only 70 met at the Tent of Meeting. That leaves the two men, Eldad and Medad, who failed to arrive, but gained the gift of prophecy anyway.

The Kabbalists are fascinated with this passage, which they claim is imbued with hints about how normal people can gain the gift of prophecy, and that God wants people to be prophets. Indeed, this is the justification for seeking out esoteric knowledge in general; the justification being that it pleases God to have His children seek him out.

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