Yesterday, we noted the unusual story told in Parashat Behaalotekha of Eldad and Meidad, two men who had been chosen to serve among the seventy leaders appointed to lead alongside Moshe in the wilderness. God had instructed Moshe to assemble the chosen elders around the “tent of meeting” (11:16), which we later discover was situated outside the camp (see 11:26). Presumably, then, this refers not to the Mishkan – which is often called the “tent of meeting” – but rather to Moshe’s tent which he kept outside the camp, as we read in Sefer Shemot (33:11). (We might also add that the Torah there in Sefer Shemot speaks of Yehoshua never leaving that tent, and here, in the story of Eldad and Meidad, we find Yehoshua speaking to Moshe – 11:28). Eldad and Meidad, for some reason, remained in the camp and did not go to Moshe’s tent, despite their having been included among the chosen leaders. The Torah tells that at the time when God endowed the chosen leaders with prophecy, Eldad and Meidad also received prophecy, even though they were not with Moshe in the tent as they had meant to be.
Rashi (11:26), based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 17a), explains that Eldad and Meidad did not join the others because of their humility. Considering themselves unworthy of prophecy and leadership, they remained in the camp even though they were designated as leaders and summoned to the tent. In reward for their humility, the Gemara comments, they were granted an even higher level of prophecy than the other elders.
We might, however, suggest a much different understanding of these events. Perhaps, Eldad and Meidad refused to join the other elders outside the camp in intentional, brazen defiance of Moshe’s instructions. The elders were brought to Moshe’s tent in order to receive prophecy from him, in some sense, as the Torah writes: “He [God] bestowed from the spirit that was upon him [Moshe] and placed it upon the seventy men, the elders” (11:25). The significance of this experience, seemingly, was to emphasize the elders’ subordinate status, that they served as leaders under Moshe’s authority and auspices. Their “spirit,” however we understand the precise meaning of this term, stemmed from Moshe, as they served as prophets and leader under him, and not independently. Eldad and Meidad rejected this subordinate status, and insisted on being granted independence in their leadership role. They therefore remained inside the camp and received their prophetic powers there, rather than receiving their prophetic capabilities from Moshe at his tent.
This approach perhaps explains why Yehoshua, Moshe’s primary disciple, reacted so harshly to the news that Eldad and Meidad were giving prophecy inside the camp, and demanded that they be imprisoned (11:28). Rashi explains, based on the Gemara, that Eldad and Meidad were prophesying about Moshe’s death in the wilderness, that he would be succeeded by Yehoshua who would then lead the nation into Eretz Yisrael. In defense of his teacher’s honor, Yehoshua felt compelled to strongly object to this ominous prediction. In light of what we have seen, however, it could be suggested that Yehoshua reacted as he did because Eldad and Meidad rejected Moshe’s authority. Their insistence on remaining inside the camp stemmed from their demand to remain independent and not serve as Moshe’s subordinates. This naturally angered Yehoshua, Moshe’s most faithful disciple and adherent.
Moshe, however, in his great humility, was not disturbed by this challenge to his authority, and responded to Yehoshua by declaring his desire that all of Am Yisrael should be prophets (11:29). While Eldad and Meidad certainly acted inappropriately by defying Moshe’s instructions and seeking to establish themselves as independent leaders, Moshe humbly accepted their decision, expressing his sincere wish to see all members of the nation achieve the level of prophets.