Elitism. Contempt for the masses. We see much of it these days. Among politicians, among public policy planners, among university professors, among TV commentators, etc.
It takes great humility to respect the opinion and ability of ordinary people. Thankfully, Moshe Rabbeinu possessed this trait in abundance. When a lad told him in alarm that Eldad and Medad were “prophesying in the camp,” Moshe replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all of G-d’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29).
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that with this response, Moshe forever “broke down the dividing wall between ‘intellectuals’ and the ‘lower classes,’ between clergy and laity.”
The Jewish people’s leaders don’t belong to an exclusive class or possess knowledge inaccessible to others. They don’t enjoy a “monopoly in intellectuality or spirituality” and the “spiritual gifts of G-d are in no way dependent on office or profession.” The “lowest in the nation [can] be considered as equally worthy of the spirit of G-d as the first official in the highest office.”
What was the content of Eldad and Medad’s prophesy? According to one opinion in the Gemara, it concerned Moshe dying and Yehoshua leading the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael. In other words, writes Rav Hirsch, it conveyed the message that “no man, not even a Moshe, may consider himself, or be considered by his contemporaries, as indispensable.”
According to another opinion, Eldad and Medad prophesied about the final war in history – that of God and Magog. Rav Hirsch notes the linguistic similarity between Gog and gag (roof) and suggests that Gog represents the “‘roof principle,’ the principle of a dictator at the summit, the concentration of all leadership in one supreme ‘head.’”
Gog loses this final battle, however, and “after [his] defeat,” writes Rav Hirsch, “the city of the opposing principle of democracy will be called hamonah, the ‘City of the Masses’ (Ezekiel 39:16).”
History concludes with the downfall of exclusive and imperious elitism. This fact may frighten some, but it didn’t faze Moshe. “Would that all of G-d’s people were prophets!”
(And would that today's elitists would get the message!)
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.
Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.