י׳ באב ה׳תשע״ז (August 2, 2017)

Sanhedrin 17a-b: Choosing Elders

As we have learned in the Mishna, the Great was a group of 71 Sages that sat on the Temple Mount and dealt with serious legal questions that affected the entire Jewish people. The source for the establishment of the Great Sanhedrin in this format is based on the group that Moshe was initially commanded to assemble to assist him in leading the Children of Israel in the desert (see Bamidbar 11:16-17). Moshe is commanded to choose 70 elders, and the Gemara explains that including Moshe we find 71 judges in the group.

Our Gemara continues and explains the process that took place when Moshe chose the elders, and specifically the enigmatic story regarding two of the elders – Eldad and Medad – who, according to the Torah (see Bamidbar 11:26-29) remained removed from the rest of the group, and nevertheless prophesied in a manner that brought Yehoshua to demand that they be shut up.

One suggestion brought by the Gemara is that Moshe was concerned with how to appropriately fulfill the command to choose 70 elders. He wanted to divide the elders as equally as possible among the different tribes, but if he chose six from each of the 12 tribes he would have an extra two elders. In order to solve the problem he arranged for a lottery whereby each tribe chose six candidates who took a slip of paper from a box that contained 72 pieces of paper – 70 that said “elder” and two that were blank.

Another suggestion was made by Rabbi Shimon, who said simply that due to their modesty Eldad and Medad remained behind and did not want to claim the position of judges.

In either case, the prophecy that they gave showed that they were truly deserving to be included in the Sanhedrin.

What was their prophecy? Three possibilities are suggested by the Gemara –

  1. They said that Moshe would die and that Yehoshua would lead them into Israel,
  2. They prophesized about the quail that were about to be sent to feed the people,
  3. They talked about the war of Gog U’Magog at the end of days.

The Maharsha suggests that the source for these different possibilities stems from the Torah’s statement that their prophecy was ba-maḥaneh – that it dealt with the encampment – either that the Jewish encampment would have a new leader, that they would all be fed or in reference to the encampment of the armies of Gog U’Magog.

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