After bearing the burden of the Jewish people’s endless complaints, Moses finally reaches his breaking point. He wails out to God, “if you would deal thus with me me, kill me rather, I beg You” (Bemidbar 11:15). God heeds his cry and agrees to disperse his responsibilities.
Yet, when the time for spreading out Moses’s leadership comes, two men remain in the camp. Despite their abstention from joining the other elders at the mishkan, they too receive the Divine spirit. After being informed of their spurning the formal process, Moses’s right hand man, Joshua, states, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” (Bemidbar 11:28).
When faced with the reality that democratizing portions of the Divine spirit leads to behavior deemed undesirable, the immediate response is to silence their voices. It seems that part and parcel with the project of decentralization are the questions of: what is appropriate? What is within the scope? What is authentic?
As ashamed as I am to admit it, when presented with forms of Judaism that are foreign to me, I too struggle with the desire to ‘bring them back into the fold.’ Fear of the threat that these Jewish practices will undermine me and my communities and erode Judaism as a whole, leads me to take up arms. Much like Joshua, my heart cries out for restraint.
But Moses teaches us a much holier course of action. He responds, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” (Bemidbar 11:29). Moses directly addresses the voice calling for restraint and proclaims, let them be. Not only this, but he recognizes them as prophets, and their actions as motivated by the Divine spirit.
It is one thing for Moses to withhold judgement – these two men were actually given prophecy directly by God! How though, can we possibly take such a lesson practically to heart? For this, I look to the words of Hillel. There once was a time when he himself forgot the ruling for a particular law. In response, he told the courts to look to the deeds of Am Israel, saying, “if they are not prophets themselves, they are indeed the sons of prophets” (Pesachim 66a).
While it is human to feel threatened, I hope we can find the self awareness to recognize when our actions are motivated by the “Joshua voices” within us. I bless us with the presence of will to face these voices with the words of Moses – to give consent to that which looks frightening, and in so doing, recognize it too as holy prophecy.