Behaalotecha by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Behaalotecha: Eldad and Medad (Num. 11:26-30)

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark


Scene: Night in the wilderness. Far from the Israelite Encampment, two men in their late fifties, Eldad and Medad, sit by the remains of a campfire which flickers weakly, about to crumble into ashes and die. All the Israelites sleep the sleep of the just; all, that is, except these two, Eldad and Medad, the “temporary prophets” who “spoke in ecstasy in the camp” when Moses appointed the Seventy Elders and charged them with partial responsibility for the leadership of Israel. The two sit, not as if they had recently experienced ecstasy, but tired, exhausted.

With Apologies to Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot


Eldad: Are you awake?

Medad: Just barely.

Eldad: Are you still feeling—prophetic?

Medad: No. I am bone-tired,but feel too tired to sleep.

Eldad: It was quite a day.

Medad: Yes. Quite.

Eldad: When Joshua, Moses’s man, reported on our prophesying in the camp, away from Moses’s authority, how did you feel?

Medad: That they might stone us. That we had no right to be prophets.

Eldad: Yes. But we weren’t—we never were—prophets. Just ecstatic. Just for show, to deflect attention from Moses.

Medad: He will never share the leadership.

Eldad: And him so old.

Medad: Perhaps we should go, now.

Eldad: Yes; why stay here?

Medad: Let us go, then.

(They do not move.)

Eldad: And now, leprous Miriam is imprisoned in a tent, outside the camp.

Medad: Why, what was her crime?

Eldad: I’m not really sure. No one is really sure. Perhaps we should rescue her.

Medad: A good idea!

Eldad: And so, we are off to Miriam’s rescue.

(Again, they do not move.)

Why are we here?

Medad: We are waiting for—Moses to reappear.

Eldad: Where is he?

Medad: Probably in the Tent of Meeting.

Eldad: When will he return to us?

Medad: Perhaps tomorrow—or the next day.

Eldad: Did you not say that before?

Medad: Perhaps I did.

Eldad: And have we not been waiting?

Medad. Perhaps we are.

Eldad: Since yesterday?

Medad: I can’t be sure. Yes. No. I don’t know.

Eldad: At least we can be certain of one thing—

Medad: What?

Eldad: The Lord, He is God.

Medad: Which Lord? The one who sent a flock of quail to feed His hungry people, and then, while they yet chewed on its tender flesh—

Eldad: –Sent a plague to afflict them. Yes, I know.

Medad: And so, should we worship this strange and mysterious God?

Eldad: What choice do we have?

Medad: Well, He is a diversion. For us, I mean.

Eldad: What diversion? We wait, we are bored. No: don’t protest: we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. Good. Perhaps God will come.

Medad: How can you speak to me of God? Let us do something while we have the chance—at this place, at this moment of time, all humanity is us, whether we like it or not! Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent humanity; let us save our people. Let us make the best of our being human! What do you say?

Eldad (nervously): We ought to wait until Moses—or someone else—tells us what to do.

Medad: Yes! We will act! No. We will wait for Moses to come.

Eldad (looking at Medad as if breaking out of a trance, and seeing him for the first time): Yes. We are not saints, but we will keep the appointment. And the rest is—

Medad: Yes?

Eldad: The rest is silence.

(The fire dies.)

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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