Towards the end of the sedra (11:25-29), we find a puzzling story. The elders are prophesying when the ‘spirit of Hashem rests on them’. Two men in particular continue to prophesy after the others stop. A lad (Gershom, according to the commentaries) runs to Moshe to tell him that ‘אלדד ומידד מתנבאים במחנה‘ – ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp’. Yehoshua speaks up and says to Moshe – ‘imprison them!’ Moshe retorts that he wishes everyone would be a prophet like that. End of episode.
Leaving aside the issue of the significance of it’s being in the middle of the quail story, why the big deal about Eldad and Medad? Indeed, Moshe’s reply is a no-brainer, is it not? What is wrong with prophesying? And why the extra word במחנה - where else would they be?
Rashi furnishes us with the first part of the answer, by quoting the Gemara in Sanhedrin that they were saying משה מת,יהושע מכניס – Moshe will die and Yehoshua will take them into Israel. At this point, Yehoshua – quite rightly – takes great umbrage at this outrageous statement. Moshe calms him by pointing out the prophetic nature of their words.
But where does the Gemara get the idea that these were the words of Eldad and Medad?
A beautiful idea is brought down by the Maharil Diskin which hints at the source. Let’s take a look at Moshe’s beginning to find a hint at the potential end of his life. When Moshe is born Pharaoh’s daughter names him as Moshe – ‘כי מן המים משיתהו‘ – for I drew him out of the water. Surely to get the name משה, it wasn’t specific on the water, but rather on the fact that she drew from water in general. In other words, it could have said ממים משיתהו – ‘I drew him out from water’. We have an extra נ and ה as a result.
Looking again at our parsha, we see that Eldad and Medad were prophesying במחנה - meaning ‘with מח נה‘ or ‘rub out the נה‘. “So what?” you may ask. But if we leave out those two letters, we are left with ממים…which stands for משה מת יהושע מכניס…