A cloud came down from heaven and it shared
the spirit that had once been only Moses’
with seventy other Israelites who dared
to prophesy and give their own prognosis
of what would happen after forty years,
who’d be the leader, who would be the flock,
such speculations music for the ears
of those who are prepared for future shock.

Two men were remaining in the camp,
Eldad, Medad their two names, and they,
as if illuminated by a lamp,
received from Moses spirit on that day,
and prophesied without the same permission
that seventy explicitly received.
When Joshua learned about their special vision
he said to Moses: “By these men I’m peeved.
I’ve heard them saying that you soon will die,
and Joshua will lead us to the land.
Predictions that they make are ones that I
cannot condone, and therefore countermand.
You ought to lock them up to make quite sure
that they don’t challenge you, all independent.
Their attitude I simply can’t endure,
your servant and obedient attendant.”

Then Moses said to Joshua: “Do not be
so jealous for me, keeping me protected!
I wish all men could join in prophecy,
including those who have not been elected.
Though I appreciate the fact you’re jealous
on my behalf, this service is not needed;
the things that amateurs report to us
are often ones that should be closely heeded.”

It’s clear that Moses knew that these two men
were making most precisely their predictions;
although not quite prepared to say amen,
on free speech he did not want tight restrictions.
It’s true the Torah has no Bill of Rights
that guarantees the freedom of men’s speech,
but there aren’t prohibitions of sound bytes
in any laws its legislators teach,
except of course when blasphemy occurs.
Shelomith’s son was stoned for his blaspheming,
but those who would blaspheme are saboteurs
who scandalously scuttle God by scheming
against His leadership and all the rules
that Israel swore on Sinai to observe.
Without such confrontations, words are tools
providing freedom that all men deserve.

Moses wished all Israelites to share
his spirit, and not just a chosen few,
though if in public everyone can air
quite democratically his point of view
the leader may be criticized for weakness
by failing to keep them in tight control.
Once everybody is allowed to claim
the pulpit, dreadful mediocrities
can try to put a genius to shame,
while hemlock’s given to a Socrates.

Though Moses, who was famous for his meekness,
observed a democratic protocol
despite his triple crown––I don’t mean Preakness,
and Belmont and the Derby, but the goal
of being first a Levite, then a priest,
and third of all in Jeshurun a king,
not mentioning the fourth, far from the least,
a prophet who could do the teaching thing––
his sister and his brother both complained,
and said that God to both of them had spoken
no less than to the brother they arraigned
for being to a Cushite girl bespoken.
Despite God’s rather spirited defense,
once Moses said all men can prophesy,
all challenges that sound like common sense
may be most problematic to deny.
Though Moses saw through glasses crystal clear,
his followers would stir up muddy waters:
for every prophet who has God’s true ear
there are a thousand damnable distorters,
and yet a faithful leader must allow
his words to be interpreted, not suppressed
by those who treat him like a sacred cow,
for progress is the product of protest.


by gershon hepner

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