by R' Yerachmiel Kram
The Figure of a Mechanech
"Let, Hashem, the G-d of Spirits of all Flesh, Set a man
over the Congregation . . . "
Moshe Rabbenu Enumerates the Traits Necessary in a
Before his death, Moshe Rabbenu asks Hashem to appoint a
successor who will step into his shoes after his death.
Within the request, he enumerates the traits that appear to
him as mandatory for one destined to lead the nation.
Ostensibly, this does not apply to us beyond its being an
inherent part of the Torah which must be studied, if only for
the pure sake of study and for which we will duly receive
Royalty we no longer have and prophecy has also been taken
from us. We even lack a head of Sanhedrin. Were it not for
the Sages of each generation who illuminate our path in the
darkness of the exile, we would be like lost sheep without a
shepherd, as Moshe Rabbenu expressed it.
Nevertheless, a special importance is attributed to the study
of those traits which Moshe Rabbenu enumerated. When we seek
to delineate the figure of the first leader or role model in
the life of a Jewish child, after his biological parents, it
is his cheder rebbe and later, his maggid shiur
in yeshiva ketanoh. A teacher in Bais Yaakov can also
fall into this category for, like the rebbe, she is also
appointed custodian over the souls of our precious
While not of the category of Yehoshua bin Nun, they are,
nonetheless, role models. They lead, set an example, set the
pace. They stand by the crucible that molds and designs and
establishes the form of the coming generation. If these are
the leaders, then we demand special character traits from
them, to conform to the teaching that "If the rov resembles
an angel of Hashem . . . then learn Torah from his
From Moshe's words we learn how much is demanded of a leader.
We shall attempt to distill from the words of that first
leader the tremendous expectations imposed upon the leader
and try to understand what is the desired figure of a Jewish
To Stand Up to -- or Against -- the Will of Every
The words "The G-d of Spirits" denotes one of the titles of
Hashem, of which there are very many. This was not chosen by
Moshe Rabbenu by chance. He specifically refers to that
aspect in which a future leader must excel in order to be
chosen by Hashem. And so we learn from the reply of Hashem to
"Take unto you Yehoshua bin Nun, a man with spirit in him"
Rashi explains the phrase "G-d of Spirits" as following: "Why
was it used? [Moshe] said before Him: Master of the World:
Known and revealed before You is the mind of each and every
one, for each one is different from the other. Appoint over
them a leader who will patiently suffer each one according to
A large community has a wide spectrum of opinions. What
Reuven likes is untenable to Shimon and what both of them
like is abominable to Levi.
The function of a leader is to bear with each and every one
according to his leanings and preferences and not to show any
preferences towards one, thereby creating friction and
bitterness in the others.
And thus, in fact, was Yehoshua. "Take Yehoshua bin Nun, a
man with spirit in him." Says Rashi, "Just as you asked: that
he be able to stand up to the will of each and every one."
Patience and tolerance are fundamental characteristics of a
leader. If he does not have both traits, then the scepter of
leadership in his hand is liable to turn into a destructive
weapon. He will listen to one and plug his ear up to the
other. He will give one person the attention he deserves, and
to the other, the feeling that his presence is undesirable.
This can cause a rift between him and part of the public over
which he is appointed. This schism can damage his ability to
lead, for his authority will have been undermined and will
not be accepted by all segments.
A leader must lead the whole public, and not only part of
Train the Child According to His Way
If this holds true with regard to leadership, then in
education how much more so, for in the cheder or
school, in the yeshiva or kollel, the student absorbs from
his mentor daily. There the bond is so much stronger. A
mechanech should learn to intuit his student's nature,
his tendencies, strengths and weaknesses; he must be able to
speak the `language' of each one, at his particular level, at
his developmental, and not only chronological, level. Each
student has his moods, his better times, his ups and downs,
and a leader must learn to recognize them. It was this
empathy that Shlomo Hamelech referred to when he said, "Train
the youth according to his way" (Mishlei 22:6).
Each student has his leanings, his particular aspirations.
One may be drawn to hashkofoh analysis, another to the
rigors of halochoh; one may be strong in bekiyus
(scope and breadth), while another's strength may lie in
depth of thought.
Even if the mechanech's strength lies in one
particular direction, he must remember that his charges are
not necessarily his soul mates, sharing common soul roots. He
must certainly not diminish the importance of each person
whose intellectual makeup differs from his own. He must have
his student's strength and welfare in mind, and see to it
that he develop according to his particular direction by
providing him with the necessary tools to do so.
This does not only refer to positive natures. One must also
know how to relate to negative tendencies and how to deal
with them. If a student is attracted only to philosophical
aspects of Torah study, to mysticism perhaps, and has no
desire to study halochoh, this is a negative situation that
he must handle, for a person ignorant in halochoh cannot be a
truly G-d-fearing person, "Lo am ho'oretz chossid."
The rebbe cannot allow him to pursue his way without
tempering it and directing him, but he must incorporate
halochoh and make it palatable.
The art of relating to a student in this manner was included
in Moshe Rabbenu's request of Hashem. A leader who is to be
appointed over the nation must also be able to know how to go
against the spirit of each and every person, when that
is required! The educator must mitigate the undesirable
elements of his students, channel them to positive areas and
develop the positive to its fullest. He must insist on his
student's applying himself to the study of halochoh, for
example, but not deny him the intellectual pleasures of
philosophical analysis, either.
The Difference with a Brother Who is Near
"A man over the congregation."
In most instances, Onkelos translates the word `ish'
as `inesh', whereas here, he chooses the word
`gvar.' One person upon the congregation. Why the
The difference between the two words is more pronounced in
another verse where he actually uses one translation, and
then the other. After Moshe Rabbenu descended from the
mountain and saw the Golden Calf which the Jews had made, he
issued a rallying cry to those prepared to be zealous and to
defend the honor of Hashem. He says to them: "Thus says
Hashem the G-d of Israel: Put every man his sword by his side
and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp and
slay every man his brother and every man his companion and
every man his relative" (Shemos 32:27).
Surprisingly enough, when Onkelos comes to translate this
verse, he makes an alteration, and interprets, "Thus says
Hashem the G-d of Israel: Place each gvar his sword
upon his side . . . and slay every gvar his brother
and each gvar his companion, and inesh his
For what reason did Onkelos see fit to alter the translation
of the selfsame word, in a single verse, from one word to
Before we answer this question, let us present another
question: To whom was Moshe referring when he asked those
zealous ones to slay each one his relative? It cannot be any
random relative because he has already said, "Each one his
brother." And surely there is no relation closer than that.
To whom, then, was Moshe Rabbenu referring here?
The Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh raised this question in his
commentary on the Torah. He explains that some brothers, born
from the same mother, have similar outlooks and natures,
whereas there can be friends who think similarly as well and
can be considered brothers in spirit even though they have no
biological relationship. These can be even closer than blood
relations since they are kindred spirits, soul mates.
"Some are drawn together from the roots of their souls, for
there are souls that are close to the roots of one another
and are attracted to one another, despite their not being
related. And there are also souls that are far apart by
virtue of the root of their soul, yet are drawn together in a
family relationship. Those who are not physically related may
feel a closer bond to their soul mates than those who are
blood related. And while those who are related by birth, are
called `brothers,' those who are close by virtue of the
similarity of their souls are considered korov, kin,
or kindred spirits."
When Moshe Rabbenu commands these zealous ones to "Kill each
one his brother," he is referring to brothers from the same
mother, a blood brother, and not a brother from the same
father, since none of the Leviim sinned with the Eigel. But
when he commands them to slay "Each one his relative," he is
referring to those who are close in spirit, related and
kindred in soul, dear and loyal friends.
This explanation supplies us with the keys to understanding
the style and word choice of Onkelos. The word gvar
expresses the flesh and blood of a person, his biological
relation, whereas the use of inesh refers to the
spiritual affinity, the spiritual fraternity that a person
feels towards someone who is like him in nature, a soul
Now we are able to appreciate Onkelos's translation in a
broader, more interpretive way. A marvelous harmony reposes
upon his translation-commentary. And if he changed the
wording, it was with significant intention for the variance
that it highlights. The first two mentions of anoshim
are translated as gvar, since the Torah is talking
about physical, biological relationship. But when Onkelos
comes to translate the third expression of ish -- ish es
krovo, he chooses the word inesh, for the Torah is
not referring to the biological relationship, but to the
personal affinity, the closeness one feels to a soul mate, a
person of similar outlook and nature etc., a similarity that
stems from the closeness of the origin of their souls.
A Man Over the Community -- Gvar al Kenishtei
This marvelous explanation was heard from HaRav Eliyohu
Mishkofsky zt'l, rosh yeshivas Knesses
Chizkiyohu in Kfar Chassidim, who also put the finishing
touches upon the explanation of the variances in Onkelos'
translation. He relates back to the original verse which we
studied, "Let Hashem, G-d of Spirits of all flesh, set a
man over the congregation." We would expect that when
he comes to translate this verse, Onkelos would employ the
word inesh, for in a leader we would expect a person
of superior spirit, one exalted and noble, set above the
masses. But to our surprise, here we find him using the
translation of gvar.
This comes to teach us that a leader should be able to
recognize the simple needs of his flock. He should not only
be concerned with their exalted spiritual needs but also be
attuned to their mundane, physical requirements, like daily
bread, livelihood. The basic earthly needs of the flock
should occupy him, also, at all times.
The spiritual stature of a true leader is measured, among
other things, also in the manner that he is preoccupied and
concerned with the physical and material needs of his
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