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17 Tammuz 5763 - July 17, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Figure of a Mechanech

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

"Let, Hashem, the G-d of Spirits of all Flesh, Set a man over the Congregation . . . "

Moshe Rabbenu Enumerates the Traits Necessary in a Leader

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 reward.

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 daughters.

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 mouth."

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 educator.

To Stand Up to -- or Against -- the Will of Every Individual

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 Moshe:

"Take unto you Yehoshua bin Nun, a man with spirit in him" (Bamidbar 27:18).

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 his inclination."

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 it.

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 difference?

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 relative."

For what reason did Onkelos see fit to alter the translation of the selfsame word, in a single verse, from one word to another?

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 mate.

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 congregants.

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