Parshas Pinchas: The Greatness of Our Leaders

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Pinchas, we learn of various important topics and lessons, relevant to the nation as they approach the end of their forty year wandering in the desert, and prepare to cross into the Land of Israel, under the leadership of Yehoshua bin Nun.

It is in this parsha that Moshe Rabbeinu, knowing that his days are numbered, as he will not merit to lead the nation into the Holy Land, asks Hashem to appoint a leader over the people to go and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in, וְלֹא תִהְיֶה, עֲדַת הכַּצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר אֵיןלָהֶם רֹעֶה, so that the flock of Hashem should not be like sheep without a shepherd (Bamidbar 27:17).

And Hashem replies:, קַחלְךָ אֶתיְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּןנוּןאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁררוּחַ בּוֹ; וְסָמַכְתָּ אֶתיָדְךָ עָלָיוtake to yourself Yehoshua bin Nun, a man within whom is the spirit, and lean your hand upon himוְנָתַתָּה מֵהוֹדְךָ, עָלָיולְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ, כָּלעֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, and place from your glory upon him, in order that the entire assembly of Israel will listenוַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה האֹתוֹ, and Moshe did as Hashem commanded him to do (27:18-22).

Rashi explains: קח לך. קָחֶנּוּ בִּדְבָרִיםאַשְׁרֶךָ שֶׁזָּכִיתָ לְהַנְהִיג בָּנָיו שֶׁל מָקוֹם, “Take Yehoshua”; speak to him with words, saying: “fortunate are you that you have merited to be the leader of the children of Hashem.” 

Furthermore, what does it mean that the leader shall be one ‘אֲשֶׁררוּחַ בּוֹthat the spirit is within him’?  Rashi explains: כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁאַלְתָּ, שֶׁיּוּכַל לַהֲלֹךְ כְּנֶגֶד רוּחוֹ שֶׁל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָדas you, Moshe, requested, that he will be able to work with, and lead, the unique personality of each and every individual; he will be someone who can deal with the character of each and every member of his flock (Rashi to 25:18).

From here we learn that in order to be an effective leader, teacher, and/or parent (for teachers and parents are also leaders), the leader must be able to adapt their approach, methodology and technique to the unique needs of each and every student and child.  “One size fits all” most definitely does NOT fit all when it comes to leadership and chinuch!  While the truisms of Torah never change, and our mesorah, morals, way of life, and the emes (truth) and yoshrus by which we live must be constant, the way we interact and guide one student/child is not necessarily the way we must do so with another child.

Rav Yaakov Bender shlita writes, “When HKB”H appoints Yehoshua bin Nun as the manhig, the leader of Klal Yisrael, Hashem refers to him as a man in whom there is spirit.  Rashi, quoting Chazal, explains the significance of the word ‘ruach,’ in referring to the new leader.

“Two pasukim (verses) earlier, Moshe had requested that HKB”H appoint a specific sort of leader.  He appealed to the ‘Elokei Ha’ruchos, G-d, the spirit of all flesh’.  Rashi (to 27:16) explains why this specific attribute of Hashem is mentioned here.  Moshe said to Hashem, ‘RS”O, the character of each person is revealed to You, and no two are alike.  מַנֵּה עֲלֵיהֶם מַנְהִיג שֶׁיְּהֵא סוֹבֵל כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד לְפִי דַעְתּוֹ, Appoint over them a leader who will tolerate each person according to his individual character.’

“People are different: in temperament, attitude and approach.  To lead more than one person requires the ability to understand those differences and accept them.

“The Gemara in Berachos (6b) teaches: כֵּיוָן שֶׁנִּצְטָרֵךְ אָדָם לַבְּרִיּוֹת, פָּנָיו מִשְׁתַּנּוֹת כִּכְרוּם, once a person has to rely on the mercy of others, his face changes to resemble that of an exotic bird called ‘k’rum’.  The pshat (simple understanding) of this Gemara is that the embarrassment and humiliation of having to ask other people for help causes a person’s face to change colors.

“However, the Chasam Sofer points out that if this were the case, the Gemara should say: ‘nitzrach’, not ‘nitz’ta’raich’, for this actually means ‘is needed by other people.’”

What then, is the Gemara teaching us, “once a person is needed by other people, his face changes”?  Rav Bender answers, quoting the Chasam Sofer, “The Gemara is saying that one chosen by Heaven to lead other people has to be ready and able to give every individual person what he needs, with the leader shifting his approach and personality according to the needs of those he is leading.

“And so, ha’nitz’ta’raich la’briyos, one who is sought out by others, panav mishtanos, his face will keep changing, according to the requirements of those who come to him for help, because that is his role! … A leader must be soivel kol echad (Rashi to 27:16), tolerant of each person with their differences, and that’s the bond forged between a flock and their devoted shepherd.  Moshe Rabbeinu made this request so long ago; and three thousand years later, it is still being answered, and we are blessed to have leaders, rabbonim and gedolim who not only lead us, but understand us” (Rav Yaakov Bender on Chumash, v.2, p.246-247).

Shlomo ha’Melech famously teaches: חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר, עַלפִּי דַרְכּוֹ, educate and teach a child according to his way, גַּם כִּייַזְקִין, לֹאיָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה, so that when he grows up, he will not depart from it (Mishlei 22:6).  While perhaps it might be easier in the short term to apply a ‘one size fits all’ education in our schools, and in our homes, in the long run, this method will be detrimental to all.

When we sit down to the Seder table, on one of the most important nights of chinuch of the year, there are four sons present, each with his own question, and each who deserves and needs his own answer.  It is this model of chinuch we must strive to implement throughout the year, for ‘when one is needed by others, his face changes.’

This is one of the final teachings of our greatest teacher to ever live, Moshe Rabbeinu.  And we would do well to model his mission in our lives and in our homes.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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