Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


          “In the depths of my memory, there abides an image vouchsafed to me alone. I see him now as he was then—more than half a century past—a man of stature in the full bloom of life. Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, my rebbi, scrubbing the floor on his hands and knees.
“His rebbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, had asked him to prepare the building on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for the inaugural of Kollel Gur Aryeh of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin. Reb Shlomo asked me to lend a hand, and there we were, all alone on our hands and knees.
“Not long ago, I mentioned this episode to a rosh yeshivah—and watched his eyes light up. “I always sensed in that kollel an overwhelming feeling of kedushah; now I know where it came from,” he said.
“But that was Reb Shlomo. He could weigh issues that stand berumo shel olam (at the apex of the universe), and he could also scrub the floor of a makom Torah.”[1][2]

Moshe Rabbeinu, aware that he would not lead his beloved nation into the Promised Land, voiced his concerns about the welfare of the nation after his passing[3].
          “Moshe spoke to G-d saying: ‘May Hashem, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd’. G-d said to Moshe, ‘Take to yourself Yehoshua the son of Nun,איש אשר רוח בו   - a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him’.”
          Rashi explains, “Moshe said before G-d, ‘Master of the World! It is revealed before you the personality of each individual; they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can deal with each individual, according to his personality’.”  
          What is the significance of Moshe’s analogy to sheep without a shepherd? The nation required a leader simply because they needed someone to guide and lead them. What is added by the analogy?
          Kesav Sofer explains that Moshe was not concerned that the Jews would be left without a leader. G-d would surely not forsake His Nation and would not allow them to fall prey to the perils of anarchy. Moshe was confident that the leader would be a scholar of note, as well as a righteous and courageous individual who would lead with conviction and faith. But Moshe was concerned lest the leader be too consumed by his own agenda and mission and not be sufficiently in tune with the needs of each individual.
          Moshe wanted to ensure that the leader would be a person who loved his people and cared deeply for their needs. Rashi elucidates this point when he writes that Moshe sought a leader “who can deal with each individual, according to his personality”.
          This is the meaning of the analogy. If a flock of sheep are left to fend for themselves they are surely doomed to become dispersed and easy prey for surrounding predators. The sheep-owner does not merely seek a shepherd who will keep the sheep together and out of harm’s way. Such a shepherd may be consumed by his selfish desires to shear the sheep and eventually slaughter them. Rather, he seeks a compassionate shepherd who will love and care for the needs of each of the sheep left under his care. That is the type of leader that Moshe desired to be his successor. 

          Harav Asher Anshel Katz[4] develops this idea further. He questions why when asking about his successor did Moshe request that G-d “appoint a man over the assembly”. Why didn’t Moshe ask that G-d appoint “a leader” or “a caretaker”; why does he simply refer to him as ‘a man’? G-d responded that Moshe should appoint Yehoshua because he is, “איש אשר רוח בו   - a man in whom there is spirit.” There again seems to be an emphasis on the fact that the successor should be ‘a man’. What does that mean?
The Yitav Lev[5] was the Rabbi and spiritual leader of the village of Sighet, Hungary. In that city there lived a righteous individual named R’ Yosef Leib Kahane. R’ Yosef Leib was a scholar as well as a prestigious businessman. Because of his combined worldliness and righteousness he was appointed one of the chief officers of the city.
The Yitev Lev would quip that people often come to the city of Sighet to solicit the blessing of ‘a righteous Jew’ who lives in the city. “They think the righteous Jew is Zalman Leib so they come to me for a blessing. But they are mistaken. The righteous Jew of Sighet is really R’ Yosef Leib’.”
  When R’ Yosef Leib died, the Yitev Lev delivered the following eulogy:
The Torah records that after Pharaoh had two eccentric dreams no one was able to offer him a plausible explanation about their significance. Finally Yosef was taken out of prison and brought before Pharaoh. When Yosef offered Pharaoh an explanation that assuaged him, Pharaoh was spellbound and declared, “Could we find another like him – a man in whom is the Spirit of G-d?”[6] 
The Medrash explains that Pharaoh commented to his ministers, “If we were to search from one end of the world to the other we would be unable to find (a person) like this one (i.e. Yosef).”
The Medrash is difficult to understand. Why was Pharaoh so convinced that it was impossible for there to be anyone of greater stature and more G-d-fearing than Yosef? What about Yaakov and the other tribes?
The answer is that Pharaoh understood that there may indeed be other individuals in the world who had more of a ‘Spirit of G-d’ than Yosef. But Pharaoh was under the impression that to become a G-dly person who possessed the ‘Spirit of G-d’ one had to live in seclusion. He had to be isolated from society and temptations which detract a person from a life of sanctity and holiness.
Pharaoh could not believe that an individual like Yosef who was a slave and imprisoned for years could still maintain a semblance of divinity. Pharaoh was floored by the fact that Yosef was “a man”, i.e. a worldly cultured person, and yet possessed “the Spirit of G-d”, i.e. he was a righteous person and a staunch believer. To Pharaoh that combination was simply mind-boggling. He exclaimed that although there may indeed be greater ‘men’ in the world than Yosef, in the sense that they may be more sophisticated and urbane, and there may also be individuals who possessed more of a ‘spirit of G-d’ than Yosef, Pharaoh was sure that there could be no other person who was able to balance both of those dichotomous factions as perfectly as Yosef.
The Yitav Lev concluded his eulogy by saying, “Perhaps there are greater businessmen than R’ Yosef Leib and perhaps there are greater scholars than R‘ Yosef Leib. But there is no individual who possesses both qualities together - a ‘man’, in the sense that he was worldly, and yet who also possesses the ‘Spirit of G-d’ as R’ Yosef Leib. That explains the enormity of our loss.” 

The Viener Rav continues that this was the type of leader that Moshe sought for Klal Yisroel. Moshe was the quintessential lover of all Jews and wanted to ensure that his successor would not only be a person of valor and character, but also a person who deeply loved every Jew.
Moshe wanted his successor to be ‘a man’, in the sense that he would be in tune with the needs and idiosyncrasies of the nation. The leader had to know ‘what made them tick’, how to infuse them with passion, how to excite them and draw them close, and how to elevate them as individuals.
G-d replied that Yehoshua was the most qualified, because he was איש אשר רוח בו   - a man in whom there is spirit”. He was not only a holy and personally meritorious individual who possessed the Spirit of G-d, but he was also ‘a man’ who could intimately connect with the nation.
When Moshe was informed that Yehoshua was chosen he was assuaged, because he knew that his prized disciple was indeed a person, “who can deal with each individual, according to his personality”.

Every Friday evening, we commence the Shabbos prayers with the psalm, “לכו נרננה לה' – Let us go exult G-d”. In that paragraph we read, “For He is our G-d and we are sheep of His pasture, today if we heed His call.” It is noteworthy that the verse utilizes the same terminology as Moshe used when referring to the leader of Klal Yisroel – sheep in a flock.
Moshe sought a leader who would be analogous to a loving shepherd who cares for his flock with love and devotion. Despite the fact that by definition, a leader must be able to relate to his followers on an individual level, there is one caveat: a leader must never compromise on mitzvos. If connecting with his followers entails a breach of halacha or mitzvos, a leader must hold his ground even if that will cause him to become somewhat estranged from his followers.  
When all is said and done, we – followers and leaders – are all “followers of G-d”, and therefore must subjugate ourselves unequivocally to His Will. It is surely true that a shepherd must love his sheep and cater to their needs, but the sheep must also behave as sheep normally do. If a sheep begins to act erratically the shepherd will be compelled to discipline the sheep and treat it differently than the rest of the flock. 
Even Moshe, the consummate and ultimate leader who always tried to connect with Klal Yisroel, on occasion was forced to draw the line and seek judgment against his beloved nation.[7]
Our leaders must be able to connect with us, but as same time we must seek ways to connect ourselves with our leaders.
Parshas Pinchas is often read during the first Shabbos of the Three Weeks of mourning that culminate with Tisha B’av. It is a time when we recall all of the suffering and anguish we have suffered as a people since time immemorial. If there is one theme that resurfaces repeatedly during all times of national tragedy, it is our failure to heed to the call of our leaders and prophets.
In regards to our relationship with G-d, the rule is “If we tune ourselves to Him than He attunes himself to us”, as it were. That is the pivotal key to being part of G-d’s flock.

“Let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd”
“And we are sheep of His pasture, today if we heed His call”

[1] I should add that similar praise was expressed about Rav Mordechai Rennert zt’l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Derech Chaim in Brooklyn, who was niftar earlier this year. At his levaya many noted his incredible humility and ability to connect with talmidim. In the early years of the yeshiva he and Rav Yisroel Plutchok shlita, the current Rosh Yeshiva, would mop the floors in the yeshiva themselves.
[2] From an article by Michael Sanders reviewing the book “Reb Shlomo” by Rav Yisroel Besser, Jewish Action, June 2009
[3] Rashi writes that one of the virtues of a righteous leader is that he puts aside his own concerns in order to prioritize the needs of his followers.
[4] Viener Rebbe, “Shemen Rosh”; the Viener Rav delivered these words during a lecture he gave in honor of the inauguration on a new dayan (judge) in his congregation in Boro Park.
[5] Harav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum zt’l
[6] Bereishis 41:38
[7] Most notably Moshe demanded swift and harsh retribution against Korach and his adherents when they rebelled against Moshe as the agent of G-d. 


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