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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Naso "The Guiding Staff"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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6/1/12

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS NASO 5772

THE GUIDING STAFF

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky zt’l was once asked how one should educate his children to recite blessings before eating. Rabbi Yaakov replied “I really don’t instruct or teach my children to recite blessings. My children constantly hear my wife and I reciting blessings slowly and meticulously, and they learn to say blessings the same way.”

A few years ago, before I was married, I met Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, our (then) family’s Rav in the parking lot of one of Monsey’s shopping malls. It was the week of Parshas Naso and he related to me the following thought:

In parshas Shemos, the Malbim comments that there are three words the Torah uses in reference to a stick: makal, mishenes, and mateh. He then explains the fundamental difference between each word. A makal refers to a stick one uses to goad and urge, much like a shepherd uses a stick to guide his sheep. Mish’an is an expression of leaning and support. It is similar to a cane which one uses to maintain balance. Finally, a mateh is analogous to a baton, a stick waved in the air in order to direct and instruct.

With this in mind, the Malbim elucidates an exchange that transpired between Moshe and G-d, as it were, at the commencement of Moshe’s tenure as leader of Klal Yisroel. When G-d instructed Moshe to convey His message to Klal Yisroel that the redemption was imminent, Moshe was hesitant. He was afraid that the Jewish people would not hearken to his words and would not believe that he was G-d’s emissary. G-d proceeded to give Moshe three signs that he could use to prove the veracity of his mission. The first involved the staff of Moshe. (Shemos 4:2) “And He (G-d) said to him (Moshe), ‘what is in your hand?’ And he replied, ‘a mateh”.

Malbim explains that when G-d asked Moshe what was in his hand he was testing him. He was essentially asking Moshe to define how he viewed his role as leader. “Is the staff in your hand a makal used to beat people as you assert your authority with chastisement and rebuke? Or, perhaps you view it as a mish’an used for support because you plan to ‘milk’ the nation for everything their worth and see how lucrative being a leader can be?”

Moshe, the consummate leader, immediately responded that it is a “mateh”, a baton which represented his role as a guide and example. The way to teach is not solely with words but more profoundly by example.

With this idea of the Malbim, Rabbi Feuer offered a novel explanation of a verse in Parshas Naso. When the Torah introduces the individual offerings brought by each of the nesi’im (princes) it says, (6:2) “The leaders of Yisroel, the heads of their father’s household, brought offerings; they were ‘ne’seeay hamatos’ (lit. leaders of the tribes), they were those who stand at the countings.”

Why does the Torah first introduce the princes as the ‘leaders of Yisroel’ and then add that ‘they were the leaders of the tribes’?

Rabbi Feuer explained that the verse is actually conveying the greatness of the princes by expressing their philosophy for leadership. Like Moshe, they understood that proper leadership is accomplished by example. Just as Moshe viewed his staff as a baton used for guiding, they too viewed themselves as ne’seeay hamatos, princes of the matos, i.e. princes who teach by personal example.

This idea is further developed with a classic thought from Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l[1] on the haftorah of Parshas Naso. The haftorah relates the events that preceded the birth of Shimshon, the great and righteous warrior who dedicated his life to developing his spiritual and physical prowess.

An angel appeared to ‘the woman’ who has been childless for years and informed her that she would bear a son. Then the angel added that when the child would be born he must be remain a nazir his entire life[2]. The angel concluded that this wunderkind would save Klal Yisroel from their Philistine oppressors. When the woman relayed the angel’s message to her husband Monoach, he seemed disturbed. “Monoach prayed to G-d and he said, “Please, my Master, the angel that you have sent, should please come again and instruct us what we should do with the child.[3]

When the angel reappeared to them, Monoach he repeated his request. The angel responded, “Whatever I have said to the woman you should safeguard.” Then the angel repeated the instructions he had mentioned previously.

What was it that so troubled Monoach about the instructions his wife had received that he needed the angel to clarify? In fact, we don’t find the angel relating any novel ideas; he merely repeats his earlier instructions?

Rabbi Schwab explained that the angel was teaching them a profound educational lesson. When Monoach heard that he would have a son who would be obligated to maintain an austere level of holiness beyond normal law, he was troubled. “How am I to ensure that my son not partake in wine when I make Kiddush every Shabbos on wine? How can I tell him he is prohibited to shave and take a haircut when I do so regularly? How can I inform him that he may not join me at a funeral of someone close to our family? Is that not a double standard?” That was the question of Monoach for which he begged the angel to return. He wanted to understand how to educate the child to do things that he himself was not going to practice.

The angel replied that Monoach’s concern was well-founded. There was only one viable solution, “Whatever I have said to the woman YOU should safeguard.” Indeed, the only way to educate a child properly is to practice what you preach. If Shimshon would be obligated to observe added restrictions his father would have no recourse but to safeguard them as well!

To educate others, one must personify the ideals and values he/she wishes to convey.

The Dubner Maggid once asked the Vilna Gaon how one can influence and educate others. The Gaon replied with an analogy: One should take a large cup and surround it with a number of smaller cups. He should pour the liquid into the large cup, and it will overflow into the smaller cups. That is how one influences, others. It must spill over from his personal passion and efforts.[4]

In a similar vein, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky ztl noted that educators must view themselves more as mashpi’im (influencers) then mechanchim (educators). The word mashpia is related to the word shipua, something inclined or on a slant. Educators must be like a slanted roof from which everything flows down to what is below it. What educators do, what they think, and what values they hold dear trickles down to their children, and leaves a lasting effect.

In the words of noted Psychologist Abraham Maslow, “If we do not model what we teach, we are teaching something else!”

“The leaders of Yisroel, the heads of their father’s household”

“Whatever I have said to the woman YOU should safeguard.”

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[1] Ma’ayan Bais Hashoayvah

[2] He may never drink wine, never allow himself to become impure by coming into contact with a dead body, and never cut his hair

[3] Judges 13:8

[4] Quoted in Parshas Tazria



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