(photo credit: Israel Weiss (firstname.lastname@example.org))
The Jewish people seemed poised for entry into the Promised Land when suddenly
the nation became a group of kvetchers, complaining to the Lord… “who will feed
us meat? Remember the fish which we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the
watermelons, the onions and the garlic?” (Numbers 11:4, 5) The degeneration
continues, Moses tells God that he has no meat to give the nation, and that he
can no longer bear the burden of leading them. The divine response is to tell
Moses to gather 70 men from the elders of Israel who will help bear the burden,
and upon whom the spirit of the Lord will rest (Numbers 11:16,17).
are the Jews so vexed, and how does God’s response alleviate their feelings?
They want meat and God tells Moses to supply 70 rabbis! After all the miracles
of the Exodus, it’s difficult to understand the disillusionment of the
Israelites, and even more difficult to understand God’s solution.
believe that the subtext of this trialogue between the Israelites, Moses and God
is that Moses is now being confronted by a new generation – by the youth who
left Egypt with their parents and are maturing into adulthood. This new
generation has different needs and expectations. Each generation requires its
own teachers; each generation has its own dreams, needs and visions. The adults
who left Egypt with Moses required a “rav”; their children who were now growing
to maturity required a “rebbe.”
It has often been said that the
difference between a rav and a rebbe is that when a rav chastises, everyone
thinks he is speaking to their neighbor, whereas when a rebbe chastises,
everyone feels he is speaking personally to them. I believe there is another
difference. A rav speaks with the voice of tradition and conveys the words of
God to the entire nation, giving a message which expresses the vision of our
eternal Torah. A rebbe speaks personally to every individual, taking the eternal
message of God and making it relevant to their needs. A rav speaks to the
generation; a rebbe speaks to the individuals in each generation.
was an exalted prophet who came to the Israelites from the faraway palace of
Pharaoh. He continued to lead them from the tent of The Divine Meeting, three
parasangs from their encampment. Moses did not speak to the Israelites with his
own voice, since “he was heavy of speech and of uncircumcised tongue.” He
thundered with the voice of God presenting the divine message of freedom and
His power emanated from the divine, which enabled him to
unite the nation and give them the confidence to follow him and God into the
desert. Moses came from the distance and looked into the distance. He was a
ro’eh (spelled with an alef); a lofty and majestic seer.
Now that the
Jews had left the land of oppression, followed their seer and were about to
begin a new life in the Promised Land, they had to put the elusive notion of
national freedom into personal perspective.
Each had to understand how to
use the gift of freedom to find his individual purpose, and his individual
expression within the context of God’s land and Torah.
had to find his own instrument within the divine orchestra. For this, they
required an individual pastor (ro’eh with an ayin and not an alef). They could
not articulate this need because they didn’t quite understand it. They thought
their discomfort stemmed from boredom with the daily manna. That’s why they were
not even sure which food they wanted; meat, watermelon, leeks or garlic. What
they really needed was individual nourishment for their souls.
Moses also did not understand and so, when he sent out the scouts to tour the
land and inspire the people with its bounty, he told them “strengthen yourselves
and take the fruit of the land.”
Ultimately, Moses understands that this
new generation requires a personalized rebbe rather than a Godimbued rav. This
was a trait which one as close to God as Moses was did not have the wherewithal
His closeness to God conflicted with their immediate
individual needs. Moses recognized that this new generation required a new
leader: “Let the Lord God of the differing spirits of the various
flesh-and-blood human beings appoint a leader over the congregation, one who
will take them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord not
be like sheep without a shepherd” (Numbers 27:16).
Joshua was a very
different type of leader than Moses – a great scholar and prophet, but also a
man of the people. This made him the right person to bring the generation into
the Promised Land. They had cried out for meat, but what they really needed were
leaders who would prophesy from within the encampment, rather than from the
distant Tent of Meeting where God resided.
They needed a
rebbe.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone
Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.