"Moses spoke to G‑d saying: 'Let the G‑d of all living souls appoint a man over the community. Let him come and go before them, and let him bring them out and lead them, that G‑d's community not be like a flock that has no shepherd.' And G‑d said to Moses, 'Take Joshua, the son of Nun, a man who has the spirit [of G‑d] in him, and place your hands upon him. And place him before Elazar the Cohen and before the community, and command him before them. Invest him with some of your splendor, in order that the entire congregation of Israel will heed him.'" (Num. 27:15-20)

Parashat Pinchas is sometimes called the parasha of Chassidut. It describes the essence of the Rebbe/Teacher, Chassid/Disciple relationship, the core around which Chassidut revolves. He discovered that Moses was…able to relate not only to the nation as a whole, but to each individual as well…

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 2:2), recounts how Moses was tested by G‑d to determine whether or not he had the qualities necessary to lead the Jewish Nation. He discovered that Moses was compassionate and merciful and would be able to relate not only to the nation as a whole, but to each individual as well.

"G‑d examines (tests) the Tzadik." (Psalms 11:5) How was Moses tested? While he was employed by his father-in-law, Jethro, as a shepherd in the desert of Midian, a small lamb was found missing from the flock. Moses set out to find her. He even found the little lamb resting in a shady oasis, slaking her thirst. "I didn't know that you were thirsty! Is that why you ran away? You must be so tired," exclaimed Moses. Moses picked up the lamb and carried her on his shoulders back to the flock. Said G‑d, "Moses, your compassion extends to every last animal in the flock. You shall also care for my flock, the children of Israel!"

This is the essential quality of a leader of the Jewish people. His concern is not only for the general welfare of the nation, but includes the personal needs of each and every Jew. He knows that each Jew alone is an entire world. He understands that the general good of the people is actually the personal welfare of each individual.

This idea is beautifully expressed by Rashi on the verse: "Moses spoke to G‑d saying: Let the G‑d of all living souls appoint a man over the community." (Num. 27:15-16) Rashi comments, "Why is '…G‑d of all living souls' said? Moses said to G‑d, 'Master of the World, You know the nature of every individual in the nation, and no two are similar to each other. Appoint over them a leader who will be able to bear the responsibility for each and every one according to his particular nature. It is not enough that the leader be able to lead the entire nation, he must be able to care for each individual according to his needs. This is a Jewish leader. The commonplace ordinary conversation of a tzadik is as profound as the entire Torah

What is a chasid/disciple? It is not enough that his rebbe is concerned for him personally, for his spiritual and physical well being. The Chasid/Disciple must be willing to accept upon himself the influence and guidance of the Tzadik.

The Torah enjoins us to cleave and attach ourselves to G‑d. (Deut. 10:20, 13:5) Yet the Sages ask, how is that possible? Is not G‑d a devouring fire; and one who cleaves to Him will be consumed? (Deut. 9:3)

Therefore, in order to cleave to G‑d, one must cleave to the tzadikim and Torah scholars of the generation. Their depth of knowledge of the Torah and of the ways of G‑d represent the will of G‑d. By attaching oneself to them, one becomes bound in rapture to G‑d.

There are several ways of binding oneself to a tzadik and accepting his influence on yourself. Rabbi Yechiel of Ostravoh, the Toldot Adam, explains that this is accomplished through the three different ways that a tzaddik himself relates to his people: thought, speech and deed.

There is the Tzadik of Deed, who through his humility, depth of Torah study, intensity of prayer and self-subjugation, inspires those who observe him to climb higher. His disciples, by conducting themselves according to his example, are able to bring themselves up to a higher level of spiritual awareness.

The Tzadik of Speech guides with his words. In the previous generations, a Jew would appear before the tzadik to receive inspiration in divine service. The Tzadik would speak to him, even very briefly, and that was enough to rekindle a new spirit in the Jew. Even from the plain conversation of the Tzadik he was able to detect deep significance and derive tremendous benefit. "Tzadikim say little but do a lot." (Baba Metzia 87a) On the expression "Words that come from the heart go straight into the heart", Rabbi Joshua Heshel of Monastrichsh said, "Tzadikim, since their words come straight from the heart, they can accomplish much with a few words since those words go straight into the heart."

The Midrash declares that the commonplace ordinary conversation of a tzadik is as profound as the entire Torah. Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk used to sit with his chasidim during the half hour break between the weekday evening Mincha and Maariv prayers, and tell them seemingly simple stories. Each person would be able to discover profound thoughts in these stories that personally inspired and encouraged him in his divine service. No one is exempt from being a teacher of others…

The service of the Tzadik of Thought is one of deep and lofty thought, and he leads a life quite detached from the physical world. A person who simply gazes upon this tzadik is invariably changed for the good. All the more so when the tzadik sets his gaze upon the Jew. He can be instantly uprooted from his present level of service and propelled to a new reality. It is told about Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk that any person who had the opportunity to even gaze at him once, was guaranteed that he would not leave this world before doing teshuva.

Today the importance of finding a teacher/spiritual guide/Rebbe is greater than ever. Seldom is one able to capture the taste of Judaism on his own. Judaism has survived, and continues to thrive today because its laws, wisdom, customs and practices have been passed on from rebbe to disciple, from father to son, from mother to daughter, from friend to friend. Moreover, no one is exempt from being a teacher of others. The thirst for learning Torah today is greater than at any time since the era of the Babylonian Talmud, and there are more Torah students today in Israel alone than there were in pre-WWII Europe. Everybody can find somebody who is in need of his type of wisdom or method of guidance. For once you become a student, you have something, no matter how elementary, that needs to be taught to someone else.

Moreover, "Words that come from the heart go straight into the heart" - into the same heart from whence they came. When one gives of himself to another, the words re-enter one's heart with a new clarity and sense of purpose. If they went out in truth, they return with a greater clarity of the truth.

Just as "G‑d taught the Torah to Moses, and Moses to Joshua…" (Avot 1:1), we also have our role in furthering the essential Teacher/Disciple relationship. Only we can insure that the chain of transmission will always be strong.

[First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Pinchas 5760; www.nishmas.org]