How to Captain a Class

The first thing a
Rebbe/teacher needs to know before he enters the classroom is that he is not
"simply" a teacher of a group of students but a leader of that group, or,
as our title suggests, the captain of a ship, or in this case, a class.

The ba’alei mussar explain
that in order to be a successful mechanech (teacher) one needs to emulate
the characters of a leader or מנהיג. (See Mesilos Chaim B’chinuch p.

Just as a leader has to guide his
followers as a group, while relating to the needs and concerns of the
individual, so too, a teacher has to serve as a leader of his class, while
relating to each and every student according to his personality (רוח), needs (נפש)
and spiritual level (נשמה).

In our parsha, parshas
Pinchos, Moshe Rabeinu asks Hashem to select a fitting successor to him
and in doing so, exposes us to the list of qualities a person needs in order to
be a successful leader.

In posuk 27:16,17 Moshe
asks Hashem: "יפקד ה’ אלקי הרוחות לכל בשר איש על העדה. אשר יצא לפניהם ואשר יבא
לפניהם ואשר יוציאם ואשר יביאם ולא תהיה עדת ה’ כצאן אשר אין להם רעה." (May Hashem,
the G-d of all types of people, appoint a capable leader for the congregation.
One who will go out before them and will come in before them, and will lead them
out and will bring them in, so that the congregation of Hashem will not be a
flock without a shepherd.)

These two pesukim are the
key to understanding the main qualities of a leader and we can extrapolate these
lessons to a teacher’s situation.

"אלקי הרוחות לכל בשר" – Rashi
explains this difficult passage as follows: Taking into account that each and
every person has a unique personality (רוח), individual needs and desires (בשר),
and differing levels of Yirei Shamayim and mental capacity (העדה), Moshe
asked for a leader who had the ability to understand, relate to and put up with
each and every individual. Almost surprisingly, Moshe saw this as the key to
successful leadership and not a strong, demanding personality.

Question: If the people are
intelligent and aware of the options, why is it so difficult to lead them in the
right direction?

Answer: The Emek Davor
answers through explaining our posuk. "הרוחות לכל בשר" alludes to the
fact that their mind
(רוח=דעת) is pulled in the direction of their bodily desires (בשר).

The job of a leader, therefore,
or a teacher in our case, is to guide his followers or students to make
intelligent decisions, based on objective truth. To accomplish this, as we said
above, each person must be related to according to his unique character traits.

However, in order to accomplish
the above, the leader or teacher has to himself be an example of one who makes
intelligent decisions and is not, to a great degree, drawn after his personal

Thus, Hashem chooses Yehoshua,
for he is described as "איש אשר רוח בו", without mention of בשר, meaning,
according to the Emek Davor, that Yehoshua was not drawn after his
personal needs.

Question: Were not Moshe
Rabeinu’s children, as well as other great Talmidei Chachomim, in control
of themselves and able, as well, to relate to each individual?

Answer: The commentaries say that
there were, in fact, other great personalities, however Yehoshua had the added
ingredient of undeterable dedication, or stamina, as Chazal say that
Yehoshua never left Moshe’s side and never ceased to attend to the needs of the
beis medrash.

In addition, this behavior,
expressed Yehoshua’s great humility, which, as my Rebbe, Rav Steinhauz
z"l said, is a necessary component of a great leader. In fact, in order to be "סובל
כל או"א" – one has to be blessed with great humility. (See Rav Friedlander
in Mesilos Chaim B’chinuch p. 97-8 on the importance of humility in a

Until now, we have seen that
there are five essential ingredients in the making of a good leader or teacher.

  1. Sensitivity  

  2. Patience

  3. Stamina

  4. Self-control

  5. Humility

The next posuk of "אשר יצא
לפניהם…" can be understood as follows: The first section uses the more passive
wording of יצא and the second wording a more forceful language of יוציאם. The
Kli Yakar
explains that there are two levels of relationships between the
leader and his followers. In matters of Torah law, or in our case, school rules
and policy, the forceful language of יוציאם is used, for here there is no room
for compromise.

יצא is used to refer to matters
which are not Torah law or necessary rules, where decisions should be reached
through mutual understanding, under the guidance and leadership of the leader or
teacher. (See Kesav Sofer "אשר יצא לפניהם". Also see the Ohr Hachaim
on posuk 27:16, who writes in a similar vein).

"יצא לפניהם" can also be
understood as a show of personal example and "יבא לפניהם" suggests that
each plan of action should be well thought out, with limits. In addition, the
above hints that a leader or teacher should not expect a follower or student to
do something that he would not do himself.

"יצא…יבא" – Inevitably, in a
classroom, there are arguments or misunderstandings. A good teacher will quickly
sense when things are not going in the right direction and will יצא לפניהם,
leave the present situation and redirect the class’s attention – יבא לפניהם, in
a positive direction.

A teacher cannot always relate to
his class and pupils in a routine manner. He needs to be on the look out for an
individual’s changed needs or a new feeling which penetrates the class.

Therefore, he must be ready to
יצא לפניהם to change a routine, if needed, before – לפניהם – the class or the
individual goes astray. So too, the teacher must be aware when to return the
class to the routine schedule or to offer a new routine.

Baruch Hashem,
we have a Torah from which we can draw the secrets of success in order to best
fulfill our role as teachers of the next generation of Bnei Yisroel. May
Hashem give us the insight and the ability to learn and be able to apply the
lessons of the Torah.

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