Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, comments that, although Moshe Rabbeinu was acutely aware that his sons were not worthy successors to his mantle of leadership, he nonetheless asked for them to succeed him. Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma) relate that Hashem countered that Yehoshua, his primary student, who never left his side, would succeed him. Why did Moshe ask if he knew the answer? Moshe sought to underscore that sons do not inherit a Torah position solely due to pedigree. One must be worthy to be a leader. Torah leadership is not transmitted by inheritance, but by substance and distinction.
Furthermore, the Torah leader must focus on l’chol basar, “all flesh,” all people, not just a select few who are fortunate to be accepted into the inner circle. His focus on them should be Elokei ha’ruchus, “G-d of spirits,” which Rav Ilan interprets as infusing kol basar with ruchniyus, spirituality. A leader’s mission is to elevate his flock spiritually. To shmuess and be friendly with them might be the manner through which he breaks down the wall that separates him from them, but, once he gains access to them and earns their trust, it should be all “business”: raising their spiritual ambitions.
A truly great leader is one whose heart pulsates with feeling for others. The Gerrer Rebbe, zl, the Pnei Menachem, was such a leader. His heart flowed with love and compassion for every Jew – chasid or not. He comforted the broken-hearted even before they had the state of mind to articulate their emotions. He read between the lines of their letters, and he heard what they did not have the fortitude to express.
At times, his thoughtfulness was expressed with a minor act of a few well-placed words. Once, a family came to the Rebbe to petition a brachah, blessing, for a member who was scheduled to undergo a difficult and complex surgery. The Rebbe gave his blessing, and he immediately rose from his chair, walked to the closet and returned with an expensive bottle of wine, “This will be opened at his seudas hodaah, feast of thanksgiving, over his full recovery. This small gesture was indicative of the Rebbe’s thoughtfulness. The family left filled with hope that things would work out.
A Jew in Yerushalayim had a problem. He had no connections, no protektzia, to get his special needs son into a yeshivah. As he went from one yeshivah to another, each one gave him the run around, simply because he was not “connected.” (Sadly, this occurs more often than we care to acknowledge – and not only in the Holy Land!) It appeared that no one cared; no one was willing to give up their precious time to listen and attempt to help a Jew in need. Meanwhile, the boy was remanded to staying at home and not receiving a proper education. Finally, someone said, “Why not go to the Pnei Menachem? He helps everyone. He has a big heart. You have nothing to lose.”
The Yid had tried it all. He might as well try one more person. How shocked he was when he saw how the Rebbe took notes and gathered information. He seemed really to care. This alone made a world of difference to the man. The Rebbe said, “Return in a few days. Hopefully, I will have a positive answer for you.” A few days passed, and the man returned to the Rebbe who informed him: “It has all been taken care of. Call this number and inform them who you are. Your son has been accepted in the yeshivah.”
Surprisingly, sharing in someone’s pain is easier than sharing and participating in their joyous occasions. Taking an interest, feeling someone’s pain, often assuages one’s personal guilt. Partaking in someone’s joy is more demanding for some. “I just do not have the time or interest” is an often used excuse. The Pnei Menachem would often exhort others to find it within themselves truly to rejoice in the joy and celebrations of others. He based this on the words of the Chidushei HaRim, his great-grandfather and founder of Gerrer Chassidus, who wrote on the invitation to his grandson’s (Sefas Emes) wedding invitation: “The minhag, custom, in Klal Yisrael is to rejoice in the simchah, joy, of others in order to plant love and friendship in the hearts of one another, thereby accustoming oneself to truly rejoice in another’s good fortune. This is the kiyum, fulfillment, of the mitzvah of V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha, Love your fellow as yourself.” Indeed, when the Rebbe heard of a simchah, the throbbing of joy in his heart was visibly palpable.
The Pnei Menachem felt a consummate bond with all Jews. Everyone was family. A Rebbe to tens of thousands of chassidim values every minute of his time. Thus, when he attended a simchah, he did not remain long. His was quality time, making sure that those whose celebration it was would see that he felt a kinship with them, a partnership in their joyous occasion. In the brief time that he spent there, he made sure to leave an indelible impression on the baalei simchah.
Due to his heavy schedule filled with tremendous responsibilities, the Pnei Menachem would often not be invited to simchos. Those close to him did not want to impose on him to attend. He surprised them with his presence anyway, claiming that a good friend does not wait for an invitation. He would often share a powerful insight regarding the passage in the Talmud about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. Apparently, a man who was friends with Kamtza and enemies with Bar Kamtza made a feast. He sent his servant to invite Kamtza, his friend, to the dinner. The servant erred, and, instead, invited Bar Kamtza, who came and was promptly ejected by the host. This led to a bitter revenge on the rabbinic personalities who witnessed the disgrace of Bar Kamtza and ignored it.
The Pnei Menachem added that Kamtza was at fault. As a good friend of the host, he should not have waited for an invitation, but he should immediately have gone on his own – a move that would have prevented the entire debacle. Friends neither wait nor require an invitation. It is their simchah as well.