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Friday, February 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Yisro

In this week's parsha, Yisro advises Moshe that he could not possibly handle the entire nation's legal issues on his own. Rather, he should "discern from among the entire people, anshei chayil, God-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money..."(18:21) However, when Moshe actually goes about choosing the men to take care of the lower-level cases, he chooses anshei chayil from among all Israel (18:25) The obvious question is, what happened to all those other traits that Yisro advised him to seek out?


When translating the pasuk above, I specifically left anshei chayil untranslated. There are varying opinions on the actual meaning of this term and they govern the various approaches to this question. First is the somewhat disheartening opinions of Rashi, Chizkuni and Siforno. Rashi in Devarim (1:15) writes that Yisro instructed Moshe to seek out seven traits and he was only able to find three. Chizkuni interprets anshei chayil as wealthy men. Of the traits recommended by Yisro, only the trait of wealth was one that could be recognized by one's peers. The other three were "traits of the heart" which one could not discern on the surface and therefore, Moshe was only able to be choosy about the anshei chayilSiforno writes that Moshe could not find men who possessed all the characteristics recommended by Yisro. Therefore, he decided that the most important one was anshei chayil, well versed, deep, sharp men who are determined to get to the bottom of things and willing to fight for the truth. He reasoned that a God-fearing individual who does not possess this attribute is of inferior quality to a less God-fearing individual who does.


Ramban and Malbim offer more optimistic views. On pasuk 21, Ramban writes, and Malbim likewise, that anshei chayil simply means men who are fit to lead a large nation, for the word chayil is used to refer to large assembly. The term anshei chayil was used as a general term. The next three attributes were only a description of the three components of anshei chayil. Since anshei chayil was the general and the others the specific, pasuk 25 only refers to the general and we understand from that that all the necessary characteristics were included.


Netziv in Ha'amek Davar makes a very astute observation. Yisro's original suggestion was to find these traits among people from kol ha'am, the entire nation. The term, explains Netziv, refers to the masses and includes all. He was worried that because of the sheer number of judges that were necessary, Moshe wouldn't be able to choose only from the upper echelon of Torah scholars. So if he were considering everyone, he would have to be more discerning in who was chosen. However, the pasuk recounts that Moshe indeed chose all the men from B'nei Yisrael, a term that refers to the Torah scholars. Therefore, he could take for granted that these great men would be God-fearing men of truth who despise money for this is the way of the Torah. However, the trait of anshei chayil, which Netziv interprets as leaders who can guide the nation (like Ramban) is not necessarily found in all. Therefore, among the scholars, it was only this trait that he had to seek out but the rest were assumed.


Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Many Who Fear God

Dikdukian: Letzais

Dikdukian: On top of Old Smokey

Dikdukian: Ram veNisa by Eliyahu Levin

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