Devarim: Perceptive counseling (a)

Wise judges

At the beginning of the Torah portion of Devarim, Moses begins his final speech and directive to the Jewish people before they enter the landof Israelunder Joshua’s leadership. Moses reminds the congregation how difficult it had been for him to bear the responsibility of the people alone and how, after their compliance, he had appointed the nation’s judges. He then told the people to search for, “[Righteous] men who are wise, perceptive and known [i.e., accepted by their tribe as worthy of being a judge].”[1]

However, when Moses appointed the men, the verse states that they were, “Men who are wise and known,” but the word “perceptive” (נבונים) does not appear. The sages learn from this missing adjective that Moses could not find any truly perceptive individuals.[2] Although they were wise, i.e. well-versed in Torah law and thus worthy of being judges, they lacked the ability to penetrate the psyche of those who approached them and to modify their response to properly reflect its deeper needs.

Although this type of perception may be dispensable in a judge or in a rabbinical authority, as we see from the fact that the judges were still appointed even though they did not have this quality, nonetheless, it is an essential quality that every counselor should nurture.

In fact, it is strange that Moses was unable to find perceptive individuals, since the artisans who constructed the Tabernacle are described as having God-given wisdom and perception (תבונה)[3] and the entire tribe of Yissachar is referred to as, “knowing understanding (בינה).”[4]

Understanding one thing from another

We can find an explanation for this query in Rashi’s interpretation that perception is the ability, “to understand one thing from another” and the Rebbe, following the Arizal, clarifies that there are two levels to this quality. The first level is the power of deduction: a person studies a general rule and is able to deduce the details from that rule. This level sufficed for the artisans of the Tabernacle, who only received the general measurements and were able to deduce from them how to construct the details. The second, higher level of understanding is the ability to innovate new ideas from the knowledge gained through one’s study. It was this innovative form of perception that Moses was unable to find in the men he appointed.

Another way of explaining this ability is that it relates to sensitive timing. In a consultation situation, when a wise person offers his advice, he might offer sound counsel, but if he does so at an inappropriate moment, his advice might do more harm than good. In contrast, someone with true perception will take note of “one thing” (his friend’s current situation) and understand “another thing” i.e. that this may not be the right moment for his friend to accept his advice (as good as it may be). In such a case, offering the right advice at the right moment is crucial to its success.

Although Moses himself was blessed with perception, he was not successful in imparting it to his disciples. Yet, we are taught that in the future, we will all be perceptive. It is the task of Mashiach, “a wondrous counselor,” to teach us how to incorporate this quality into our psyches. Indeed, the value of the filling of Mashiach’s four letters, מם שין יוד חית, is equal to the phrase, “one thing from another” (דבר מתוך דבר).

Mashiach, the ultimately perceptive individual is just waiting for the right moment… may we soon merit his speedy revelation.



[1] Deuteronomy 1:13.

[2] Ibid, Rashi.

[3] Exodus 36:1.

[4] 1 Chronicles 12:33.

1 Comments

  1. …..the world needs Moshiach now. May the loving kindness of our Abba Father Above shorten the time even more than expected….

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