This week we begin the Book of Deuteronomy, which is a retelling of the previous four books. It is a reflection of the 40 years in the desert. Moses remembers all of the successes and challenges of leading the Jewish people. At first, Moses was sole leader of the people. From sunrise until deep into the night, the entire community came to him to solve their problems. With this responsibility, Moses became tired and burnt out. His father-in-law Jethro goaded him to find others who would lead alongside him and be his partners in strengthening the Jewish people.
Forty years later, Moses reflects upon this moment and tells the people which characteristics he looked for in a leader. A leader would be a chacham, a wise person; a navon, a discerning person; and a yaadah, an experienced person. We know how to define experienced; that is a person who possesses prior moments of leadership. But what is the difference between wise and discerning?
The rabbis answer that question, as they often like to do, with an illustration. A chacham, a wise person, is a banker who would examine customers’ money when they arrived at the bank. However, when no one came to the bank, the chacham would take out her own money and examine it instead.
What about the navon, the discerning person? In this illustration, the navon was also a banker. This navon would also examine customers’ money when they arrived at the bank. Yet, when no one was in the bank, the navon would wait anxiously and do nothing until the next customer would arrive.
The rabbis believed that the chacham and the navon, the wise and the discerning person, were quite different, not in knowledge, but in temperament and outlook. A chacham, a wise person, had plenty of internal resources. She could achieve action on her own. She was self-motivated and always willing to go the extra mile.
A navon, a discerning person, was different. This is the person who possesses deep intellectual knowledge and enjoys spending time with others, interacting with others. The navon cares deeply about those in our community; a people person.
Moses reminds us that there are many traits of leadership. Our community possesses the chacham and the navon. We must recognize these different leaders in our community and honor them for their personalities. Whether we work better with others or achieve success when we are alone, whether we think about the details or focus on the broader vision, whether we have street smarts or book smarts, all these characteristics are needed to make our community stronger. May we honor each of us for the aspects that make us unique and make us a blessing.
Rabbi Andy Gordon is spiritual leader at Bolton Street Synagogue.