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Pinchas: Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman The Power of the Individual Part One

The 14th of Tammuz is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Yitzhak HaLevy Ruderman, (1901-1987) Rosh Yesiva of Ner Israel , Baltimore . Born on Shushan Purim in 1901 in Dolhinov, Russia; studied in Yeshivas Knesset Yisrael in Slobodka, then headed by Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel (the Alter) and Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. Among his colleagues in Slobodka were Rav Reuven Grozovsky; Rav Ruderman’s first cousin, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky; Rav Aharon Kotler; Rav Yitzchak Hutner; In ~1926, Rav Ruderman published his only written work, Avodas Halevi. In 1930, Rav Ruderman joined his father-in-law, Rav Sheftel Kramer, at the latter’s yeshiva in Cleveland . In 1933, Rav Ruderman moved to Baltimore and founded the Ner Israel yeshiva, leading that yeshiva for 54 years until his passing. His death in 1987 followed less than one-and-a-half years after the passing of Rav Kaminetzky and Rav Moshe Feinstein. Posthumously, Rav Ruderman’s students have published two volumes of his teachings: Sichos Levi contains mussar/ethical insights based on the weekly parashah, while Mas’as Levi contains lectures on the 19th century work Minchas Chinuch and other Tamudic and halachic insights.


In last week’s portion, the verse says, “Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen saw, and he stood up from amid the assembly and took a spear in his hand (Numbers 25:7).” This week’s portion begins with, “Pinchas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron the Kohen turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged Me among them, so I did not consume the Children of Israel in My vengeance (Verse 11).”

The story of Pinchas is a description of the power of an individual, in this case, Pinchas son of Elazar, to save the entire congregation from destruction. This is a fundamental idea upon which we should reflect to appreciate the power of an individual to affect the many.

We find the opposite effect of an individual in the story of Achan, “The Children of Israel trespassed against the consecrated property; Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the consecrated property, and the wrath of God flared against the Children of Israel (Joshua 7:1).” Although the verse specifies that it was only Achan who trespassed, nevertheless, the verse begins by speaking of all the Children of Israel, to say that they were all held responsible. This is the power of an individual to sin even in secret, and yet affect the entire nation by the spiritual damage he causes.

The Talmud speaks of this as a practical concern: “It was taught in a Baraita that Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon said that since the many are judged by the majority, and an individual is judged by the majority of his actions; one person who does a Mitzvah is praiseworthy for he has tilted the balance of the entire nation toward the good. If he sin; woe to him as he has tilted his individual judgment and that of the entire nation toward guilt (Kiddushin 40b).”

An individual must constantly be aware of the impact of each of his actions on the entire nation.

Personal Note: My grandfather zt”l constantly spoke of the responsibility of each student to influence the community. He insisted that the students who did not enter the rabbinate, become community leaders, with the awareness that everything they did as individuals influenced the entire community.

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