How were the princes appointed?

In Parshat Naso (Bamidbar 7:2) we read: “The princes of Israel (nesiim), the heads of their fathers’ household, brought offerings; these were the princes of the tribes, they stood by during the counting.

According to Bamidnar Raba 12:17, the princes of the tribes were the officers (shotrim) who were appointed over B’nei Yisrael while they were slaves in Egypt as it says in Shmot 5:14, “The officers of B’nei Yisrael were beaten- those whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had appointed- and were told, ‘Why have you not completed your quotas of brick making as you did yesterday and before neither yesterday, nor today?’”

Shmot Raba 2:20 adds: The officers took the beatings in place of B’nei Yisrael so that the nation as a whole would be spared. From here we see that the officers of Israel were ksherim, good people who gave themselves over to suffer on behalf of B’nei Yisrael and endured the beatings of the Egyptian taskmasters. Therefore, these officers merited to have Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Spirit.

In Bamidbar 11:15 God said to Moshe: “Gather seventy men for Me, from among the elders of Israel, men whom you know to be the people’s elders, and its officers, and you shall take them to the Tent of Meeting and they shall stand there with you.”

Rashi states that Moshe knew these men since they were the same appointed officers over Egypt for the body breaking labor. Let them be appointed now, in their greatness, just as they suffered when they were oppressed.

We see from here that the princes did not appear out of nowhere. Rather, they worked hard protecting B’nei Yisrael and each and every one sincerely earned his title.

We see a similar phenomenon in Israel today. Many of our leaders were oppressed in their country of origin as they fought for the rights of the Jews to study Hebrew and make aliya. Later, when they were finally able to make aliya, they naturally became leaders in the State of Israel. Two personalities who specifically stand out are Yuli Edelstein and Natan Sharansky, both prominent Prisoners of Zion who made aliya and eventually served in the Knesset. Yuli Edelstein is now the speaker of the Knesset while Natan Sharansky is the Chairman of the Jewish Agency. Just like the nesiim, after all of their suffering they were granted the opportunity to become true leaders of Israel.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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