The Key to Leadership

Rabbi Wagensberg
Shvii Shel Pesach
The Key to Leadership

There is an ancient Jewish custom that all religious Jewish leaders are appointed over their communities and congregations on Shvii Shel Pesach (the seventh day of Passover). The Bnei Yissaschar (Reb Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov; Chodesh Nissan, Ma'amar 13:1) offers two reasons for this.

His first approach is based on the fact that the first king of Israel came from the Tribe of Binyamin and that person was Shaul (Sam, 9:1; 10:1). The reason why Binyamin merited producing Israel's first king (until the Davidic Dynasty began) was because the Tribe of Binyamin demonstrated leadership qualities by jumping into the Sea of Reeds first, leading the way for everybody else to follow.

Proof of this is found in the verse that says, "There Binyamin, the youngest, rules them, etc..." (Psa. 68:28). The Targum there says, "Binyamin, the youngest of the Tribes, was the first that went down into the sea, (and therefore) received sovereignty first. This act of leadership happened on Shvii Shel Pesach.

Parenthetically, we could suggest to reconcile this with what it says elsewhere that Nachshon ben Aminadav (who was from the Tribe of Yehudah; Nu. 2:3) was the first one to enter the sea (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Naso, 13:7). Although Nachshon was the first person to enter the sea; nevertheless, the first Tribe to enter the sea was Binyamin.

Since the Tribe of Binyamin merited having a king stem from them because of what happened on Shvii Shel Pesach, it became customary to appoint all Jewish leaders to their positions on Shvii Shel Pesach.

The second reason why we appoint Jewish leaders to their positions on Shvii Shel Pesach is as follows. Very often, the Jewish leader is called a "Parnas" (See, for example, Berachos, chap. 4,"T'fillas Hashachar", pg. 28a). One reason why the leader is called a "Parnas" is because the word "Parnas" is related to the word "Parnassah" (livelihood). This teaches us that if a Jewish leader guides the people properly, the people will be able to be "Mifarnes" (support) themselves and their families with their Parnassah.

One source to this idea, that Parnassah is dependent on how successful the leader is in guiding his flock, stems from the verse that says, "And it happened in the days when the judges judged" (Rut. 1:1). Rebbi Yochanan says that the repetitive lingo of "the judges judged" actually comes to teach us that the generation judged their own judges (Baba Basra, chap. 1, "Hashutfin", pg. 15b). This means that the people were skeptical of their leaders.

The Bnei Yissaschar says that this was considered to be a reflection of poor leadership. Unfortunately, the leadership in that generation was not completely successful in impressing the type of proper respect and reverence that the nation should have had for their leaders.

Therefore, the very next part of the same verse goes on to say, "There was a famine in the land" (ibid). This adjacency teaches us that peoples' Parnassah deteriorated on account of the poor leadership which failed in educating the people to have sufficient respect and reverence for authority.

This famine continued until Boaz became the leader of that generation. Once Boaz became the leader, the famine stopped. The proof of this is found in the verse that says, "For she (Naomi) heard in the fields of Moav that Hashem had remembered His people by giving them food" (Rut. 1:6). The Targum on that verse says that an angel told Naomi that God remembered His nation, Israel, to give them bread in the merit of Boaz, the pious judge. Once again, we see that the Parnassah of the generation is dependent on the Parnas of the generation.

Now, Rebbi Elazar ben Azaria says that the sustenance or livelihood of man is as hard as the splitting of the sea (Pesachim, chap. 10, "Arvei Pesachim", pg. 118a). Since Parnassah and the splitting of the sea are linked, it logically follows to say that on the day that commemorates the parting of the waters, it is a propitious time for there to be an abundance of livelihood in the world.

Therefore, our custom is to appoint Parnasim (leaders) on Shvii Shel Pesach, because the waters parted on Shvii Shel Pesach. As such, Shvii Shel Pesach is a very special time to "cash in" on obtaining our livelihoods. Therefore Shvii Shel Pesach is the best suited time to appoint good Parnasim in whose merit we receive our Parnassah.

This idea may very well lead us into the Shabbos upon which we read Parshas Shmini which follows Shvii Shel Pesach. There is another ancient Jewish custom to have Challah's baked with a key inside of them or to be baked in the shape of a key for use on the Shabbos upon which we read Parshas Shmini.

Before we continue, I was thinking about the possibility of fulfilling this custom with Matzah. I wonder if breaking the Matzah after Hamotzi into the shape of a key would suffice (See the Kaf Hachaim, Orach Chaim, 473:117-118, citing the Sha'ar Hakavanos who says that during the stage of Yachatz on Leil Haseder, we should break the Matzah into the shape of two Hebrew letters, a Dalet and a Vov. The reason for this is beyond the scope of this e-mail, but we did discuss it years ago). I also wonder whether putting an actual key on the table next to the Matzah would be adequate.

In any case, the Emunas Itechah explains one reason why we should bake a key into the bread or bake bread into the shape of a key, but first we must become privy to five pieces of information.

1) "Shmini" (the name of the Torah portion following Shvii Shel Pesach) means eight. In Judaism, the number eight represents that which transcends nature. We see this from the fact that the number seven represents nature because God imbued all the laws of nature into the world over a seven day period. However, the number eight is one notch beyond that, representing transcendence (See Kli Yakar, Ex. 15:1).

2) The Messianic Era, with all of its miracles, is represented by the number eight.

3) The month of Nissan and the holiday of Pesach create the energy of redemption, serving as a springboard for the fruition of the final redemption.

4) The time leading up to the final redemption is known as "Chevlei Moshiach" (The birth pangs of the Messiah). Therefore, Moshiach's arrival is compared to childbirth.

5) Rebbi Yochanan says that although God delegates practically every function in this world to the angels, the key of childbirth is one of the things that God is directly involved in, without angelic intervention (Ta'anis, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 2a).

With these five pieces of information, we will now be able to understand one approach for the custom of a key in the Challah. The key in the Challah or the key shaped Challah is our fervent prayer to God that He unlocks and opens the gates of birth, bringing about the Moshiach and redemption. This prayer is very fitting at this time of year, during Nissan, which is auspicious for the birth of the Geulah (redemption).

There is an additional connection between the key and Challah that relates to childbirth. Rebbi Elazar in the name of Rebbi Yehudah says that being careful in the Mitzvah of Challah helps with success in childbirth (Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 32b). Therefore, the key-Challah connection suggests that through the Mitzvah of Challah will the key of redemption be used to bring about the birth of the Messianic Era.

Perhaps we could suggest a connection between the custom of the key in the Challah and the custom of appointing Parnassim over the congregation on Shvii Shel Pesach. There is another key that God does not delegate to angels but oversees Himself. That is the key of rain (Rebbi Yochanan, Ta'anis, chap. 1,"M'eimasai", pg. 2a).

"Geshem" (rain) is the source of all Gashmi-us" (physicality). Therefore, rain is a sign of sustenance and livelihood because all of our livelihoods are dependent on rain, for without water nothing can exist.

Therefore, the custom of having our Challah in the shape of a key is our fervent prayer to God that He unlocks and opens the gates of livelihood and provide us with our sustenance. The key - Challah connection stresses this point because Challah (bread) is considered to be the staple of life. We are asking God to provide us with our basic necessities.


Perhaps we could suggest that one way to really merit a solid livelihood would be to cultivate the proper respect and reverence for our leaders. True admiration for our leaders is the real "key" to success with our Parnassah. This could be why these two customs (appointing Parnassim and baking Challah with a key) are juxtaposed. Both share the commonality of being propitious for providing Parnassah.

This Shabbos may be the best time to share stories of our Tzaddikim at the Shabbos table. A Story about our Torah greats always has a way of instilling an appreciation for our leaders into our hearts. This practice may very well help to increase our income.


So, may we all be blessed with an added appreciation of our Tzaddikim who lead the way even in the most dangerous of circumstances, and thus merit overabundant Parnassah in a permitted way, without too much effort and stress, so that we can spend every available moment in Avodas Hashem, and live to witness the coming of our ultimate leader, Moshiach, who will bravely take the steps necessary to purify our world.