For the “person-in-charge,” one of the most difficult, yet important, jobs is delegating responsibility. Choosing the men and women with whom one will work most closely requires knowing what the specific roles will be and exactly what qualities each of those roles require.

In the wilderness, Moses started out assuming all the burden of leadership on himself. However, shortly into their sojourn in the wilderness, he accepted advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, and assigned a hierarchy of judges. The judges were brought from each tribe and were, according to Moses’ instruction, “wise men, and understanding, and well-known to your tribe, and I will make them heads over you” (Deuteronomy 1:13).

So what is the distinction between being “wise” and being “understanding,” and why does the Torah give significance to both? Rashi, the great Medieval commentator explains:

This is what Arius asked Rabbi Yose: “What is the difference between wise men and understanding men?” [Rabbi Yose said] “A wise man is like a rich money changer: When people bring him dinars to examine, he examines them. When they do not bring [money] to him, he sits doing nothing. An understanding man, however, is like a merchant money changer: When they bring him money to examine, he examines it, and when they do not bring it to him, he goes out and brings his own [meaning, he looks for customers. ]

Someone who is wise has a great deal of knowledge and perception. But, like the proverbial “wise man on the mountain,” enjoys that knowledge for himself, only sharing it with those who ask. Someone who has understanding, however, actively involves himself with the people around him, shares with them and learns from them. Moses instructed the people to find men who were both wise and understanding because he recognized that ideal leaders need to have a combination of both of these qualities.

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