My high school students are helping to learn me English. To clarify, I’m actually teaching them English, but they are trying to teach me how to communicate in their world.

These days the boyz use their own lingo. They tell me that I need to learn it so I don’t get wrekt and be tripping, and so I can get woke. Legit, I don’t wanna spill the tea, but the lingo is usually based on vibez or whatever they are down for. When I don’t say it right they’ll bug out and ask me whachumean? Bro, I’m not capping about this. I try to pull up but I’m not always full send about using these strange terminologies.

The other day, I got a haircut and then went to the butcher to buy meat for Shabbos. When the butcher asked me “fresh cut?” I smiled and said, “yeah dawg!” I don’t want to flex but it was a phat chill. Whatever! I’m out!

One of those phraseologies that have majorly caught on is “that guy.” These days, there’s nothing worse than being labeled “that guy” and everyone tries to distance himself from “that guy.” People may note being in a quandary because they want to do or not do something but are afraid of being classified as “that guy” because of it. Similarly, someone may try to convince another not to do something because “you just don’t want to be that guy!”

On the other hand, one of the biggest compliments one can receive is to be told, “You’re the man!” Being “the man” connotes leadership, charisma, and good will.

That led me to wonder: What’s the difference between being “that guy” and being “the man”? In Hebrew, both can be referred to as ish. So, what distinguishes the ultimate compliment from the ultimate insult?

Perhaps the difference is that being “that guy” sounds more passive and therefore derogatory. “That guy” lives in his own bubble and doesn’t notice how his behavior affects others. “The man” on the other hand, is more direct and therefore complimentary. He leads by example and enhances the lives of others.

In Megillas Esther, it states that the party of Achashveirosh was designed laasos kirtzon ish va’ish – to fulfill the will of every man. The Gemara explains that the double expression refers to Haman and Mordechai, both of whom were wine butlers at the party.

According to contemporary lingo, Haman was “that guy” while Mordechai was “the man”! Haman was so narcissistic that when Achashveirosh asked him what he should do for one to whom he wants to honor, Haman was absolutely convinced that Achashveirosh was referring to him. Mordechai, on the other hand, was selfless in his focus on the welfare of his people. This was true despite the fact that they violated his directive that they not attend the party.

The Torah states about Noach after the flood, “And Noach, ish of the earth, profaned himself.” At that point, the righteous Noach, who had selflessly maintained the entire world during the Flood, shifted his focus and engaged in a selfish pursuit. In a sense, all at once, “the man Noach” became “that guy Noach” with disastrous consequences.

In Parshas Yisro (Sh’mos 18:7), when Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law Yisro, the Torah states: Va’yish’alu ish l’rei’eihu l’shalom (“The man inquired about his friend’s welfare”). Rashi notes that “the man” refers to Moshe. This is based on the pasuk (BaMidbar 12:3) that states, “and the man Moshe was exceedingly humble.” Moshe was “the man” because he put the needs of others before himself, and he cared for his people with unparalleled love and devotion.

The ultimate personification of this idea is regarding the divine Himself. Each day, we repeat the words form the Shiras HaYam (Song at the Sea): Hashem ish milchamah – G-d is the ish of war (Sh’mos 15:3). Rashi explains that ish is an expression of mastery and dominion; G-d is the ultimate arbiter and adjudicator of war. Rav Hirsch explains that G-d fights every force of humanity that stands in the way of His Master Plan for a better future. G-d concerns Himself with the needs of every being.

This week (4 Nisan) marks the yahrzeit of my Sabba, Abe Staum z”l. My Sabba was the epitome of selflessness and warmth. He was a man of chesed, most of which we will probably never know about. He was the co-owner of a toy company and treated all of his employees with dignity and respect. In fact, his employees admiringly hung up a picture of him in their work section. Whoever heard of such a thing? They truly felt that their boss was “the man.” And that is how I remember him, as well!

In life, we are all in the category of ish (at least the men among us). The question is whether we live only for ourselves and indulge in our own selfish desires, or we prioritize others and think how we can enhance the lives of those with whom we interact.

Basically, it’s the choice between being “that guy” or being “the man.”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.