Rabbi Baht Weiss
In this week’s Torah portion Moses gets some friendly advice from his father-in-law-Yitro, or in English, Jethro. Yitro notices how hard his son-in-law has been working to care for the Jewish people. Like any good parent, Yitro is concerned—Is Moses sleeping enough? Spending enough time with his wife, Yitro’s daughter, Tzipora?
Yitro asks Moses a question, “What is this thing you are doing to the people? You act all alone, while all the people stand before you from morning to noon.” Moses responds, “It is because the people came to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make know the laws and teachings of God.”
Yitro then offers some unsolicited advice. “The thing you are doing is not right, you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. The task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (18:14-18)
Yitro continues, “Now listen to me, I will give you counsel…You shall seek out from among all the people capable men (I’m sure there were women too-but that’s another discussion) who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs…. let them judge the people at all times.”
Yitro teaches Moses the important leadership quality of delegation—He does not have to do everything himself—and he shouldn’t—it’s not healthy—he will wear himself out, continue to create dependency on himself, and will not empower anyone else in the community to be leaders.
Thankfully, Moses heeded his father-in-law’s advice and did just as he had said. He appointed others to share the load.
We can find ourselves in situations like Moses-where we are trying to do everything on our own without realizing that it is ok to ask for help. Why is it that we think we are the only ones who are capable of the tasks at hand—that our way is the only approach that will work?
We may think of it as being selfless—constantly giving of ourselves rather than asking others to participate, but our Biblical commentators teach us the opposite—it is actually selfish and dangerous for us to work unilaterally.
Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, known as Nachmanides was a respected rabbi in medieval Spain. He criticized Moses’ do all approach by explaining that such behavior would result in “long delays, mounting frustration, a loss of faith in the system’s capacity to deliver justice and often, the decision of the people to take the law into their own hands.” Nachmanides suggests that “because, at first, Moses insisted on doing everything by himself, he increased the dangers of violence and injustice rather than providing efficient and fair judgment, (Commentary of Exodus 19:22)
It is not possible for us to work effectively on our own. It is beneficial not only to our own physical and mental well-being but also ultimately advantageous to the community.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained “Jews were the people who did not leave leadership to a single individual, however holy or exalted, or to an elite. Instead, every one of them was called on to be a leader. To be a Jew is to be called on to lead.”
Each person’s participation is necessary. We cannot do things alone. If Moses could ask for help—so can we—it’s not weak of us—just the opposite, it strengthens our community by empowering individuals.