D’var Torah for January 25, 2019

This week we will be reading from parashat Yitro. It begins with Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law arriving at the Israelite encampment. Yitro brought with him Moses’ wife Tzipporah, and their sons Gershom and Eliezer. After greeting each other and learning all of what transpired since the time Moses left Yitro’s house, they made an offering to God.
The following day, Yitro observed Moses as he “sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.”[1] Moses adjudicated all legal matters from the most trivial to the most consequential. After witnessing this, Yitro admonished Moses, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”[2]
Yitro then encouraged Moses to set up a legal system, whereby the Israelites could obtain justice through what we might call lower courts and upper courts. In this way, only the most significant cases would come before Moses. As Yitro further told him, “If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”[3]
Moses learned the very important lesson of delegation. Certainly a lesson many of us can take to heart. But there is another lesson here as well, sometimes it takes another pair of eyes not only to diagnose a problem, but to even see that there is a problem to begin with. What is just as important however, is that Moses was ready, willing, and able to receive such sage advice and then follow it.
It is part of human nature to reject advice out of hand, perhaps because we perceive it as an attack on our own egos. And yet, all around us, wisdom abounds.
On this Shabbat, where we rejoice in the receiving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, may we also be able to not only genuinely hear advice but to also seek it out. For it may be hard to hear words that challenge us. But the ability to discern those words as they are intended and shape them into guidance is truly a divine endeavor indeed.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] Exodus 18:13
[2] Exodus 18:17-18
[3] Exodus 18:23