This week’s Torah portion, Yitro, is one of the few that names a specific person. “Yitro” or “Jethro” is Moses’ father-in-law, and is an extremely important figure to this story, which is about Moses’ leadership style and how we will eventually form a system of government that does not completely rely on Moses’ judgement, but rather delegates to a team of judges (much like we have today!).
The Hebrew word “Yitro” comes from the root that means to “remain over.” It can also mean “more and remain abundant and important.” I find that many families have a “Yitro,” while it could be a father-in-law (like my “Yitro,” George M. Levy), this is someone that family and friends turn to for advice, for a listening ear, and for someone that is able to help us find the right answer to problems within our own hearts. Our own “Yitro” can be counted on to be there for us in the most challenging situations with an outside perspective.
Jethro in this week’s Torah portion is no different. His care and concern comes out of his worry that Moses is going to “burn out” because he is handling every judicial case without help.
Jethro is shocked to see the people lined up, all day long, to receive judgment from Moses. Moses says:
The people come to me to seek God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I judge between one person and another, and I make known the laws of God, and Torah. (Exodus 18:15-16)
Jethro has the ability to see the problem with perspective. He says: The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it all alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)
Jethro sees the problem primarily as lack of delegation. Jethro guides Moses to appoint many judges that could take care of the minor disputes, and only the major, unresolved conflicts would reach Moses. This way, the burden could be taken off Moses’’ shoulders – similar to how our court system works.
Moses does take his father-in-law’s advice, and this system of leadership helped to empower our people to be more engaged in governance. While it may not always be easy to take a “Yitro” opinion in our own life, this portion teaches us that an outside perspective can remain important and help us engage in life through different pathways.
Cantor Amy E. Levy