In this week’s parsha, Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law bring Zipporah their children to join Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness. They “ask after the other’s welfare”, and then Moses recounts the story of the exodus from Egypt. The next day, Moses sits as magistrate from morning until evening, resolving disputes.
Jethro asks him what he’s doing, why he acts alone. Moses says, “It’s because the people cme to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one party and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.”
But Jethro replies, “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. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. You shall also seek out, from among all the people, capable individuals who fear God—trustworthy ones who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves.”
What do we learn from this?
- Not right to lead alone. Why? You wear yourself out, and others grow weary waiting for you.
- So what do leaders do? They have to teach the law and its purpose to others, not simply give them the answer each time.
- And in teaching others, share not just the mechanics of it but the intent of the law that will help them extrapolate in other situations that arise what to decide.
- Others who share leadership must be those who do so not for their own advancement and power, but who will act selflessly and responsibly.
- The division of responsibility must be reasonable- set up groups of different sizes so issues can be resolved as quickly as reasonable by those familiar with the parties involved.
This process sets up the period of the judges which lasts for hundreds of years after Moses dies, demonstrating that a well set up system can and should outlive a single individual. By sharing the laws and their purpose, Moses enables the people to continue without him as they one day of course must. The law becomes something greater than a single person.
In fact, by creating this system, it becomes clear the law does not flow through Moses, but that he is merely an agent of it. As such, he is also held accountable under the law, as all leaders must be.
Jethro concludes, “If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up.”
In other words, one of the primary responsibilities we have is to care for ourselves. Moses must demonstrate this, allowing others to follow his example.
As leaders, we have to remember that we must not simply give others The Answer. Rather, it is better to share our intent and purpose, and encourage others to help us make the shared vision a reality. As long as we do so with the greater good in mind and take care of ourselves in the process, we will help build something that can be shared and enjoyed long after we have stood at the helm.