The Torah this week reveals to us the tremendous power of receptivity to advice from others, regardless of the advice-givers apparent level of importance in the world.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23) which is Hebrew for “Jethro,” Moses’ father-in-law who is the star of the show.
After hearing about all the miracles that God did for the Jewish people, Jethro travels to meet the Jewish people firsthand as they encamped at Mount Sinai. Jethro was not Jewish. In fact, he was an idolater who served as the priest of Midian. According to all sources, Jethro abandoned idolatry for monotheism and began to worship the God of Israel. According to some sources, Jethro actually converted to Judaism.
Oddly enough, one of the first things that Jethro does upon arrival at the Jewish encampment is to give Moses advice. Originally, Moses made himself available all day long to answer questions and to judge cases. That’s right. The entire nation, at any time of day, could approach Moses with questions. The line was “out the door.” Jethro tells Moses that this has to change. He tells him that this is too much for him and that he will quickly burn out.
Jethro suggested, therefore, that Moses appoint hundreds of judges and rabbis who will be available to answer questions. Only the hardest and most complex question would be brought to Moses. Moses listened to Jethro’s advice and his life instantly became much easier!
The question is asked: We see from elsewhere that Moses appointed judges only after God commanded him to do so. And hence, when Moses did so, it was actually in fulfillment of God’s command – not Jethro’s advice! So, if God wanted judges and rabbis to be appointed, why did He not tell Moses earlier? Why is the order that first Jethro suggests the idea, and then God commands it?
The answer is that God wanted to teach us the importance of seeking and accepting advice, even from people of lesser stature. God wanted us to realize that even an idolater might have life changing advice that is worth listening to. So too, we also learn humility in accepting advice.
Moses could have said to Jethro something like: “What? A Midianite is giving ME advice? Who do you think you are to tell me how to run the nation?” But instead, Moses humbly listens to Jethro’s advice. Heck, even God “consulted” with those below Him when he said, “Let us make man!”.
We learn from here that a person should never be arrogant and not accept advice from someone whom he feels is “below” him. Everyone has a bright idea at one time or another, and we should not close ourselves off from learning from others just because they are “lower on the totem pole.” If Moses could accept advice from a foreign idolater, then we can certainly accept advice and consult with everyone around us.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.
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