This week’s Torah portion is “Yitro” (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23), which is Hebrew for “Jethro.” Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law and the priest of Midian.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Although he is best known by the name Jethro, our sages tell us that Yirto had other names as well. In the words of Rashi, the famous commentator: “Yitro had seven names – Reuel, Yeter, Yitro, Chovav, Chever, Keini, and Putiel.”
All of these names have significance and represent a different aspect of Jethro. The name “Yeter,” for example, means “to add” referring to the fact that a Torah portion was named and added in his honor.
Jethro is famous for advising Moses to “seek out men of means, God-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money” and to appoint them “leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens” to judge the people at all times. This was in order to lessen the burden of Moses, who until that time was serving as the sole judge for the entire nation. Any question anyone had, any dispute, they went to Moses for resolution. Can you imagine how long the wait in line must have been?
An extremely important point is made by the sages regarding Jethro’s advice. It is noted that Jethro did not criticize the system that Moses had in place. Rather, he merely suggested something different. Indeed, Moses was getting burned out. It is not possible for one rabbi to serve as the rabbi and judge for an entire nation. The burden, stress, and time restraints are simply unbearable. It was only a matter of time before Moses would collapse from the burden. It was a very inefficient and broken system, to say the least.
But Jethro doesn’t tell Moses that the system he introduced is problematic and inefficient. Rather, he simply suggests an alternative that would serve Moses and the nation better. And indeed, there is no denying that having a system of hierarchy and delegation was much more efficient. Moses accepted Jethro’s advice; additional rabbis, judges, and leaders were appointed, and the rest is history.
Our sages teach us that we learn two things from this episode. First, we should not be ashamed or hesitate to accept wisdom from those below our “social standing.” Moses could have told Jethro that he didn’t need his help, he was the prophet of God, and no one has the qualifications to give him advice. He didn’t. He accepted the advice of the pagan priest of Midian. As the saying goes, “accept the truth from wherever its source.”
Second, we need to be careful how we speak to others. Often, criticism is important and necessary, and even beneficial for the one to whom it is directed. But one must be very careful about how it is done. Jethro teaches us that tact and diplomacy are vital.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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