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Categories: Parsha, Yitro
Woman looks in mirror.

Art by Sefira Lightstone

There is a well-known Yiddish phrase that goes, “a gast oif a vayil zet far a mayil,” this translates to, (and never well because somehow it doesn’t have the same ring in English): a guest for a bit can see for a mile.
This week’s Parsha (Yitro) is named after Moses’s father-in-law. Who was Yitro (Jethro)? He was a priest in Midyan—not a Jewish one but one who literally “practiced” all religions—before finding Judaism to settle into. Prior to that he was exiled for advising Pharaoh (as was his role) not to do away with the Jewish people. And so here he is, finally determining to join the Jewish people. One of the first things he does upon arrival is explain to Moses how the current system of hearing cases and passing judgement is flawed. Because it was prior to receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Moses was one of the few who knew how rulings should be carried out according the soon-to-arrive Torah. Instead of Moses hearing every case and and sitting for hours on end, Yitro suggests he should prepare a system through which there will be a series of courts and leaders who can try and pass along the laws; eventually, the cases can work their way up to Moses if no “lower court” could determine a result. Basically, a shared system in which Moses would delegate much of his work and thereby lower the frustration of folks waiting forever for their cases to be heard.
Now what is the lesson to be learned? Moses was the quintessential leader. Moses put himself on the line numerous times for his people and brought them out of Egypt, performing miracle after miracle for them in the process. Comes his father-in-law and suddenly, “you know, I would do it this way…” Moses would be completely justified in telling him, you advised Pharaoh and how did that work out?!
And yet he listens. And the Jewish people are a happier, more wholesome people as a result. So the lesson for us is an obvious one. Sure, we can always be looking for advice and guidance when things aren’t going right, but to do so when they are requires skill and humility. We always can say that “well, that’s not how we do it and it works just fine,” but eventually, that will catch up to us. We must always be looking to improve and learn, becoming better people in the process. If we ever stop growing, there’s only one other direction left. Good Shabbos!

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