By Beverly Holtz
What struck me the most in this week’s Parshah (Torah portion), Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), was not the obvious story of finally receiving the 10 Commandments, but the introduction before that story. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, arrives to the Israelite camp and sees Moses hard at work solving everyone’s problems, on the brink of burn out. Jethro says, “You will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Ex.18:18) He then advises Moses to delegate his duties and appoint a hierarchy of judges and chiefs to help him with the daunting task of attending to all disputes and challenges. “You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trust-worthy men, 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. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.” (Ex. 18:21-23) Upon following this advice, Moses was able to attend to the importance of broader moral teachings and the word of God.
I found it incredible and powerful that before we receive the commandments, before we receive the word of God, a very important groundwork needed to be set. It is not enough to just receive them, and it is too much for one person to help everyone adhere to them. Moses had to lay the groundwork with help. His job was to aid in the betterment of the Israelite community by helping with the bigger issues and the teaching of the laws. So how can we relate this to our lives? Just as Moses needed to delegate smaller disputes, a community requires more than one person to regulate it. This is necessary in any community: our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our synagogues. This delegation and support is important for things to run smoothly when we find ourselves in positions of leadership, but it can be so difficult for us to let go and trust those around us. Despite this difficulty, having responsibilities spread out takes a load off one person trying to lead by themselves. Each person has the ability to consider the bigger picture without having to focus on everything at once, much like how Moses could focus on the bigger issues of the Israelite community at large with the help of his hierarchy of leaders.
Just as in our communities, we too need to set a groundwork of support before we can work on the goodness of ourselves. In my more adult years I have been learning to delegate my needs and to use others for support – something I had certainly not learned growing up. Just as in communities, when attempting to better ourselves it similarly requires a great deal of trust in others. I think we all sometimes find it hard to let go, to delegate, and to communicate our needs. But, it is not necessary to do everything difficult on our own – especially when it comes to the betterment of ourselves. This also has me thinking about the people with whom I surround myself. Who are my “capable and trust-worthy men (and women!)” that I can delegate my issues to? Who can I lean on for support? Who can help me reach my better self? I realize that I am blessed with good friends, community members, and family members, who support me – in my work and in my efforts to become a better person. I have people in my corner for all sorts of reasons. Despite this, it is at times hard for me to put my trust in others, even sometimes with my closest friends. This developing ability to trust others, and occasionally let go of control, has been difficult for me – and I imagine it can be difficult for other people as well. How can we all ensure and trust that we are surrounded and supported by people of substance?
I found it also especially interesting that when you actually read the commandments, word for word, they seem to not be written as behaviors of consequence (direct punishment for bad behaviors), but rather moral imperatives in their own right. Moral just for the sake of being moral. This idea is explored briefly in the Etz Chaim commentary. Moses’s leaders jobs were not to punish if someone was immoral or did the wrong thing, but instead to judge what is right or not, and what is the truth of the situation. When I think about this in the context of one’s own life, I think about how it is valuable to pursue self-improvement, and good behavior, without wondering whether or not the behavior will be punished or rewarded. In this way you can use your arsenal of “judges” around you to determine if you are living your life in a moral and good way irrespective of consequences. We can use those around us to recognize the good in our communities, and the things we can work on to improve.
Beverly Holtz is a yoga instructor and yoga teacher trainer all around Buffalo (and now online!)