Yitro 5781 – A Vision for the Front Lines

By: Michael Carr

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”.  General George S. Patton

In this week’s Parasha, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro), receives word about all the miracles occurring with a bunch of wandering Israelite slaves under the direction of his son-in-law.  Jethro travels from his home in Midian with his daughter (and Moses’ wife) Zipporah, and her sons Gershom and Eliezer to be with Moses at Mt. Sinai.  Jethro rejoices at G-ds miracles and completes sacrifices to G-d once they arrive.

Another area that the Parsha makes mention of is a long line or queue. This is a concern for Jethro because Moses does not see how this is impacting the people waiting to speak with him. Many of the Israelites stand in this particular line to get clarification and resolution on their disputes since illiteracy was epidemic, nothing was written down anyway and of course many of the laws were not published.

Not as many years ago, I recall standing in a long line(s) very early in the morning. This was not related to dispute resolution, but working for a ticket broker (ticket-scalper) to buy tickets to concerts at the LA Forum in Inglewood. Funny enough the first concert I purchased tickets for was a concert to be performed by the band Jethro (Tull).

Lines were also ‘a thing’ that occurred when registering for college classes.  I remember doing this with pencil and paper. Of course this was well before cell phones, and also the virtual world of the internet where one can now buy tickets for entertainment, register for classes and obtain a degree as well!

So returning to our summary of this week’s Parsha, G-d speaks with the Israelites through Moses and gives the Torah (10 Commandments) to the Chosen People. As we know Moses continues to lead in his chosen role during this time, unencumbered, and actually supported by, his father-in-law Jethro’s advice/ideas. One might consider this beshert relationship between son-in-law and father-in-law more than ‘meant to be’. It was also constructive, a ‘life saver’ and some might say it was certainly a blessing. What types of guidance did Jethro provide?

Shared Communications

Jethro suggests Moses expand communication to the recently freed Israelite slaves. Specifically, communicating expectations such as the laws and rules of behavior and how to fairly treat one another. True this period of time overlaps with the 10 Commandments. But communicating directly with this community of Israelite slaves was important so everyone knew the general knowledge about how to behave toward one another and what rules were allowed for some semblance of peace and cooperation. Nothing like this had existed during the Israelites time in Egypt. Let’s remember that life had been all about slavery in Egypt and Pharaoh’s rule(s) for many years.

Constructive Criticism

Initially, Moses meets people ‘where they are’ to help resolve their disputes. Unfortunately the lines got a bit too long (remember, no cell phones, no books) to get the necessary information of who, what, where, why and, how (sounds as exciting as waiting in line to buy concert tickets or as painful as watching paint dry). While Moses demonstrates his caring and compassion for the recently freed Israelite Slaves by ‘meeting them where they were’, Jethro suggests that Moses ‘could do better’ and delegate the time consuming role of arbiter to others.

After all leading a great nation is most certainly more than resolving disputes.

Empowered Plan of Delegation

Jethro further suggests his son-in-law assemble a council of chief judges that assist him in resolving disagreements.  Disputes unresolved by the council would then be elevated to Moses.  All of this to create a social and moral structure, as well as a communications channel for the recently freed Israelite slaves. It also allowed for the Israelite slaves a way to focus on one G-d and perhaps, eventually, prayer.

Recruit Carefully

More than likely Moses selects judges for the council who had specific qualities/skills. For example, judges who were good listeners of course, and those judges who would guide former Israelite slaves seeking direction, particularly with regard to the ‘one G-d’ narrative (over idolatry). The judges could also provide information and education, and of course mediation toward peaceful dispute resolution.

Additionally, one would believe that these judges represented the entire population of Israelite slaves, were also capable and trustworthy, and above all, they accepted and believed in one G-d.

Moses had much on his plate after guiding the Israelite slaves out of Egypt and enabling G-d’s larger plan of enlightening the ‘Chosen People’ with the gift of Torah. Jethro, together with G-d of course, provided vision for Moses to expand upon his organic or innate management style. In addition to some of the ‘leadership lessons’ mentioned in this D’var what other ideas can we apply to our daily lives as leaders of family, business or civic organizations?

What about providing more success for others rather than ourselves? How about telling meaningful stories that inspire thoughts, ideas and action in others?

Perhaps leading others should begin with ‘leading ourselves’.  For example, showing gratitude for ourselves and others, waking and walking with humility and perhaps most importantly taking care of our individual health (which includes being among healthy and positive people).

Finally, remember the qualities of love and compassion are also key ingredients to a life of abundant with successful leadership.   Good Shabbos!