“It was on the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood before Moses from morning to night. Moses’ father-in-law saw everything he was doing for the people, and said, ‘What is this you are doing, sitting alone, and the people stand over you from morning till night…You will surely wear yourself out.’” (Shemot 18:13-14, 18)
Reports this week of the English court system struggling with poor IT, remind us of the enduring relevance of Jethro’s advice to Moses, in this week’s parsha, in ensuring that he had adequate support to properly administer justice.
Yet, Rabbi Stephen Pruzansky, an American scholar, sees another dimension in Jethro’s advice. Moses was unsupported in judging the people not simply at a practical level. He was unsupported emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. As an outsider, Jethro saw, straightaway, that Moses was lonely, not merely alone.
Moses led an unconventional life. His wife and sons had only just joined him. His relationship with G-d was unprecedented. No-one in his lifetime, or, indeed, ever before or since in history, has ever achieved his level of prophecy. He was, literally, without peer. His isolation would only continue to grow over time. Jethro saw that part of the solution was to appoint a cadre of leaders who would share his ideals, even though they wouldn’t do the job remotely as well as Moses. By appointing, Jethro said, “men of valour, G-d-fearing men of truth, who despise money” and making them “leaders of groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens,” Moses would at least have a team to support him.
In accepting and implementing Jethro’s advice, Moses is teaching us two powerful lessons. First, however great or small we may be, we all need help. It is not a weakness to acknowledge the support systems that surround us – family, friends, and community. Second, all of us are capable of stepping outside ourselves and seeking the greater good of others.