Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shabbat Yitro

A friend gave the d’var Torah this past week on the parshah Yitro/ Jethro. He made a number of good points. There were two that really resonated with me.

The context for the first was Yitro’s arrival at Moses’ tent. Moses was occupied with settling all the disagreements between the Israelites. Yitro – his father-in-law – arrives and sees Moses’ exhaustion and also the trouble brewing while the Israelites are waiting in line (in the heat) to speak to Moses. He offers Moses some unsolicited advice, which involves establishing a process in which disagreements are settled by judges appointed by Moses, with only those issues that cannot be resolved ultimately making their way through an appeals process to Moses.

My friend comments:

I believe there are a number of aspects in the way that Jethro counseled Moses that allowed Moses to make the right decision.

The first thing that Jethro did was to let Moses know he was advising him out of a sense of concern for Moses, his daughter and grandchildren and for all the people of Israel. Sometimes, when we are offered advice by others, we can become suspicious of their motives. Jethro never suggests that he should take on some of the burden off of Moses’ shoulders. Jethro doesn’t nominate himself or anyone else by name to fill the role of a judge.

Jethro never questions his son-in-law’s wisdom or his leadership abilities. Often, when we are given unsolicited advice, we can become defensive and look upon the advice offered as criticism.

Jethro tells his son-in-law that he should follow his advice only if G-d commands him to. Jethro understood that Moses had a very special relationship with G-d and that anything that Moses did or said was done with the guidance of G-d.

His comments made me wonder if I am as respectful when I offer unsolicited advice.

The second point my friend made discusses the juxtaposition in this parsha of Yitro offering unsolicted advice and the Israelites receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.

He finishes his d'var Torah by saying:

To me, the one word that best sums up what happened at Mount Sinai is the word “miracle”. The transmission of the Ten Commandments not only changed the lives of all those who were physically there to witness it, not only did it have an impact on later generations of Jews that cannot be over-stated but it also represents one of the most important events in all of human history.

So, why is this incredible moment in the history of our people preceded by something as seemingly ordinary as a father-in-law offering advice to his son-in-law? I believe that the Torah is teaching us that we, as people, help to make miracles possible, in part, when we offer to help one another.

In other words, while G-d is entirely responsible for the miracles we read about in the Torah and for the miracles we have witnessed in every generation since then, we as humans are responsible for maintaining a world that is conducive to G-d’s miracles and blessings.

We are responsible for maintaining a world that is conducive to miracles and blessings. It's a powerful (and empowering) concept.

Shauvah tov - a good week.

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