Friday, January 17, 2014

Guidance from without...and from within - D'var Torah - Parashat Yitro - January 17, 2014

Jebel Musa/Mt. Sinai - 1977
     In our work, in our volunteer service, and, to some extent, in our families, each of us has individual roles or responsibilities that we fulfill that are part of a greater whole.  Most of the time, we expect not to have to do an entire task alone, although there are times when we know we have take personal initiative to complete an important project.  
      We may be fortunate enough to receive reminders, in one way or another, that we are not alone and can (and should) turn to others for help.   This is the lesson Moses received from his father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro), for whom this week’s Torah portion is named.  Paying his family a visit, Jethro, Moses’ priestly Midianite mentor, noticed that Moses was approaching burn-out as he judged the disputes among the Israelites every day, from morning to evening. In this passage in Exodus Chapter 18, Jethro asked Moses why he was working by himself.  He wondered why Moses believed that only he could make decisions to bring a conflict to resolution based on divine guidance.   Jethro spoke to Moses in words that would appropriately come from a modern-day management consultant: “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. Your task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone….I will give you counsel….You shall seek out from among all the people capable individuals who revere God – trustworthy people who spurn ill-gotten gain (so that they cannot be unduly influenced or swayed)….Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves….If you do this, you will be able to bear up.” 
       Jethro offered Moses criteria for this new intermediate level of leadership among the people.  The most important qualifications were being and the ability and insight necessary to perform the tasks of judgment.  What is most significant in this passage is that Jethro taught Moses that he could empower others to convey the values of their community in their decisions, and that Moses was wise enough to listen to this advice.  
     It wasn’t only Moses who needed to listen. The word “listen” is prominent in the next chapter, in Exodus Chapter 19, verse 5, in which God declared, “Im Shamoa Tish-m’u b’koli – Now then, if you listen to My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.” The next verse took the special nature of the Israelites even further: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”   
    God’s words were somewhat conditional: You will be a treasured people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy people IF you keep the covenant, a promise that carried with it the implication that the people needed to hear and take to heart the divine teachings about to be presented to them, namely, the Ten Commandments.  This parashah highlights, as integral to that covenant, truly listening to each other and to a still, small voice that offers guidance and strength that leads us to constructively act upon what we hear; being humble enough to see oneself as part of the people, willing to put collective needs before personal concerns; recognizing that everyone has the potential to be a treasure and to offer a unique contribution and spirit that can enrich the entire community; and, finally, giving each person a chance to enhance the greater good by offering his or her own ideas and energy.

     In any group or organization of which we are a part,  we need to be attentive to our own responsibilities and share our thoughts about communal growth and improvement.  We can also be open, like Moses, to the suggestions of others, listening with a sense of trust to the possible partners around us who can assist us in accomplishing our goals. May we continue to work together in this spirit both inside and outside our congregation as we create a KAHAL KADOSH, a sacred community, wherever we may be.

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