Parshat Yitro

Torah Reading for Week of January 16 – January 22, 2011

“Delegate, Delegate, Delegate”

by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz, ’04
Valley Outreach Synagogue- P’nai Tikvah, Las Vegas, Nevada

Surrounding my computer are a number of sayings and quotes that give me sustenance and guidance as I attempt to do my best to lead my congregation and attend to my responsibilities of leadership among the various constituencies I serve. These little prompts, along with considerable prayer, help me function on a daily basis. The reality is that, although we might want it to be otherwise, most rabbis and cantors who have congregations, spend more time than we would want in the world of Assiyah, dealing with the day-to-day “administrivia,” of simply getting things done, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming.

Short of an MBA training, the steep learning curve of synagogue life often makes us wish that we had a manual to help us through the organizational morass, so that we could spend our time more in Briyah, Y’tzirah, creation and formation, and helping our kahal, community,l reach for Atzilut, closeness to G-d than, in many cases, being a kol-bo, jack-of-all-trades. If we’re fortunate enough to come into a situation where we are supported by staff and board, the congregation is generally larger and the challenges are different, but no less daunting. And, as is the case for more and more, if we come into a situation of growing a small community, with minimum or no staff, the challenges can be overwhelming.

For many of us, sustenance comes through Torah study; and this week’s parasha,Yitro, has become one of my personal paradigms for good business practices. While the usual focal point of the portion is the Asseret HaDibrot, the Ten Utterances, it is the interaction and instructions that Yitro delivers to Moshe that have become guideposts for me. Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, may have been motivated by concerns about his own family, seeing his daughter Tzipporah and his grandsons separated from their husband and father, respectively, to cause him to bring the family to Moshe, to Mount Sinai. However, upon arriving there, he observes that Moshe is surrounded by people waiting to have him adjudicate and problem-solve “…from the morning to the evening.” (Ex. 18:13). Whatever the original motivation for his trip (and we might readily understand an emotional desire to reunite his daughter with her husband), we note that Yitro does not confront Moshe with family matters, but takes the time to observe that with which Moshe is facing. It is clear that the situation is untenable, and the text clearly delineates the steps that he then takes in detail: Yitro sees, Yitro asks, Moshe responds, Yitro evaluates, Yitro advises. As R. Uziel Weingarten once taught, this detailed play-by-play becomes a great example in the art of giving advice.

And, while we can surely learn from the nuances of Yitro’s observations and wise, loving, ability to deliver advice, it is the advice itself, in this case, that may be the greater lesson for us this week. Yitro, seeing how the humble Moshe’s “job description” has him as both judge and teacher: “…It is because the people come to me to inquire of G-d. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of G-d.” (Ex 18:15-16)

It is at that point, that Yitro points out that Moshe is neither helping his people nor himself by trying to be all things to everyone. Moshe’s strength is in teaching, Yitro notes, and he points out that others can be called upon to adjudicate, save for the most challenging cases. In other words, Yitro advises Moshe to delegate responsibility. “If you do this,” he says, (adding the imprimatur “and G-d so commands you”), “you will be able to bear up; and all these people, too, will come up in peace.”

So, next to a teaching from that great “Rebbe,” Teddy Roosevelt, passed down to me by our beloved teacher, Rabbi Stan Levy: “Let us not pray for a lighter load, but for a stronger back,” I add Yitro’s sage advice to Moshe and to all of us in positions of leadership, for the sake of our congregations, our families, and our selves:: “Delegate, delegate, delegate.”

Shabbat Shalom.

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