A Father-In-Law’s Advice

This week’s Parashah offers insight into the timeless lesson of leadership.

The Israelites have successfully fled Egypt. Moses is reunited with his wife, children and Midianite father-in-law Yitro, to whom he recounts all the things that have transpired.

All seems well to Yitro until Moses describes the way in which order amongst the people is kept. Moses is single-handedly judging every dispute that needs to be settled. Yitro is concerned. And rightly so. How could one person oversee the entanglements of an entire nation? He tells Moses, “It is not a good thing what you are doing. You will surely wear yourself out and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17)

Yitro goes on to describe a system of appointing reliable people to help Moses oversee the needs of the Israelites. If Moses works out such an arrangement, the people will “be in peace” (Exodus 18:23).

I think it’s really interesting that Moses – a character that is so vocal and talks directly to God – utters not one word in the entire exchange. The text only tells us that he “listened to the voice of his father-in-law.” That’s it. There is no rebuttal, no response showing us how Moses actually felt about his father-in-law’s advice. Why? I think it’s because Moses, probably recognized, that he needed help, didn’t know how to ask for it and perhaps, felt simply relieved that someone offered him a solution.

Can’t we all identify with this? In asking for help, we reveal certain needs and open ourselves up to critique. This is a difficult situation to put oneself in – especially in a leadership role. The classic archetype of a leader is solitary, one in which there is a need to be independent and to figure things out without the help of others. That being said, it is only one archetype. I feel as if I’ve had enough experience in life at this point that I can say that there is no one that has everything figured out. Furthermore, I have also come to believe that it is the leaders that know how to ask for help in times of need that are the ones to be our eternal role models. While this isn’t Moses in this moment, he does display another important characteristic of leadership – receptivity to feedback. He follows Yitro’s advice in appointing people to help him govern.

Lastly, I also love how this episode ends because there is a symbolism in it. Yitro vanishes just as quickly as he appears, “Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went on his way to his own land” (Exodus 18:27). Sometimes good advice is like that too. One moment it is in front of us and in the next moment it is gone. It’s just up to us make an actionable step.

Shabbat Shalom,
Matt Check