Weekly Torah Commentary – Yitro February 2, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 6: 1-13

In Exodus 18, Moses is faced with the challenge of change.  And his father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) is the source of the challenge.

Change is not easy– and many of us don’t like change.

Change is necessary– though all of us know down deep inside that change is important.

Change is a constant: “One man said that the only thing that you can count on is change.

After seeing many miracles and overcoming many obstacles, Moses and Israel were in a time of rest and recuperation when Jethro brought Moses’ wife and children to him. (Moses had left them behind when he was called to confront Pharaoh.)


When Jethro arrived, Moses took him into his tent and bragged on all that God had done for Israel. Jethro’s was so moved that he offered a sacrifice to the God of Israel. Then we read:

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”  Exodus 18:13-23

There are both challenges and benefits to facing change in a godly manner.  What do we learn from Moses in this situation? Three fears that leaders – and all of us – face come to mind.

Pride-Why should I listen to Jethro? God has been doing mighty things through Moses. Everything seems to be working for him. Suddenly here is his father-in-law giving him unsolicited advice.

It is easier to make changes when things are going poorly but much harder when things are going well. A wise leader or person makes changes and adjustments through out their lives.  It is the tree that is producing good fruit that is pruned in order to produce even better fruit.

Fear-What if this does not work? Moses had to ask himself, what if this thing does not work? What is everyone going to say when I tell them that they need to go to someone else besides me?

One of the reasons we oppose change is fear; fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of being insignificant, fear of others doing better than we have done.

Insecurity-Is it a good idea to empower others?  Moses was the leader. If you opposed him and God, bad things happened. Now Moses was advised to empower others and give them influence. This had to test his insecurity. Moses may have thought, “What if those whom I put over a thousand people end up opposing me?”

A very real question!

By contrast, what are the benefits to Moses for accepting Jethro’s advice?

Efficiency –  vs. 17: “Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

I think most rational people look at this story and conclude that this was a wise decision. The ability to delegate to the right people improves efficiency and productivity.  More people were able to use their gifts and talents in a proper framework of authority and thereby fulfill their own callings and giftings.

Effectiveness – People were taken care of more quickly, and they were able to get a more personal touch.  Jethro says, If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.  vs. 23  The wisest thing Moses did  was to break up the people of Israel into smaller groups, so they could be cared for more effectively.

Excellence – Moses himself was able to do what he was called to do with greater excellence by having the ‘distractions’ of meeting with all the people delegated to capable men of integrity.  Moses was called to deliver the people and to teach them and Jethro’s advice freed him to fulfill that calling more fully.

Jethro said to Moses, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”

Lastly, Jethro’s advice facilitated the training of future leaders.

Once Israel entered the promise land, they would need leaders to govern throughout the region.  Raising up judges under Moses was a training ground for preparing the leaders that would be needed after Moses passed away. The benefit of wise change is that it prepares God’s people for the future.

In Tune with Torah this week = Changes that we may be facing in our personal lives may not be anything like what Moses faced.  Nevertheless, change is a constant part of life and as we face changes, we do well to pay attention to both its challenges and its benefits.  To resist change when it is pressing upon us is harmful to our spiritual growth. Let us embrace it and by the grace and wisdom of our Heavenly Father submit ourselves to the changes that will propel us on to the next step of our spiritual journey.

Shabbat Shalom




Weekly Torah Comentary – Yitro January 29, 2016

Exodus 18:1 – 20:23


This week’s Torah reading is identified by the name of Yitro, the Hebrew spelling of Jethro, who was the father-in-law of Moses.  In the opening verse, we learn that Jethro, a priest of Midian, has heard about all that God had done for Moses and for the people of Israel who had been enslaved in Egypt.  Even in the days long before internet, radio or TV, news spread all over the region.  Jethro decides to journey to where Moses and the children of Israel are encamped and brings along with him, Zipporah, the wife of Moses and her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

Now these four individuals – Jethro, Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer – had not witnessed the miracles of God.  They didn’t see for themselves the plagues inflicted on Egypt nor the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army by that same body of water.  They only heard about it – but that was enough.  They believed the testimony that reached them and the ancient Rabbis opine that their faith in what God had done was all the more precious precisely because they had not ‘seen’ but believed. And isn’t that what FAITH is really all about?

If we only view the Exodus through the eyes of the Israelites who experienced it, we don’t get the full picture.  The faith of Jethro, Zipporah and the two sons must be included for it speaks directly to us who also were not present on that first Passover night.  It was not given to us to closet ourselves in a home whose firstborn child was spared because our parents obeyed the command of God through Moses to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorway.  It was not our lot to hear the wails and screams of Egyptian parents when they discovered their firstborn shrouded in the coldness of death.

Yet because, like Jethro, we believe, our faith is indeed precious in God’s sight, as a later prophet, Habakkuk wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith.” 2:4  And of Abraham it is written that his faith was accounted to him as righteousness when he believed God’s promise of a son, even in his old age.

After Jethro arrived, Moses sat with him and told him in detail all of the wonders that God had performed for Israel.  Now, remember, Jethro was already a religious man – a priest of his own people.  But confronted with the works of the Hebrews’ God, his gods were exposed as non-gods and he worshiped the One True God.

This is their first meeting since Moses asked permission from Jethro to return to Egypt some time earlier. Have you ever wondered what Jethro thought back then? Did Moses have illusions of grandeur? Was he crazy? Wasn’t it a bit unlikely that he, who cared for Jethro’s sheep, was going to set free a nation of slaves? 

If Jethro thought those things, perhaps he also thought of his first meeting with Moses, after that ‘Egyptian stranger’ had protected Jethro’s daughters from ‘hoodlums’ trying to harass them.  We can surmise that a good relationship developed between Moses and Jethro through those forty years that Moses not only worked for Jethro but also became his son-in-law.  Whatever had transpired before now, it is clear that Moses and his father-in-law treated each other with great respect.

The next day, Jethro observes Moses spending long hours listening to and resolving disputes between the Israelites and proceeds to offer advice to his son-in-law.  Oh, dear! We all know how unsolicited advice has ruined many a ‘good’ relationship, don’t we?

Exodus 18:24  Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions.

Another great example from the life of Moses. What he did not say is as important as what he did say – and do.  He did not say ‘I already knew that’ or ‘Look, I’ve come a long way since I left your tent, Jethro. I’m leading a nation of over 4 million people!‘ He didn’t protest, ‘The God of Israel spoke with me from a burning bush.  Who are you to give me advice?’

Moses was an exceedingly humble man.  He knew how to accept advice with grace and modesty, a rare quality in any generation. Moses was not a man who thought he had all the answers; he did not resent advice from Jethro, even when he had not asked for it.  I venture to say that after being raised in the palace of Pharaoh, accustomed to wealth and prestige and then banishing himself to the simple life of a shepherd in Midian, Moses had ample time to bring his ego under control, to develop the humility he would need to be an effective servant of God when the time came for him to step into his destiny…at 80 years of age no less!  Great power and a forceful personality are not the distinctive hallmarks of a great leader in God’s eyes.  Humility is.

In Tune with Torah this week:  Giving advice can be a tricky situation; so is receiving it. Are we quick to offer ‘unsolicited advice’ which may actually be just our own opinion about what someone else is doing or not doing?

How do we handle it when someone else gives us advice? Do we resent it? Dismiss it without consideration because of pride, ego?

True humility is not weakness; it is strength of character that manifests in a teachable spirit. That doesn’t mean that every piece of advice you are given is always spot on.  It may or may not be.  But it does mean that you are humble enough to consider what is said, be honest with yourself before God and then decide your course of action without any negative feeling toward the other person.