Derekh Eretz Precedes the Torah

  • Rav Shimon Klein

Introduction

 

In our parasha, Yitro comes to the Israelite camp, and there he finds Moshe, a lone individual, sitting in judgment from morning to night over the entire nation. "The thing that you do is not good,” he tells him, and goes on to explain: "You will surely wear away – both you and this people that is with you, for this thing is too heavy for you; you cannot perform it alone."

 

But after criticizing the existing situation, Yitro gives some constructive advice:

 

"You shall provide out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain, and place these over them as officers of thousands, officers of hundreds, officers of fifties, and officers of tens. And let them judge the people at all seasons, and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter the shall judge, so it will be easier for you, and they shall bear [the burden] with you." (Shemot 18:21-22)

 

The question we will be examining here is what makes Yitro's suggestion so insightful that the Torah sees fit to record it in such detail. Surely it is not his diagnosis of the problem that is so brilliant; any outside observer who came to the camp and watched what was going on would reach the same conclusion – that sooner or later, Moshe would collapse. The idea of appointing fellow judges to ease some of the caseload is likewise not a stroke of genius; it is more or less self-evident. "And Moshe listened to his father-in law, and did all that he had said," the text concludes the encounter – and we are left wondering how it is that the Torah grants such great honor to this seemingly simple advice.

 

Let us start off by considering the context of Yitro's arrival.

 

There is No Chronology in the Torah

 

When Yitro, the priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moshe, heard all that God had done for Moshe and for Israel, His people – that God had brought Israel out of Egypt… and Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, came, with his sons and his wife to Moshe, to the wilderness where he was encamped, at the mountain of God. (Shemot 18:1-5)

 

Our story opens with these verses – a description of how Yitro comes to join Moshe at the place where he is encamped, the mountain of God. This episode represents a closed, independent unit, and it deviates from the chronological order of the surrounding narratives. In the two preceding units, the nation is encamped at Refidim (17:1; 17:8), and in the following unit they leave Refidim and come to Mount Sinai (19:2). Thus, what we have here is a future event; the recounting of a meeting that took place between Moshe and Yitro while the nation was encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai.[1]

 

The Sages teach us that "there is no chronology in the Torah,"[2] meaning that events are not necessarily related in the order of their occurrence. However, there is chronology in the Torah in terms of meaning – that is, the location, structure, or juxtaposition of literary units.[3] In our case, the Torah imports an event that took place at the foot of the Mountain of God and then immediately goes on to describe the beginning of preparations for the Revelation at Sinai:

 

They journeyed from Refidim and they came to the wilderness of Sinai, and they pitched in the wilderness, and Bnei Yisrael encamped there before the mountain. And Moshe went up to God, and God called to him out of the mountain, saying, “So shall you say to the house of Yaakov, and tell Bnei Yisrael" (Shemot 19:2-3).

 

It seems that the decision to bring the story of the encounter with Yitro forward, juxtaposing it with the description of Moshe's ascent of Mount Sinai, makes some sort of statement. Just a moment before the giving of the Torah, Yitro – the wisest of the wise men of all the nations – arrives, and there is a meaningful encounter between him and Moshe, between him and the nation. This encounter now assumes meaning as part of the preparation for the great moment, the great experience at this mountain.

 

Yitro's Advice – A General View

 

Moshe's father-in-law said to him: “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely wear away – both you and this people that is with you; for this thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it alone.

Now listen to my voice: I will give you counsel, and may God be with you. You shall represent the nation before God, and bring the cases to God. And you shall warn them of the statutes and the teachings, and you shall show them the way in which they should go, and what they must do.

And you shall provide out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, who hate unjust gain, and place these over them as officers of thousands, and officers of hundreds, and officers of fifties, and officers of tens. And they shall judge the people at all seasons, and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge; so it shall be easier for you, and they shall bear [the burden] with you." (Shemot 18:17-22)

 

Yitro's words to Moshe may be divided into three parts. First, he criticizes Moshe's manner of operation – “The thing that you do is not good” – and points out the anticipated results – “You will surely wear away – both you and this people that is with you.” He then invites Moshe to listen to what he has to say and suggests a better strategy. As a third stage, he proposes that Moshe appoint judges to share the burden with him.

 

Let us focus on the second stage, where we find some phrases that seem out of place. Yitro speaks of God being with Moshe, but it is not clear what should bring this about. Similarly, it is not clear why this should be an issue. And what does Yitro mean when he says, “That you may bring the cases to God”? Moshe is supposed to bring God's words down to the people, not the other way around! In addition, there is a question surrounding the last verse in this section, describing Moshe as “warning” the people, “showing” them the way and what to do. What is new in all this that is not already known to Moshe?

 

As noted, in this section, the Torah describes the conduct expected of Moshe, and here, it seems, we might uncover the worldview of Yitro, along with his wisdom and his innovation. We will now return to the beginning of the story and proceed in very small steps, seeking to understand what exactly went on during this encounter.

 

Yitro Asks, Moshe Answers

 

And it was on the next day that Moshe sat to judge the people, and the people stood by Moshe from the morning to the evening. (ibid. 13)

 

With these words, the text describes what happened, just as it was, before Yitro arrived. Moshe sits in judgment, and the people stand before him from morning to evening. Unlike the future depiction of the situation by Moshe, who will define the people as "seeking God" and who will describe his own instruction of them in the statutes and judgments, the text itself portrays the scene in its most basic sense: "Moshe sat to judge the people, and the people stood by Moshe from the morning to the evening" – as though pointing out the chasm separating reality and Moshe's interpretation of it.

 

“And when Moshe's father-in-law saw all that he did for the people"

 

            Moshe's father-in-law notices something that the text has already indicated. The addition of the word “all” (kol) alludes to his insight, which allows him to take in all the elements of what is happening, as well as to understand their deeper implications. Yitro sees, and he is concerned. He sees what Moshe is doing for the people, the extensive trouble that he goes to, and he asks,

 

"What is this thing that you do for the people?"

 

He does not ask "why" Moshe is doing it, but rather questions the very activity itself. Afterwards, he elaborates:

 

"Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand by you from morning to evening?”

 

"And Moshe said to his father-in-law: Because the people come to me (ki yavo elai) to inquire of God."

 

With these words, Moshe explains the logic of all his hard work: The people come to me with the aim and purpose of inquiring of God. They are seeking His word, His instructions; they seek a connection with Him. This declaration sets forth the essence of the situation as Moshe sees it. It also entails a fundamental assumption: the people seek God, and for this purpose they "come to me.” Moshe testifies, as it were, to his status as God's emissary.

 

Moshe then goes on to explain how this actually comes about:

 

"When they have a matter, they come to me (ba elai).”

 

When they have some need, some "matter,” they bring it to me. This would seem to be a sort of translation or elaboration of the original statement, "the people come to me to inquire of God.” Moshe continues,

 

"And I judge between one and another, and I make known to them the statutes of God and His teachings."

 

Moshe judges; he provides a response concerning the "matter," and thereby makes known God's laws. Once again, his words here represent a translation and implementation – this time, concerning the people's inquiring of God. One cannot help being struck by the gap between the original intention of the people in coming to Moshe – "they come to me…” – and the reality, in which it is a "matter" of judgment that comes before him, rather than the people themselves.[4] Thus, while "justice" might be happening, a true encounter with Moshe is not. At the same time, the final clause of Moshe's explanation – "And I make known God's statutes" – is thrown into the air, as it were; it is not aimed directly at any of those who come for judgment, nor at the people. Moshe does not say, "I make known to them God's statutes. From the perspective of the people, their basic desire was to draw close to Moshe, who would make God's word known to them. In practice, they do not achieve this closeness, and God's word likewise remains generalized, floating in the air and disconnected from their world.[5]

 

What causes this discrepancy? The text provides no explicit answer, but we may have an inkling from the other model that is presented by Yitro.

 

Moshe's father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good."

 

This is a general, sweeping rejection. It points out not a local fault, not a disagreement with some detail, but rather an all-encompassing negation, a denial of the conception as a whole.

 

"You will surely wear away – both you and this people that is with you, for this thing is too heavy for you; you cannot perform it alone."

 

First of all, you yourself will collapse; consequently, the nation will collapse. This approach cannot be maintained; you cannot perform this alone.

 

Following the introduction, in which Yitro describes the likely results of the current setup, some practical advice is to be anticipated: "Get some more people on board with you; they will take some of the burden upon themselves." But what Yitro actually does is invite Moshe to a place in the world of the spirit, to a new and different worldview.

 

Now, Listen to My Voice

 

"Now listen to my voice; I will give you counsel."

 

Yitro is telling Moshe to listen while he brings himself, his inner position. It is as though he is asking Moshe to trust him, even if he cannot identify fully. In essence, he is saying: Moshe, in these matters I know better than you do, so please, listen to me.[6]

 

"And may God be with you."  

 

For the meantime, the meaning of this phrase is not clear. He seems to mean, “I am going to tell you something, in the wake of which God will be with you.” His words imply that right now, God is not with Moshe. It is not clear to the observer what might change this situation, nor what the context of this statement might be. We have to continue reading to allow the text to explain itself.

 

"You shall represent the nation (heyei ata la-'am) before God…”

 

Be connected to the people, one of them, before God.

 

"… and bring (ve-heveita ata) the cases to God."

 

Moshe should serve not as the channel to bring God's word to the people, but rather the opposite – to bring the words of the people to God. The repeated emphasis on “ata (“you”) intensifies Moshe's connection to the people in both situations.[7]These two descriptions are quite surprising; they reflect Yitro's different conception, something other than what was presented by Moshe. Moshe speaks of a people inquiring of God and of himself as God's emissary. Yitro adjusts Moshe's position in this scene, as it were, putting him in the place of bringing the people's word to God.[8]

 

"And you shall warn them of the statutes and the teachings." 

 

Now Yitro moves on to the other half of the equation: instruction of the people. In contrast to the "making known" as formulated by Moshe, Yitro speaks of "warning.” "Making known" means conveying matters as they are. "Warning,” on the other hand, implies a focus on the listener; it assumes that the listener is responsible and invites him to commit himself to it.[9] The content also changes. As opposed to "God's statutes and His teachings,” the subject is now "the statutes and the teachings" – just as they are, with their inherent logic, without the attribution to God.[10]

 

Yitro then goes on to connect Moshe's instruction to day-to-day life:

 

"And you shall show them the way in which they should go…”

 

In contrast to instructions and more instructions, with no apparent connection between them, a "way” or "path” indicates a direction for one who travels it. A path connects the disparate activities and elements into a single framework of life. The final aspect of Yitro's exposition –

 

"and what they must do”

 

radiates from the "path" that has just been described and goes one step further, connecting practical action to the same overall framework of life.

 

Moshe's Approach vs. Yitro's Approach

 

Before Yitro goes on to detail the officers of the thousands and of the hundreds, let us pause and try to understand the difference between his approach and that of Moshe. What is the message, the innovation, in what Yitro is saying? So far, Moshe has viewed himself as God's representative. It is under this title that he receives the people who come to him to inquire of God, to seek His word and His closeness. In this sense, it makes perfect sense that Moshe judges the people on his own. The subject is the people coming to inquire of God, and God has no other representative but him.

 

Yitro offers a different position, whose point of departure is, "You are the representative of the people." This fact changes the whole picture. In this type of judgment, the judge will focus his attention on the question that he poses to the claimant: "What do you have to say?" He will listen well to the answer and try to understand the claimant's experience and distress. A close, in-depth listening to what people say may bring Moshe to an encounter with a reality for which he has no set answer. This being so, the obvious next step is to bring the people's words to God, to be their voice. In contrast to the original position, in which the people brought their "matters" to Moshe, they will now view him as their emissary, who speaks for them and who makes their voice heard before God.

 

What will be the nature of the dialogue between Moshe and God? Here Yitro does not elaborate. Moshe will find himself in this position over and over again. He will view himself as the people's emissary, and from this position he will argue with God. Of special note is his speech following the sin of the golden calf. After God tells him,

 

"Go, get down [the mountain], for your people, which you brought up out of the land of Egypt, has become corrupt… And now, leave Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may consume them, and I will make of you a great nation." (Shemot 32:7-10)

 

Moshe stands and defends the people with his entire being. Interestingly, it is specifically in the wake of the position that he adopts in this context that Moshe merits the most intimate moments ever described between man and God.[11] It seems that this is the intimacy that Yitro alluded to earlier, "and may God be with you." If and when you see yourself as part of the nation, God will be with you.

 

The Sages offer a different interpretation of Yitro's words:

 

For R. Joseph learned: “And you shall show them” – this refers to their house of life; “the way” – this refers to loving kindness; “that they should follow” – this refers to visiting the sick; “it” – this refers to burial; “and what” – this is the law; “they must do” – going beyond the requirements of the law. (Bava Metzia 30b)

 

This midrash expands Yitro's words into a vast array of activities, all of which may be placed under the heading, "derekh eretz.” Yitro is speaking of a path that includes acts of loving kindness,[12] visiting the sick – i.e., attention to the distress of others; burial – embodying "chessed shel emet" (true kindness), devoid of any consideration of profit or repayment; and finally, “the law,” and also “going beyond the law.” It seems that this last element, going beyond the law, best expresses the depths of what Yitro is trying to convey. It means reading reality in depth, understanding it, and then acting in such a way as to perform the right and proper action, which may not necessarily be found in the letter of the law or the bottom line of judgment.

 

"And You Shall Provide Out of All the people"

 

Up to this point, Yitro has spoken only about Moshe himself. The next step will be to expand the ranks.

 

"And you shall provide (ve-ata techezeh) out of all the people…"

 

What is contributed by the phrase, "out of all the people"? Is it not self-evident that the officers of the thousands will be selected from among Bnei Yisrael? This attribution is of fundamental importance, and it defines the source of the judge's authority. From a different angle, it is only after this statement of attribution that it will be possible to expand the ranks, for until now the judge (Moshe) has served as God's emissary – and in this sense only one person could serve as judge. The expression "out of all the people" serves to generalize the attribution. The source of the judge's authority is broad and non-partisan.

 

Yitro then goes on to sketch the desired profile for the candidates:

 

"Able men who fear God, men of truth, who hate unjust gain, and you shall place these over them.”

 

The judges will be men of exceptional moral caliber, and as people who "fear God" that will stand in His presence, they will know that judgment comes from Him.

 

"And they shall judge the people at all seasons, and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge; so it shall be easier for you, and they shall bear [the burden] with you."

 

In contrast to the specific textual indication of when Moshe sat in judgment – "And it was, on the next day, that Moshe sat to judge the people,” suggesting that his sitting in judgment was a one time or periodic event – there will now be a mechanism through which officers will judge the people at all times.

 

"If you will do this thing, and God commands you so, then you shall be able to endure, and all this people shall go to their place in peace.”

 

Now Yitro concludes his words by summarizing the elements comprising his vision: the Divine command, Moshe's ability to ensure, and direction for the people so they can go to their place in peace. At first glance, this chain of command, as it were, arranged as "God – Moshe – the people,” seems to contradict Yitro's view of Moshe as representative of the people. However, this summary would seem to place boundaries around the scope of Yitro's advice. Yitro does not mean to smash Moshe's conception, the equation stating that God chose Moshe and appointed him as His emissary, and thus Moshe now brings the people God's laws and statutes. The statement of fact, "the people come to me to inquire of God," is still true, and this idea is embedded in what Yitro says here. His message is that the axioms of Moshe's approach are not everything. Moreover, in a situation in which Moshe comes to view himself as the representative of the people, and it is from within this position that he stands before God, his mission can be implemented in a more complete way, through the connections that will be made between the people and God.

 

To Conclude – A Word From the Talmud

 

At the beginning of Massekhet Kiddushin, the gemara questions the formulation of the mishna:

 

“A woman is acquired in three ways (shalosh derakhim)” – Why does the text say “shalosh’ [the feminine form of the number] rather than "shelosha" [as would seem appropriate, agreeing with the seemingly masculine noun “derekh” (way)]?

 

The answer given is that the noun to which the number three is being applied is "derekh" (way), and "derekh" is actually a feminine noun. How does the gemara prove this? By citing the verse from our parasha:

 

As it is written (Shemot 18:20), “And you shall show them the way in which they should go (ha-derekh yelkhu vah)."

 

The obvious question is that if the gemara is looking for a verse to use as proof that the noun "derekh" is feminine, there are a great number of different verses that would serve the purpose.[13] Why, then, is this particular verse chosen? It seems that it is not by chance that the Sages appeal to Yitro. Yitro calls upon Moshe to associate himself with the nation, to listen to them, and to be their voice. In this sense, the feminine form, more deeply connected to life and to its reality, is a more fitting reflection of the “derekh.”

 

This being so, the gemara then goes on to ask how it is that elsewhere we find the word "derekh" used in the masculine form, as in the verse, "They shall come out against you in one way (be-derekh echad), and flee before you seven ways (shiv'ah derakhim)" (Devarim 28:7). It resolves the difficulty by pointing out that in the quote from the context of Yitro, the word "derekh" refers to the Torah, which is a feminine noun – as it is written, "God's Torah is perfect (“temima, not “tamim”), restoring (meshivat) the soul." Hence, the feminine form is used. In the verse from Devarim, in contrast, the reference is to war, and it is the practice of men to wage war, while women do not. Therefore, in that context the masculine form is used.

 

Thus, the gemara understands that the term "derekh" can be used in either feminine or masculine form; the proper use depends on the context. When the "derekh,” the path in question, is the path of Torah, as it is in Yitro's words, then the feminine form is used. When the "derekh" is one of war, then the masculine form is appropriate.

 

This discussion awards the concept of "derekh" two different meanings. The path of man, which resembles the path of war, involves discipline as a means of achieving the end and conquering the objective ("they shall come out against you in one way"), or as a way of feeling from a pursuer and place oneself somewhere else ("and flee before you seven ways"). The other "derekh" is the path of Torah. This path does not serve any specific aim. Its essence is the path, the process itself, the manners and customs that it develops among those who walk it.[14] As a source supporting the feminine gender of the word “Torah,” the gemara cites verses from Sefer Tehillim – as though pointing, once again, to their meaning. Yitro speaks of "the path;" the gemara connects this path with, or identifies it as, Torah, and now it connects it with verses from Sefer Tehillim:

 

God's Torah is perfect, restoring the soul. God's testimony is faithful, giving wisdom to the simple. God's statutes are straight, bringing joy to the heart; God's command is pure, illuminating the eyes. The fear of God is clean, enduring forever; Gods judgments are true, altogether righteous. They are more desirable than gold, even much fine gold; also sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. (Tehillim 19:8-11)

 

What Torah is being described here? A Torah that restores a person's soul, that is faithful, that bestows wisdom on the simple, illuminating his eyes and bringing him joy. It is this Torah that is depicted in feminine form, says the gemara – and then associates this Torah with the "way in which they should go" described in Yitro's advice.

 

Our Sages teach that "derekh eretz (the way of the world) preceded the Torah" (Eliyahu Rabba 1 and elsewhere), thereby pointing to a meaningful life that is upright and eternal as the basis for an encounter with Torah and with its Giver. On the eve of the giving of the Torah, Am Yisrael meets with one of the great sages of the nations of the world, who observes the Israelite camp and voices this vision in all its purity. His message to Moshe and to Am Yisrael is, as it were: On your way to the mountain, take with you the way of life, so that your Torah will be a Torah of life.

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 



[1] Predictably, there is considerable controversy among Tanna’im and among commentators as to the exact timing of this story. Did it take place just prior to the giving of the Torah or afterwards? We will not be addressing this question here. Our focus is more primary – we seek to understand the reason for and significance of the placement of the unit where it is. The sense that this unit is out of place is further supported by the fact that since the nation left Ra'amses, there has been a continuous description of their journeys, which serves as a framework for the various events that are recorded. From Sukkot, they journey to Eitam, at the edge of the wilderness (Shemot 13:20), encamp at Pi Ha-Chirot (14:2), cross the Red Sea, and journey to the wilderness of Shur (15:22). From there, they proceed to Eilim (15:27), and from there to the wilderness of Sin (16:1), then to Refidim (Masa u-Meriva) (17:1-7), where the war against Amalek takes place (17:7-16). The story of Yitro is imported from a later stage, and it is then followed in the text by the description of the nation leaving Refidim and moving to the mountain of God (chapter 19).

[2] Midrash Tanchuma, Teruma, chapter 8, and elsewhere. There is a disagreement among the commentators (Rashi vs. Ramban) as to the scope of the application of this principle.

[3] A deviation from the chronological context should not be regarded as having no significance. Wherever this occurs, the text invites the reader to try to decode the meaning of the "earlier and later" – in the world of meaning and the spirit.

[4]A similar gap exists in the following description: "Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: ‘Come, let us go to the seer,’ for the prophet of today was formerly called a 'seer'" (Shmuel I 9:9). "Formerly in Israel" – meaning, in the past; when this event happened, that is how things were. These words are written by the biblical narrator sometime after the events, and they indicate a difference between the reality of Israel in his own generation and the reality of Israel as it once was. "When a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus": In the past, when a person went to inquire of God, he would say, "Come, let us go to the seer". The seer is the man people go to when they want to inquire of God. He is the man who "sees"; reality is clear to him, and he is also someone who is able to decide matters. In the context of the story in Sefer Shmuel, the seer may well know where the donkeys may be found, and he might also decide the under-the-surface argument that is going on between Shaul and his servant. Now the narrator goes on to explain further: "For the 'prophet' of today was formerly called a 'seer'." Today we encounter "prophets,” but once such people were known as "seers." This title stresses the ability to see, whereas "prophet” is an idiom enabling a channel of speech and hearing, or communication. In contrast to the sense of sight, which expresses the ability to distinguish what is real, perception, and decision-making, speaking and hearing embody an inner position, a conversation between worlds. Thus, with these words the biblical narrator explains to the reader who this “seer” is who should be able to know the location of the donkeys, and he takes the trouble to state that this function has already passed from the world. Today, there is a “prophet,” whose perceptions are based on speech and hearing – like someone who leads reality from within the complexities that it contains, rather than in accordance with a single, unified truth. This difference is just the tip of the iceberg of change in the conceptual system that is taking place between Shmuel, the seer – who brought back prophecy after many years in which it had been absent (Shmuel 1:3) – and the prophets in the time of David (such as Natan and Gad), whose spiritual path was very different.

To return to our subject: Like the gap manifest in Sefer Shmuel between the desire of a person to seek God and the application of this ideal that is available to him for solving his problems (such as finding lost donkeys), in our context, we similarly find an "inquiring of God" that is met by an application of this ideal that falls short.

[5] It would seem that this fact says something about Moshe, who views his role at this stage as "disseminating" God's word, rather than as being responsible for the spiritual situation of each and every individual and for his connection to God and to His word.

[6]Once again we find a gap – this time between Yitro's expectation that Moshe will "listen to him" (shema be-koli), in the sense of obeying, and the reality described at the end of the chapter, where Moshe listens to him (va-yishma le-kolo) and does all that he has said (Shemot 18:24) –from a place of due consideration, rather than one of obedience.

[7] Both clauses would make sense and have the same meaning even without the word ata. Thus, this seemingly superfluous emphasis seems to be saying, "Be, you, for the people” – take responsibility for something that is currently no one's responsibility. Be a representative for the people, "and bring, you…" – again, an emphasis on Moshe's presence as someone who seizes a position that so far has been neglected – the responsibility of bringing the people's word to God.

[8] From a different direction, we might put it this way. As Moshe has viewed matters thus far, the focus is God's statutes and His teachings; the people are viewed as "gathering crumbs from a high table." Yitro upends this picture, declaring: The important story is going on right here, amongst the people – and he brings Moshe to this perspective.

[9] Other examples of this expression in Tanakh: "But if you warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness and from his wicked way, then he will die in his own iniquity, while you will have saved your soul" (Yechezkel 3:19); "The king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God had told him and warned him of, and he saved himself there, not once and not twice" (Melakhim II 6:10). A further distinction should be made. An "announcement" requires no context. There is simply a "matter,” a piece of information, that needs to be conveyed, and it is conveyed. A "warning,” in contrast, is uttered within a context; there is someone who is warning, there is the one who is warned, and the warning is founded upon and radiates from the overall relationship prevailing between them.

[10] It is as if Yitro is telling Moshe: Don't just attribute everything directly to God; pay attention to the substance of things, to the matters themselves. Something that is true and accurate will be accepted by the people. Once again, Yitro invites Moshe to "play on a human court."

[11] "And now, if, I pray You, I have found favor in Your eyes, make known to me, I pray You, Your ways, that I may know You, in order that I might find favor in Your eyes…,” Moshe asks, and God answers, "This thing too, of which you have spoken, I shall do, for you have found favor in My eyes, and I know you by name." Moshe persists: "And he said, "Show me, I pray You, Your glory,” and God responds: "And He said: You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live." However, He offers a partial response: "And God said: Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand upon a rock; and it shall be, when My glory passes by, that I will place you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. And I will remove My hand, and you will see My back, but My face shall not be seen."

[12] The term "chesed,” indicating a spiritual movement of giving, is different from the expression "gemilut chassadim" – acts of loving kindness – which includes an aspect of "gemul," reciprocity. "Gemilut chassadim" means that a person is conscious of the place and the actions of others, and the kindness or giving that he practices towards them represents a sort of communication. Alternatively, “gemul” may perhaps be related to “gemila” – weaning. This suggests an expansive, abundant giving that leaves the receiver in a position like that of an infant who is weaned – he no longer needs this assistance.

[13]Including Bereishit 42:38; Devarim 1:22; 1:33; 13:6, and elsewhere.

[14] Many midrashei Halakha, as well as discussions in the Talmud, seek a source for the halakha. Is it proof of its veracity that they are looking for? The underlying assumption of the study does not view the proof as the essence of the search. A textual unit serves as a sort of "breeding ground,” allowing the Sages to expound on the meaning of the halakha and the profound insights contained within it. Pointing to a source is viewed as indicating a formative conceptual field that tells the deeper story behind the question at hand. In the context of verses cited from Sefer Tehillim, this view is almost unavoidable, since “Torah” is always referred to in the feminine form.