SALT - Tuesday, 16 Shevat 5780 - February 11, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Yitro of the recommendation given by Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, that Moshe appoint judges so that he would not have to personally preside over all the people’s cases.  Yitro watched as Moshe spent the entire day hearing the cases brought before him, and he warned Moshe, “Navol tibol” – “You will assuredly whither” (18:18) – by doing all this work by himself.  Moshe accepted Yitro’s advice, and proceeded to appoint qualified judges.
            The Ralbag offers a unique explanation of Yitro’s concern, writing that Yitro warned Moshe of the effects of this overwhelming burden of responsibility on his ability to receive prophecy.  This demanding schedule, Yitro cautioned, would weaken Moshe to the point where, in the Ralbag’s words, “the attachment between you and God, may He be exalted, might separate, such that prophecy will not come to you when they ask you about it.”  In order for Moshe to maintain his stature as prophet, he needed to maintain a high level of spiritual focus.  Yitro feared that by devoting too much time to judging the people, Moshe might compromise his spiritual level and thus risk losing his power of prophecy, which the people needed.  And whereas there were other qualified scholars among the nation who could serve as judges, only Moshe was able to fill the role of prophet which was vitally important at that time.  Yitro therefore urged Moshe to share the burden of judging with other capable scholars, in order to ensure that he would be able to continue serving the crucial role of prophet.
            The Ralbag’s explanation perhaps teaches the importance of prioritization, that sometimes even a valuable endeavor is unwise or even inappropriate if it comes at the expense of a more vital need.  As human beings, our time and energy are limited, and they must be apportioned correctly.  Anything we do or involve ourselves in, necessarily, comes at the expense of other valuable undertakings.  Moshe felt it was important to personally try all the people’s cases – and it certainly was; in fact, the Ralbag himself (toe’elet 11) points to Moshe’s boundless devotion to the people as one of the lessons of this story, setting an example of how a leader must commit himself to work tirelessly for the benefit of his constituents.  However, Yitro urged Moshe to consider whether perhaps this extraordinary display of self-sacrifice was undermining his ability to do something which was even more important.  His decision to personally tend to all the people’s questions and quarrels was motivated by sincere intentions and a genuine commitment to them, but – as Moshe himself conceded – it was not the correct decision.  We must carefully prioritize our time and our strength, and try to avoid involving himself in even valuable pursuits if they come at the expense of more crucial ones.