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Yitro and Moshe - The Eternal Lesson

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah relates how Moses sat in judgement of the people from morning to evening every day. His father-in-law Yitro observes this and immediately understands the blatant inefficiency and unsustainable nature of such a judgment system. He therefore advises Moses to set up a tiered court system with upper and lower courts etc.

This episode always struck me as somewhat strange. Moses, the greatest leader of our people, the man chosen by God to receive Divine instruction for humanity is shown to be rather incompetent. Why did God not give Moses the insight to find a solution to this obvious problem? And subsequently why was it necessary for the Torah to relay a story which seemingly undermines the competence of Moses?

The great 18th century sage Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar presents a fascinating solution. He explains that the Torah recorded this incident to teach the Jewish People a fundamental lesson. God did not give the Torah to them because he considered them intellectually superior to the rest of humanity. On the contrary the nations of the world have tremendous wisdom, often surpassing that of the Jewish people as was clearly the case with Yitro. God simply gave the Torah to the Jewish people as an act of kindness and out of his love for their forefathers.

From this we learn a fundamental and important attitude. When one receives a precious gift, of which one is undeserving, the correct response is one of deep gratitude. It is certainly inappropriate to act with arrogance and a sense of superiority over those that were not beneficiaries of the precious gift. Similarly, a Jew should be deeply grateful that God gave the Jewish People the Torah, but never have an attitude of arrogance or superiority over the rest of humanity. Our gratitude should manifest in us upholding the lofty moral and ethical ethics and values of the Torah and in so doing fulfill the vision of Isiah of being a ‘Light unto the nations.’