14 February 2017
This week’s parasha is Yitro, named after Moses’ father-in-law (one of only six Torah portions named after a central character). The portion contains powerful Cecil B. DeMille-like imagery, including thunder, lightning and the Ten Commandments. It also contains a less compelling – though equally important – lesson taught to Moses by Yitro, who helps Moses with a valuable lesson of leadership: the art of delegation.
Moses works hard “from morning until evening” settling disputes among the thousands of former slaves he has led to freedom. While the term “burn out” had not yet been invented, clearly Moses was a prime candidate. It was Yitro who advised him to get some help, advising, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well…; you cannot do it alone.” Yitro suggests that Moses find “capable men…. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.”
Many of us are leaders in business, the community and our families. Each of us has been guilty of falling into the trap of feeling we can do it “better”, perhaps taking on too much at once. The impact is tremendous – first on us, our families, those we work with and others. But the real effect is not felt until much later, when we have not adequately delegated to future leaders the responsibility to carry on.
Perhaps the quintessential picture of Moses’ leadership was not as the lonely figure at the crossing of the Red Sea or holding the Ten Commandments. Rather, it was in the desert, surrounded by his newly-appointed leaders for tomorrow.