Weekly Torah portion: Yitro

By Rabbi Yaakov Marks

Rabbi Yaakov Marks

SAN DIEGO — After the Jews, had settled peacefully into their wilderness encampment, Yitro, Moshe’s father in law, brought Zipporah, Moshe’s wife and two sons from Midyan, to be reunited with their husband and father. Moshe and all the leaders hosted Yitro to a joyous celebratory meal in which they praised and thanked G-d for all the miracles and kindness He had performed.

The Torah states, “Early the next morning, Moshe sat to adjudicate for the people, and the people stood in line for Moshe from the morning till the evening.” (Exodus 18:13) Moshe’s love and dedication to the Jewish people was so strong that he was driven to rise early to lovingly care for the needs of his people. Moshe placed their needs before his.

Yitro was very proud of his son in law, but with his keen foresight, he perceived an impending danger. Yitro saw how Moshe was judging and he asked, “What is this that you are doing to the people? Why are you sitting by yourself and all the people are standing and waiting for you from morning until evening?” Moshe answered, “The people are coming to me to seek the word of G-d.” Moshe wanted only the best for his people and he humbly knew that he could give everyone the best answers. Yitro grew deeply serious and said, “What you are doing is not good! You will wear yourself down and wear out and also wear out this nation. This is not a task you are able to do alone!” (Exodus 18:14-18) Yitro then suggested an alternative judicial system that would alleviate most of the pressure and still leave Moshe in charge. Moshe realized the need for the change and set up the judicial system exactly as Yitro had suggested.

Moshe was one of the wisest of all people who have ever lived, so why couldn’t Moshe realize by himself the impending problem that Yitro saw? Rabbi Chaim Lazatto in his book Mesillat Yesharim (chapter 3) stresses the importance to do introspection on good deeds as much as bad actions. Why didn’t Moshe utilize this process? In addition, Yitro was rebuking Moshe; why did he need mention anything about the people?

In every mother, father, and true leader there is a conscious and sub-conscious desire to support and protect their children or followers. They are even willing to sacrifice their own lives and wellbeing so that their children and followers should live and thrive. Moshe’s entire life was dedicated to his people, including many times when he put his life on the line to save them. In his book Aznayim LaTorah (Exodus 18:14), Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin writes that Yitro comprehended that because of Moshe’s love and concern for the people, Moshe was not considering that any harm might come to him. Therefore, Yitro had to mention that Moshe’s behavior would not only do harm to himself, it would also negatively impact the people. The people would grow weak if there were to be no change in Moshe’s manner of adjudicating. Worse, if Moshe wore himself out, the nation would collapse, perhaps even end up back in slavery without Moshe as their leader. The possible harm that he might cause to the people by not taking care of himself disturbed Moshe and made him reevaluate and change his behavior.

How many fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, rabbis, and teachers have you heard making excuses about not taking proper care of their health? “I don’t have time to eat properly.” “I know I should lose weight, but I am too busy with the kids.” “I really want to exercise, but I have too many things to do in order to take care of my family.” “I don’t have time; my family needs this and my students need that.” With all these excuses, one thing will remain an increasingly unhealthy person. We all need to heed Yitro’s advice. Yes, you love that person very much and you want to do everything for that person, but when your health goes you won’t be able to do anything for that person, and who knows what terrible things might befall him or her without you being there for them. If you take a little time for yourself, you will be able to give your loved ones a lot more beneficial time.

The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen Kagan) was once talking with a very prestigious Yeshiva teacher of his time. This teacher told the Chofetz Chaim that he would forgo every day a piece of meat that his doctor told him he needed to eat for his health so that he could make sure that his students would have enough bread to eat. The Chofetz Chaim in his tender voice said to him, “Given the myriad of responsibilities that a teacher has for his students, there is one extremely important and pressing one that you need to pay special attention to. You are responsible for making sure your students have a healthy teacher!” (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah Devarim 4:15)

The Chofetz Chaim is also speaking to us. With the multitude of responsibilities that we have, there is one urgent and important one that we need to pay special attention to. Our children deserve a healthy and active parent, our spouses deserve a vibrant and loving partner, and the people who rely on us deserve an energetic and caring mentor.

May we have the merit that the words of Yitro and the Chofetz Chaim can awaken us. May we have the courage to examine our actions and take proper care of ourselves so we can truly care for and enjoy our loved ones.

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Rabbi Marks is a life and health coach, who may be contacted via [email protected].

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