5769 - #17



           Yitro begins his presentation of advice to his son-in-law Moshe with the words lo tov hadavar asher ata oseh, it is not good, that which you are doing.1 This phrase, lo tov, is actually found in only one other place in the Torah. Before creating Chava, God states lo tov heyot ha’adam levado, it is not good for Adam to be alone.2 The similarity of the two verses is most interesting. In both cases, an evaluation of a particular circumstance is being presented as a prelude to a solution for a problem contained within the particular situation. The problem identified in both cases is, also, actually similar. God states that it is not good for Adam to be alone, a singular human being in Creation. Yitro is also effectively stating that it is not good for Moshe to be alone, a singular judge within the nation. The question thus emerges: what can we learn from this similarity in the description of these two events?

            On the surface, Yitro’s concern would seem to be his son-in-law. Moshe’s circumstances and behaviour are not good for him as Rashi, Shemot 18:18 describes: the overwhelming task is beyond his capabilities. Yitro seems to be telling Moshe to change the situation for his own good. This would seem to be similar to the general, colloquial understanding of God’s statement regarding Adam. It is not good for Adam to be alone. God thus, it would seem, created Chava to benefit Adam, as a helpmate and to remove his loneliness.3 Rashi, Bereishit 2:18, however, understands God’s evaluation not to be referring to Adam’s needs and what may benefit him but, rather, to a lack in the necessary, moral good. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch sums up this perspective in explaining that the verse is not saying that “it was not good for man to be alone,” but rather that “this was not good, Man being alone.” Given the similarity in language, could this approach also be understood to be part of Yitro’s description of the problem? Could this verse not also be read as ‘this is not good, that which you are doing.’ Yitro’s point would therefore be more than presenting a problem for Moshe in remaining a singular judge. Yitro’s point would be that Moshe’s continuation as a singular judge presented a lack in the necessary, moral good.4 There is an inherent moral weakness in Moshe judging alone in the same way there was an inherent moral weakness in Adam being alone. Why would this be so?

            The solution in the case of Adam was not simply the creation of another human being -- an addition of others that, indeed, would still have been beneficial in itself and seemingly solve the problem presented by Rashi – but rather the specific of a unique being with whom Adam could become l’basar echad, one being. To respond to the lack of tov in Adam being alone, God did not just create more human beings -- a greater number of these singular beings who would no longer be singular as there would now be more than one of them – but a being with whom Adam could join that would result in a new gestalt, a new entity that would be greater than the sum of its parts. This may also have been the greater message in Yitro’s advice. He did not just tell Moshe to appoint more judges because there were just too many cases for one man. He was also not just counseling him in how to employ these new judges in the most effective manner. He was developing a system that would permeate the nation, give a structure to the community of Israel effectively also creating a gestalt whereby the sum would be greater than its parts.

            Yitro’s advice was to create a system that would permeate the nation with relationships based on Torah scholarship and the assessment of justice. For different groupings, defined by the number of members in each group, there would be one assigned to respond to the particular questions of the group members and instruct them in the ways of the Torah. While the distinction in terms of which level of judge would respond to a specific question or adjudicate a specific matter would be dependent on the difficulty of the question, relationships, nonetheless, would be formed. Theoretically, it would also seem, members of a group of ten would spend the most time interacting with the one appointed to serve this group of ten, thus forming a relationship of a personal nature. There would be connections permeating the nation built around Torah. These relationships would, no doubt, be of differing natures as the connection with the judge over one thousand would be less personal than the relationship a person would have with the judge over a group of ten, nonetheless, there would be relationships built around Torah permeating throughout the nation. Moshe, as a singular judge, could not create such relationships with every member of the nation. If Moshe continued to act as he was doing, Yitro was saying, there would be an aloofness between this only source of Torah and the people. Torah must permeate the nation.5.

            This advice presents a most interesting insight into the structure of the ideal Torah community as Yitro saw it. Torah is not built solely on scholarship, on trying to gain the wisdom of the greatest minds within the world of Torah study, in trying to have every question one may have in Torah, in Halacha, answered by the most outstanding member of the Torah world. Torah is built on the personal, on the relationship. There is a structure that must be employed for the nation to truly reach its goal of being a holy nation, and it begins with sarei asarah, the leaders of the ten.

            Rabbi Benjamin Hecht



1 Shemot 18:17.

2 Bereishit 2:18.

3 This approach, it should be mentioned, is supported, also, through the words of T.B. Yevamot 63b.

4 Interestingly, while not totally negating the problem that Moshe just did not have the time for this type of case load, which would seem to be the simple message from the verse, T.B. Shabbat 10a seems to indicate that Moshe must have had more time than the verse seems to imply. This would further imply that Yitro’s assessment of the problem was more than a matter of time management.

5 Of course, it must be recognized that this advice is still the counsel of Yitro. Whether this model is, in effect, the ideal model of Torah would depend on whether Yitro’s advice was actually accepted because it was a reflection of the ideal or whether its acceptance really reflected a negative step. This would seem to actually be a disagreement between the various commentators. At the core of this debate is whether the actual presentation of the event in Parshat Yitro, which seems to reflect a positive perception toward Yitro’s advice, is to be accepted as dominant or whether the negative spin attached to this event in Devarim 1:12 as the event is retold is to be understood as dominant. It should not be surprising that Chassidic commentators favour the latter approach, defining a value in a singular leader, of the stature of a Moshe Rabbeinu, over the entire nature. See, for example, Sefat Emet, Devarim 640. The further argument would be that ru’ach hakodesh, a holy spirit, would guide this special individual so the he could have the necessary personal relationships with each member of the entire nation. My bias, as I believe would be implied within the presentation of this Insight, is to favour and give greater value to the presentation in Shemot.

 (c) Nishma, 2009





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