Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Moshe's Judaism vs Yisro's Judaism

In this week's parsha Yisro comes and meets up with Moshe and the Jewish people. The most interesting event that occurs between Moshe and Yisro is a conversation where Yisro gives Moshe advice as to how Moshe should lead the people. The conversation goes like this (Shemos 18:14):

יד וַיַּרְא חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-הוּא עֹשֶׂה לָעָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, מָה-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה לָעָם--מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב לְבַדֶּךָ, וְכָל-הָעָם נִצָּב עָלֶיךָ מִן-בֹּקֶר עַד-עָרֶב. 14 And when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said: 'What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand about thee from morning unto even?'
טו וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, לְחֹתְנוֹ: כִּי-יָבֹא אֵלַי הָעָם, לִדְרֹשׁ אֱלֹהִים. 15 And Moses said unto his father-in-law: 'Because the people come unto me to inquire of God;
טז כִּי-יִהְיֶה לָהֶם דָּבָר, בָּא אֵלַי, וְשָׁפַטְתִּי, בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ; וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת-חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים, וְאֶת-תּוֹרֹתָיו. 16 when they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws.'
יז וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵלָיו: לֹא-טוֹב, הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה, עֹשֶׂה. 17 And Moses' father-in-law said unto him: 'The thing that thou doest is not good.
יח נָבֹל תִּבֹּל--גַּם-אַתָּה, גַּם-הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ: כִּי-כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר, לֹא-תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ. 18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; for the thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.
יט עַתָּה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי, אִיעָצְךָ, וִיהִי אֱלֹהִים, עִמָּךְ; הֱיֵה אַתָּה לָעָם, מוּל הָאֱלֹהִים, וְהֵבֵאתָ אַתָּה אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים, אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים. 19 Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God be with thee: be thou for the people before God, and bring thou the causes unto God.
כ וְהִזְהַרְתָּה אֶתְהֶם, אֶת-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַתּוֹרֹת; וְהוֹדַעְתָּ לָהֶם, אֶת-הַדֶּרֶךְ יֵלְכוּ בָהּ, וְאֶת-הַמַּעֲשֶׂה, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשׂוּן. 20 And thou shalt teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
כא וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת. 21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
כב וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת-הָעָם, בְּכָל-עֵת, וְהָיָה כָּל-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפְּטוּ-הֵם; וְהָקֵל, מֵעָלֶיךָ, וְנָשְׂאוּ, אִתָּךְ. 22 And let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge themselves; so shall they make it easier for thee and bear the burden with thee.
כג אִם אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְצִוְּךָ אֱלֹהִים, וְיָכָלְתָּ עֲמֹד; וְגַם כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה, עַל-מְקֹמוֹ יָבֹא בְשָׁלוֹם. 23 If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people also shall go to their place in peace.'

This seems so strange. First off, Yisro says that Moshe is doing a great disservice to the people by making them wait on line to speak with him. Next, Yisro says that Moshe himself will not be able to continue this ill begotten practice for much longer. Then Yisro tells Moshe to teach "them" the Torah and laws. Finally, he tells Moshe to set up leaders of thousands, hundreds and tens that can guide the people. The question here is, simply put, what exactly is going on. What was Moshe doing before Yisro suggested these changes?

If one takes a closer look at the verses he or she will notice something strange. It seems like Moshe, at this point, had not taught anyone any Torah or laws whatsoever. This is seen in verse 20 where Yisro tells Moshe, "Teach them the Torah and its laws!" This is then followed by verse 21 where it says, After you teach them appoint leaders for them that are the best and the brightest to answer any further questions. However, how could Moshe not have taught the Jewish people the Torah at a point where they already had the Torah and it's laws?

It seems to me that Moshe Rabbeinu and Yisro had different ideas as to how the Jewish religion was supposed to exist. Moshe thought that there was supposed to be one person that connects to G-D and tells everyone else what to do. No one can make a move without asking G-D how to behave. In essence, he thought the Jewish people were supposed to be like angels. This makes sense because they had just experienced so many miracles and such high levels of prophecy.

Yisro, on the other hand, came from a completely different background. He had just come from Midyan where life was very humanistic and filled with physicality. If Moshe had continued treating the Jewish people in a purely spiritual manner, they would have never been able to survive in the land of Israel. Living like angels was only possible in the desert where the hand of G-D is seen continuously and constantly. Therefore, Yisro told Moshe to wake up and smell the coffee. He told Moshe, like any good father-in-law would, that he was living in a fantasy world. "You and these people will grow weary of this," Yisro said.

How can the Jewish people consult Moshe on every detail of their life? Yisro was arguing that human comprehension and choices must be allowed and encouraged. Also, the point yisro was trying to bring across to Moshe was that his place was not as a puppet master where every action must go through him and ultimately G-D, but the people must have free choice and their own logical input. "Teach them the Torah and let them figure it out." However, Yisro did not want Moshe discontinuing his leadership role, no, no, no. Yisro was telling Moshe that there must be guidance and therefore, the best and the brightest should guide when there are simple questions and Moshe should be consulted when no one else can figure out the halacha.

Yisro was setting up a nation that could survive in a world where prophecy would not be constant. Yisro knew how the world outside of the desert worked and how to set up a community. That is why the verse tells us that Yisro was the priest of Midyan, because he understood how to lead a nation. One can not act as a leader by controlling every move of his subjects, rather one must teach the subjects how to make the right choices. That is the only way to lead without becoming weary yourself and without making your subjects weary of you.

To make this relevant to today, like I always try to do, let's ask how can it be that people feel like they always need to ask their Rabbi everything? "Rebbe, can I get a job?" "No my talmid, you must study forever." However, in the meantime this man's wife and he are stressed because they have no money. Unfortunately, I have heard this story many times. Also, the countless amount of times that one must ask a Rabbi about every little thing he or she does. We should learn from this story in Yisro, G-D wants us to figure out the halacha with our own knowledge. We have the Shulchan Orech, Aruch Hashulchan, Igros Moshe, Mishnah Berurah and so on. These are tools that allow us to figure out the halacha and know what to do. Serious questions like Niddah questions, certain kashrus questions and the like require a Rabbi, but we need to be able to know what to do in everyday life.

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