Image: The word “STRESS” with hands reaching up from it. (geralt/pixabay)
In Parashat Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, the Priest of Midian comes to visit. He brought Moses’ wife and children to him, and stayed to see how things were going. After watching Moses administer the camp for a day, he had some feedback to offer.
Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.Exodus 18:13-24
But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?”
Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.”
But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow.
You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. 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.
If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”
Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said.
I love this exchange between Moses and Yitro. Moses has a new and overwhelming task: leading the Israelites. Yitro is an old hand at leadership.
Yitro offered his criticism after carefully laying the groundwork:
- He celebrated with Moses, without criticism.
- He watched and listened to Moses at work, without comment.
- He asked Moses to explain what he was seeing.
- Then he told Moses what he thought, beginning with the bottom line: “You will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well.”
- He made a suggestion for remedying the situation (delegate!)
- He deferred to God (“and God so commands you”) who was Moses’ boss
- And all this was expressed in terms of concerns for Moses and the Israelites. Never once did he belittle Moses or brag about his own abilities as a leader.
Yitro is one of my favorite characters in the Bible, for two reasons: (1) there is a tradition that he converted to Judaism and (2) he was so helpful and kind that he stands even today as a model for in-laws and helpful mentors everywhere.
A question we could all ask ourselves: When I have offered feedback, how does my manner of doing so compare to Yitro’s model?