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Yitro - 5774

posted Jan 18, 2014, 7:00 PM by Ohel Avraham   [ updated Jan 18, 2014, 7:02 PM ]
Tomorrow's Torah portion is Yitro (Jethro) which contains the second seminal story of the development of Jews as a nation, the Epiphany at Mt. Sinai, where we received the Decalog (10 commandments). Many people have commented about the very tight relationship between Passover (commemorating our freedom from slavery) and Shavuot (commemorating receiving the Law at Sinai). As holidays, we mark the 7 weeks between the two festivals as the period of Counting the Omer. The idea is that freedom necessitates responsibility. Or perhaps, freedom is unsustainable without personal and collective responsibility.

But this perasha is called Yitro, after Moses's father-in-law Jethro, priest of the Midianites. If Jethro were alive today, he would probably be a great Business Process Management (BPM) consultant. BPM is all about streamlining processes, improving communications, and generally making things more efficient. When Jethro and Moses meet, shortly after the Jews leave Egypt, he spends a day observing Moses at work. From sunrise to sunset, Moses answers questions and adjudicates disputes. People stand in lines that are longer than the Fort Lee, NJ entrance to the GW Bridge! Jethro is unequivocal with Moses. "This thing you do is not good. It will wear you out, and it will wear out the people."

Jethro then instructs Moses to delegate responsibility and establish a judicial system of lower courts, courts of appeal, and supreme court. (OK, so they're called judges over tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands of people, but you get the point.)

What is striking to me is that only after Moses delegates his responsibilities, only after he has the freedom not to do everything himself, only after we establish a sense of organically grown, local leadership, do we have time for the Epiphany.

In the story of our emancipation, the active role is that of God. God is the source of the burning bush, God causes the plagues, God hardens Pharaoh's heart, God brings us out of Egypt, God causes the sea to split... God does everything, and the Jews merely have to go along.

In today's story of the Decalog, the active role becomes that of the Jews. We, each of us, must individually accept the law. We say "Naaseh Ve'Nishmaa" - "We will do, and we will hear." Our epiphany and enlightenment is a reflection of our accepting personal responsibility for our actions. But our responsibility is only a fiction if we are slaves to our jobs. We need time to reflect, time to see things in perspective, and time to do what's needed.

This idea of not being slaves to our work is codified in the Law of Shabbat. The authors of our laws knew that unless we enforced every person's right to rest, we would never be able to build a just society which enabled people to be the best they could be. So important is this right to every human, that the Torah extends the protection of Shabbat even to our service animals. After all, if your donkey has Shabbat, how much more so does your servant deserve one?

May this truly be a Shabbat Shalom to you,

Reprinted from Ohel Avraham Group Email