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February 14, 2020
19 Sh'vat 5780

Parashat Yitro
Exodus 18:1 - 20:23

Finding the right words for the right situation is a challenge that each of us faces, if we take long enough to stop and think about the situation in which we find ourselves. But that act of stopping implies that we have time to stop. In our 24/7 world, who does that?

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), begins with the revelation that we always have time to stop. Let me explain. Yitro (Jethro), Moses' father-in-law, decides after hearing about all that happened and what God had done for Moses and the people that it was time to reunite his daughter and grandsons with their father, Moses.

When Yitro arrives, and after he hears of all the wonders that God had done for the people, he offers a burnt offering. The next day, he watches as Moses adjudicated disputes among the people from morning until evening. Yitro observes and says this is lo tov -- not good. He is concerned for Moses and he is concerned for the people standing in line waiting to be seen and heard. It is of interest to note that the only other time the phrase lo tov is used is when God says it is not good for man to be alone in the story of Creation, in Genesis 2.

Moses is working around the clock, alone. The Torah does not tell us whether all of the decisions that he makes are good ones and if the people are enriched by the experience. What we do know is that Yitro, an experienced leader, offers a solution. Do not set yourself above all others; parcel out the work by finding good people who will adjudicate the different types of problems that come up so that only the most difficult cases end up before you. Stop -- take the necessary time.

At this point in the Torah, we are about to hear about the holiness of time in our story when the Ten Commandments are given to the people and the holiness of Shabbat is proclaimed. But here, in this interaction with Yitro, we are given evidence of how important it is to stop and, even more importantly, to share the burden. We are so much more effective when we do just that.

The beginning of the parashah is about Moses' workload and his relationship to the Divine. By the end of the parashah, everyone is at Sinai and the words are not for Moses alone. They are for the entire community.

All Jewish knowledge is for everyone. As Ben Zoma taught in Pirke Avot (4:1): Who is wise? The one who learns from all people.

Moses learns from Yitro how to lead the people, but the entire people hears the words of God at Sinai. Those words include the sacred quality of Shabbat -- the time we each need to take to stop, to listen, and to be present.

However each of us observes Shabbat, I invite you to hear the words of Yitro -- lo tov. It is not good to keep going and going and going, especially alone. May we learn from Yitro to include others in our journey and to remember that when we stop and take others with us, we, like Moses, are able to do so much more.

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, September 19 2020 1 Tishrei 5781