Muswell Hill Synagogue
Vaetchanan 31 July / 1 August 8.36pm 9.45pm

Yitro

When Rabbi David asked me if I would take Yitro this evening, the responsibility to cover the Ten Commandments in 2 minutes felt too great a task. That is 12 seconds a commandment. And I could talk for at least twice that on coveting my neighbour’s ox.

So, I decided to look at the Sedra without focusing on the specific mitzvot. And two themes resonated for me.

Firstly, why was it was called Yitro. You might expect it to be named after the Ten Commandments yet it is Moses’s father-in-law that gets top billing. But what a critical role he plays.

Yitro has heard of the great miracles Hashem has performed for the people of Israel and travels from Midian with Moses’s wife and two sons.

He can’t believe that Moses is choosing to lead and govern the Jewish people on his own, adjudicating all disputes. He advises him to appoint a hierarchy of magistrates, creating a new judicial system, a major change in how things are governed.

At first reading, you might ask why this is included in the Sedra with the Ten Commandments?

It would seem to me that it would be extremely difficult to present a new set of complex laws that introduce a significant new legal and moral code, if you don’t provide society with a judicial system to oversee it and make judgements. I don’t think laws that Hashem gave to Moses could have been effectively introduced without this.

The second theme from the Sedra is what we learn about leadership, and what it takes to be a great leader. And in Yitro, Moses shows three of the most important attributes for a great leader.

Firstly, the willingness to listen, arguably the most important quality for a leader. Moses has been quite successful this far in leading the Jewish people, yet when his father-in-law suggests a new way of governing, he listens.

Secondly, the willingness to change. It is one thing listening, it is another thing acting on what you hear and introducing such a major change as Moses did with the new judicial system.

And finally, the willingness to delegate – and to trust others, as Moses had to do with this new system of governance.

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