Saturday, February 1, 2014

A delayed thought on Parashah Yitro

The Shabbat before I left we read from Parashah Yitro, which, though it is named after Moses' father-in-law, touches on a whole host of important matters.  But I was struck by that story and the figure of Yitro.

He arrives, bringing Moses' family to rejoin him after the miraculous deliverance from Mitzrayim.  He arrives with only generosity (he brings Moses’ family, declares God’s greatness).  He is greeted warmly by Moses and proceeds to observe Moses in action as supreme judge for the people -- sitting from morning to night as they lined up to have him solve their disputes.  Yitro is dismayed -- "The thing you are doing is not right."  He is compelled to offer a single piece of advice — don’t exhaust yourself.  Start to distribute the responsibility to your people, or else the people will become ever more dependent on you, and you could die from exhaustion.  Moses listens, and responds:  he chooses men to be leaders and judges for each of the tribes, and sub units of those tribes, distributing judicial work out to a variety of lower courts.  The very idea a judicial system, and even the hints of a democratic society, is invented. 

And then Yitro leaves.  I love how the Torah simply says —  "Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way to his own land."

My immediate thought was:  Is this not what we can only wildly hope we do as teachers?  We drop in, generously offer wisdom and support and perhaps say something, or show something, that changes a person’s life for the better, sends them off on a new trajectory.  And then we leave each other.   We might never know how much we changed the student's outlook, values, or choices.

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