We once again see in this week’s Torah reading the Torah’s penchant to use outsiders and their ideas to advance the welfare of the Jewish. People. After the granting of the Torah on Sinai, Moshe attempts to institute a one-man – himself – system of justice for the Jewish people. In theory, this is the ideal system, for everyone would wish to be heard and judged by Moshe. There cannot be anyone better or wiser to hear disputes and render clarifications of Torah ordinances and values than Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet, like many, if not even the greatest ideas in theory, do not usually work out in practice in the messy world of everyday human behavior and life.
It is the complete outsider, Yitro, who immediately grasps the danger to the people and to Moshe that is inherent in his role as the sole judge of the Jews. Yitro cautions Moshe that under such a system, Moshe and the people will wither away because of the impossible physical, emotional and organizational strain. Yitro proposes an alternate system of justice, more bureaucratic and cumbersome but infinitely more workable than the one Moses proposed. And Heaven agrees with the outsider, and Yitro’s proposal becomes the accepted norm for justice for that generation of Jewish people. Moshe himself agrees with the wisdom of Yitro’s words. The fact that Yitro is a complete outsider in Jewish society of that time in no way disqualifies his observations and suggestions.
Generally, people ignore and even resent the comments and opinions of outsiders on internal or domestic matters. What can an outsider possibly know about how we should behave or how we should run our home, business or society? Yet, as the professional fields of counselling in all sectors and disciplines in our society continueto grow and expand, we are witness to the value of outside guidance. It is their ‘outsiderness’ that provides a perspective that the person or society cannot achieve by itself.
The rabbis if the Talmud phrased it succinctly and correctly: “A prison inmate cannot free himself by himself from his incarceration.” As it was in the case of Yitro, it is the outsider – oftentimes the ultimate outsider – who may be the key to progress and who offers a better perspective on the challenges facing us. We should never deliberately close our ears to what is being said about us or to advice given, even if it is not requested.
The great unmatched humility of Moshe allowed him not only to accept the words and advice of Yitro, but also to cherish them, and even openly credit Yitro for his insight and wisdom, Moshe will say to Yitro later in the Torah, “you have been to us our guide and eyes,” Only outsiders can free us from the bonds of our own self-imposed subjectivity. This is one of the great subliminal teachings that fill the Torahand instruct us about life.
Rabbi Berel Wein