Friday, January 17, 2014

Jethro's Tell

Great leaders are often those who are able to accept criticism. It seems to be, the higher one’s position of leadership, the fewer suggestions people are willing to make. Imagine how intimidating it would be to tell Moses, a man who conversed directly with God, that with a little streamlining, he could improve his leadership of the Israelites.

In what is one of the most unique narratives in the Bible, Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) did just that. Upon seeing Moses spend the entire day answering halachic (Jewish legal) inquiries and judging disputes between one person and the next, Moses' father-in-law said to him: “The thing that you do is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone. Listen to me, I will give you counsel, and God be with you...” (18:17-19). Jethro then advised Moses to create a hierarchy by appointing one judge over every hundred men who could, if necessary, appeal to a higher court (a judge over a thousand). Only the most difficult disputes would be brought to Moses for adjudication.

It should, of course, be noted that Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law, who had taken Moses into his home when Moses was wandering in the desert, long before Moses began communicating with God. And perhaps it was easier for Jethro to critique Moses because he had only heard about, but did not personally witness, the events in Egypt and the crossing of the sea, so he was less “starstruck.” Nevertheless, this interaction between Jethro and Moses demonstrates both how to give criticism (with consideration given to the best interests of the other person) and how to receive it (Moses implemented those changes).

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