Men's Club Shabbat - D'Var Torah

Hi folks - the 2013 Men's Club Shabbat was a big success this year thanks to all of you who participated and attended.  Several of you asked for a copy of Dave LaDue's D'Var Torah - so we are attaching it below:

Good morning. Men's Club in the house. I am David LaDue, one of the co-Presidents of the CSAIR mens Organization. The other Co-President is Joel Chaiken – and together we welcome you to Men's Club Shabbat. I am very proud of our Men's Organization- today and every day.

Good news. After all these years we finally got a new Parsha to talk about. Usually Men's Club Shabbat is falls on Vayikra – which in biblical terms was something of a slow news day.

 But – as you all realize by now - this year the Mens Club got bumped to the parsha called Yitro. And this is one of the pivotal moments in the Torah. Because in this Parsha, Moses heads up Mount Sinai, speaks directly to God and heads back down the mountain with this list of ten rules that have become a pretty big deal. Anytime the commentary starts taking up more space on the page than the actual words of the torah – you know there's some important stuff going on.

 The thing is – when I read Yitro – I see the ten commandments. I see the journey up Mount Sinai But I also see something else:

I see someone who I think gets overlooked in this Parsha. Yitro – Jethro -himself. I always imagine Yitro throwing a party in heaven this week for his parsha and then feeling great embarrassment and disappointment that almost every D'Var Torah in every shul talks about the ten commandments and leaves him out entirely.

I can imagine him saying: “Hey folks”, the Parsha is not named the “Ten commandments”, or “Ten Good Rules” or even “He'll be comin down the mountain with some laws”. It's called Yitro. That's the name of the Parsha”. It's supposed to about him.

And if his friends tried to explain to Yitro that Parsha's are not named after the most important part – that they are named after the first word – I think Yitro would have stood on a chair and loudly pointed out that the first word of this parsha is actually “Vay-ish-ma” Which means “And He Heard”. And if you have parshas named Vayehi, Vayigash, Vayeshev, Vayika - then why not Vay-ish-ma? Because Yitro is an important man and this is his Parsha. So today I want to talk about Yitro.

The first thing about Yitro – he's not Jewish, okay? He is a Midian Priest. And Moses is his Son-In-Law. And, by the way, in the ancient world, a wife automatically converted to her husband's religion when they got married. Which worked out really well for Moses and Zipporah.

But what's great about Yitro is that he is a positive – inclusive – friendly, smart and helpful person. And that is a very important point. Because non-Jews are not destined to be our enemies – not in the Torah and not in the modern world. Non-Jews are often our friends – our co-workers – our husbands and wives – our Mothers – or (if you're like me) our fathers. And they can be our in-laws like Yitro was to Moses.

And from what we can see Yitro is a good man. In this parsha he brings Moses his beloved wife and his children through miles of treacherous dessert. When I have a house guest I'm happy if they brings me a box of cookies from Gruenbaums – so Yitro deserves credit for this.

Yitro arrives and he and Moses embrace each other – and the torah says they ask about each other welfare. The last time Yitro saw Moses the Jews were slaves in Egypt- before the plagues and before the exodus. So when Yitro says to his son-in-law: “So, Nu?” - Moses has a lot he can say.

The next morning Moses heads off to work – and here's the weird part: Yitro asks if he can tag along. Imagine if your father-in-law wanted to go sit and watch you work at your desk. Frankly it would freak me out - but Moses says sure thing and off they go.

Okay – so Moses as the appointed one who God himself has spoken to and chosen to lead the Jews – his job the next day is to meet with the people and help them decide disputes. Because when you assemble two or more Jews anywhere throughout history – they are going to argue about things. Whose goat is this? That lady stole my muffins. This guy cut in front of me in line for latkes. And everything in between. And Yitro sat there – all day – and into the evening and watched Moses – using his divine inspiration and his great wisdom and virtue – settle every single dispute for that day.

And what does Yitro say at the end?

Does he say – thank you son-in-law – for including me in your day.

Does he say – You honor me by allowing me to observe your great wisdom being put to good use.

Does he say – Now I know why my daughter married you Moses, you are the wisest man on earth.

Yitro does not say this. What he essentially says is:

Moses – what are you doing? You can't sit here all day deciding whose hat belongs to who and whether merchants can sell goat's milk in 20 ounce containers. What's the matter with you?

It's frankly – a rude remark. And at first Moses does not take it very well. He looks back at his father in law and he has a pretty snappy comeback. He says – and this is an exact quote (verses 15 and 16): “The People Come To me To Seek God. I must make known to them the Statutes of God and his teaching”. So – hey. Good answer, right?

Okay – now – put yourself in Yitro's place. You're the father in law. You're a guest here. Moses is the foremost Jewish man in the world – the leader of a nation. You have just returned Moses hospitality with a little bit of snarky criticism – and your son-in-law has just rebuffed your comments by reminding you that while you spend your Tuesdays walking through the dessert and talking to your camel, he, Moses, has been in communication with God himself.

So – now what happens? Does Yitro show respect for his son-in-law. Does he apologize? Does he back down? Does he change the subject?

Well, if your relatives are anything like my relatives – then you already know the answer to this one. Yitro's response – to the greatest, wisest, and holiest man on the earth is this exact quote:

“What you are doing, is not good”.

And let me paraphrase the rest:

Moses, kiddo, you can't keep up this pace. You're gonna collapse and then where will the people be? You can't get in the middle of every little argument.

Moses - you gotta delegate. Seek out people of ability. Seek out God-fearing men of Truth who hate improper gain – and put them in charge of lower courts. They can decide the minor issues – but the really big tickets items they can still bring to you.

What a statement. With this one rude outburst Yitro is really doing many different interesting and amazing things at the same time:

Number One - When Yitro says of the appointed Judges “they shall bring every great matter to you but they shall judge every small matter.”

In other words Yitro is saying:

“Don't sweat the small stuff”

Good advice. In life – none of us have unlimited time and energy. So we have to pick our battles and try to find a way to use our limited time to do the most good. Don't micro manage – it will drive you nuts.

Number Two: Yitro was an outsider who shows up – observes the process for one day – and then thinks he knows enough to tell the boss a much better way to do things. In other words – Yitro has invented the field of Business Consulting. And like every Business Consultant I've ever dealt with professionally – Yitro leaves town before anyone can tell if his ideas worked or not.

Number Three – Yitro introduces to Moses the concept of Delegating. Yitro is explaining to Moses how to avoid being buried in the minutia. A leader can't be everywhere all the time. He needs to select people to represent him when he isn't there – to delegate his authority so it can do the most good in the most places at the most times. Now for some Jews – the idea of purposely avoiding the opportunity to get involved in an argument seems to run counter to our people's identity and heritage. But thanks to Yitro – this important concept is introduced and Moses is the better for it.

Number Four: Yitro is acting the part of the classic in-law. Moses may be the leader of the Jewish nation – but like so many in-laws, Yitro does not assume that his son-in-law knows anything about anything and lets him know it.

Number Five – Is it possible that Yitro is doing his best to fit in with his new Jewish relatives by adopting the Jewish tradition of butting in to other people's business? Or is the message here that all relatives – Jewish and otherwise – have been butting into their son and daughter-in-law's lives since the beginning of time and that this type of pushy behavior is not an ethnic stereotype?

Number Six. Ethics. Yitro's advice is not to pick the strongest men, the richest men, the most educated men – or the loudest talkers. Yitro advises that Moses pick “men of ability”. “Men of Truth” and men who hate “improper gain”. Yitro is talking about ethical men. This is also an important concept. The best people to decide disputes are not the best educated or the most successful – they are the one's who can best tell right from wrong. Can you imagine what an improvement our world would be if the most ethical people could always be put in position to make the most important positions?

You know, here in shul we make the Prayer for our country and it's leaders each week. This is an easy prayer to make when you like the guy in the white house or the governor or the mayor. But in year's past when I wasn't happy with the US President – it was always hard to read that prayer – until I realized something. I took some comfort from this very interesting phrasing in Prayer for our Country. It says that we bless Our Country – it's leaders AND those who exercise just and Rightful authority. There's an important separation there around that “and”. Because leaders are not always just or rightful.

And this is Yitro's point exactly. So he asks Moses to select men who are ethical and delegate rightful authority to them. This is a big statement Yitro is making. This is not business as usual in government – this is a bold new idea.

And so – with these six ideas all tied up in this one bold statement – this one over the top mix of consulting, of pushiness, of criticism, butting-in and bold notions of change - how does Moses respond?

Moses does two things. He agrees with Yitro and then he sends him home before he can any more suggestions.

And by agreeing with Yitro – Moses changes the way the Jewish people are governed. And he gets his life back. He's not stuck figuring out who pulled who's hair – or why someone is hitting themselves – or if someone's girlfriend is real or imaginary. And so Moses gets time to get his strength back. And sure enough – when the new system was in place – God called Moses up to the mountain for the part of the parsha we all know a little better.

Now if Yitro had not asked to tag along with Moses – if he had not decided that Moses was doing it all wrong – if Yitro had not found the strength to say something – and after Moses rebuffed him - if Yitro had not found the chutzpah to talk back to Moses and get his whole idea out – what would have happened?

It is possible that Moses may have been too exhausted and stressed out to ever get himself up Mount Sinai. Clearly Hashem did not give the Torah to us the moment we exited Egypt. There was a right moment. And without Yitro's help – it is possible that the right moment may never have arrived.

And so I like to think that the parsha is named after Yitro for a reason – not just because his name is in the first sentence. I think that there are important places throughout Jewish history for the important positive actions acts of non-Jews and that Yitro stands tall among them.

In other words – if you have a good idea - sometimes its' good to be a little pushy.

Shabbat Shalom.