Yitro: Living together, leading together

Posted on January 31, 2024

By Rabbi Alex Freedman.

The best teachers widen our view of the world. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z’L wrote something about this week’s reading, Yitro, that has long stuck with me. Because it’s not really about Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, way back then, but about all of us every day.

In the Parsha, Yitro notices Moses wearing himself out by listening to the legal cases brought by the people all day every day. Yitro confronts him directly by saying “The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone” (Ex. 18:17, 18). He then urges Moses to delegate, to train others to be capable of answering these legal questions, while Moses will serve as a supreme court, as it were, handling the most challenging cases.

Rabbi Sacks is taken by the phrase “not good, Lo Tov.” It rings a bell for him. He turns to the only other time that exact phrase is used in the Torah, Genesis 2:18. There we see God observing Adam without Eve and being quite lonely. God says, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.” God then proceeds to create Eve.

There too we read “not good, Lo Tov.” When there are only two instances of an expression, each example must inform the other. What do we learn from each case?

Rabbi Sacks answers: from Genesis we learn, it’s not good for a person to live alone. And from Exodus we learn, it’s not good for a person to lead alone. Living alone removes us from the blessings of companionship, family, and community. Leading alone is an impossible task that wears out an individual and prevents that group from preparing for future success.

From what is not good, we learn the best path forward: to live together and to lead together.