Parashat Yitro

When undertaking a task, responsibility, honesty and efficiency are -among others—qualities that are more than necessary to carry out it successfully. However, among all the qualities necessary to carry out an important task, none—perhaps—is as essential as the passion for the very task at hand.

Passion is not exclusive to a certain activity. There are those who play a musical instrument with passion, there are those who teach with passion and there are those who direct or manage projects with passion.

Finally, there are those who live every moment of their lives with passion.

Those who live their lives with passion are often difficult people. They do not accept hypocrisy. They find it difficult to tolerate compromise solutions. Either it's everything, or it's nothing! As Marshall Meyer, our teacher of blessed memory, used to say: "Either it is that voice, which burns you from the inside, or you are the worst of the dead."

In Parashat Yitro, Yitro—after hearing the deeds of the God of Israel—comes to visit his son-in-law, Moshe.

And what does Yitro see?

Yitro sees Moshe sitting from morning until night, listening to the concerns of his people. Moshe judges his people. That is his job. Yitro freezes at what his eyes see. He doesn't understand his son-in-law. The leader of Israel, the leader of the people who defied the Pharaoh of Egypt, spends his time solving shepherds' problems: that Isaac stole a sheep from Shmuel, that Yaakov's cow ate Aharon's flowers, that Miriam used Rivka's dress without her permission…

Yitro—the first management manager in history- proposes to his son-in-law to delegate functions. “Listen to me, dear, if you continue like this, your heart won't work anymore; you are going to die stressed from judging people so much”. Perhaps, what the father-in-law insinuates to his son-in-law is that he is there for “more important things”.

It is to think that Yitro also considers the children of Israel: The client cannot wait. People want faster solutions, or maybe - who knows - people are afraid of Moshe.

Yitro's advice is not bad in itself. However, Moshe is afraid: He does not trust the elders of Israel. Our hero does not see passion in his people, he wants a natural leader to emerge, like him, someone full of divine spirit. Don't trust the bureaucracy. Moshe - our sages say - is afraid to delegate. He is too perfectionist. Either it's everything, or it's nothing! Yitro, on the other hand, is more realistic. Pragmatic.

In the end, Yitro wins. Moshe learns to delegate. His people breathe a sigh of relief.

So, it IS Moshe the one who descends from Mount Sinai and talks to the People of Israel what he has been told by God. He translates the Torah into words intelligible to his people: "You shall not kill", "You shall not steal", "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife", "You shall respect your father and your mother". Although these precepts are severe, at least they sound familiar to the ears of the children of Israel. Similar rules are likely to have been known in Egypt.

When someone calls the Jews "the people of the book", when we are credited with having bequeathed "the moral codes" to Western society, they are referring to the intelligible translation of the Torah to human ears. The Argentine legislative power chose the tables of the law, the Ten Commandments, as a symbol of justice, to adorn the entrance to the courts. You don't have to be a Jew to understand "Thou shalt not kill." You don't even have to be a believer.

The Torah, however, understood as a mere code of laws, loses all significance.

Some will argue that the Torah, although it is a code of laws, is not just any code, since it is the oldest and most perfect of all codes. The truth (and this remains between us) is that -as far as codes are concerned- it is not the most perfect and, probably, it is not the oldest either.

But it was the passion, precisely the passion of our wise men of blessed memory, our sages, Chazal, who immersed themselves in passionate discussions to elucidate what that imperfect code transmitted by a passionate and imperfect leader was imposing on them.


In the words of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber:

The Ten Commandments are not part of an impersonal code that governs an association of men. They were manifested by an “I” and addressed to a YOU. They start with the “I” and each of them addresses YOU personally. An “I” "commands" and to a YOU- to all the YOUs who hear it - an order is given". According to Buber "The word does not demand that we hear it. The one who does not want to respond to the YOU addressed to himself can apparently go on with his life without hindrance. Despite the fact that He who speaks the word has power (the Torah assumes that he had enough power to create heaven the whole world), he has relinquished this power enough to allow each individual to really decide for himself if he wants to open or close his ears to the voice, and this means whether you want to choose or reject the I of "I Am" of the first of the commandments in Yitro Those who reject him are not struck by lightning; those who choose it do not find hidden treasures. Everything seems to be the same as always.

How loud Buber's words ring in our ears. God -according to this approach- is not a jailer who imposes punishments on the disobedient or a kind father who offers rewards to those who comply with the precepts. It is society that created an adequate system and took charge of these tasks. Law and order are very important, but they are not “the Torah”. In Buber's scheme, Moshe is also not the minister of justice. The judges that Yitro advises Moshe to appoint will be the equivalent of the judges of our days. These judges have a very important function. However, this function has nothing to do with that of the religious leader who must bring the experience of a living God closer to his people. This is the mission that Moshe cannot delegate.

Abraham Yoshua Heschel maintained: "Something happened at Mount Sinai." Was it perhaps a massive class on Hebrew law? I do not think so. I am inclined to think that it was an encounter between the living God and each of the Sons of Israel who wanted to listen. It is when listening to the voice that calls us that we cannot delegate functions either.

May God be able to hear his voice in the midst of the noise of our search, and may He grant us the necessary strength to respond "Hineni", here I am! As Abraham said with all his passion.


Gustavo Geier