The ‘why’ and the ‘what’: You can’t do it all

I’m not sure if you, like me, receive lots of Torah commentaries on the parasha of the week leading up to Shabbat. Great reading, but now I want to comment on one here; it’s a week late but this one spoke to me in a new way and the lessons hopefully will stick way beyond this past Shabbat. Here goes and forgive me for being late with some thoughts.

I love Parashat Yitro and not because of the Ten Commandments. I love the fact that Moses’ father-in-law comes to visit him. The Torah is about family in big and little ways! But this father-in-law is special. Not only is he not Jewish (and this is the only parasha named after someone not Jewish) but he goes to work with his son-in-law and has the audacity to make a suggestion to Moses! Yitro sees Moses working all day listening to the problems the people bring to him and questions what Moses is doing. I have always read this as Yitro telling Moses he needs to delegate, which is a valuable lesson for all of us (especially me). However, Jonathan K. Crane in a d’var Torah goes deeper in interpretation. Yitro questions Moses’ “why” in doing this job. Moses explains that he does three things: (1) When people come, he prays to G-d for them; 2) when people have a dispute, he judges them; 3) he teaches the people about G-d’s lessons. In essence, Moses is prophet, judge and teacher.

Yitro then advises Moses to set up a judicial system, which truly gave us the hierarchical tiers we follow today — brilliant! But the real lesson for most of us here is not only can’t you do it all, but maybe you shouldn’t. Crane says, “Yitro reminds Moses that being with G-d is a core value that should guide him in aligning his life and labors with divine concerns. He emphasizes the importance of being value-driven (the ‘why’) instead of only goal-oriented (the ‘what’).” We must all find the values that drive us, and the important and unique qualities and skills we have, to define what to focus on. Too many of us try to do it all instead of looking to do what we do best and what we should best delegate to those who can do it better. It is hard to give up. Maybe Moses liked the job where everyone came to him for everything — but is that what the people needed from Moses? What part of the job was most needed from Moses that he alone could do best? When we ask these questions of ourselves, we may find that we are doing tasks that we can let go to focus on those we do best, are needed by others more AND give us the most joy!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

Leave a Reply