Sharing Torah Insights

Good Advice?

Posted on כ״א בשבט ה׳תש״ע (February 5, 2010) | in Yitro | by

ListenIn this week’s Parsha, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, notices that Moshe is overworked dealing with all the requests and disputes coming to him from the Jewish people. He suggests that Moshe delegate some of the work to other highly-qualified people.

In making his suggestion, Yitro says “וְהָיָה כָּל-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפְּטוּ-הֵם (and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to you [Moshe], but every small matter they will judge themselves).” When Moshe actually implements the advice, however, the Pasuk says “אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה יְבִיאוּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵם (and the hard matters they brought to Moshe and the small matters they judged themselves)”. What is the significance of the word change between הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל (the great matters) and הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה (the hard matters)?

The Mechilta quotes a disagreement between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Elazar. Rabbi Yehoshua says that Moshe certainly did exactly what Yitro suggested he do, while Rabbi Elazar said that Moshe took the advice of his father-in-law, but in the end modified it a little per Hashem’s command.

According to the opinion of Rabbi Elazar, then, we can easily understand the word change. While Yitro wanted Moshe to judge the important matters, Moshe felt it was more important for him to take the hard cases, regardless of the importance of its litigants.

According to Rabbi Yehoshua, however, if Moshe did exactly what Yitro suggested, why did the Torah choose to use a different word to explain the outcome?

The Rashbam comments on the words כָּל-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל (all the great matters) and says that these “great matters” are people coming to build their relationships with Hashem. The small matters therefore would be standard court litigation without any real spiritual growth involved.

With this idea, in mind, Rabbi Yehoshua now seems to make sense as we can understand that these “great matters” are one and the same with the hard matters. Figuring out whether Reuven owes Shimon money may be complicated but doesn’t compare in difficulty to helping Levi grow as a person.

Unfortunately, according to the Rashbam, Rabbi Elazar is now quite challenging. If the “great matters” are working on developing peoples’ relationships with Hashem, why wasn’t the advice of Yitro good advice? Why did Moshe still feel the need to modify his advice.

The Ba’al Haturim comes to the rescue by totally changing the meaning of the words הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה (the hard matters). He says that the truly hard matters are managing those court cases of the most important people, as they are the most “stiff-necked” of everyone.

According to this view, we can now understand why Moshe chose to modify his father-in-law’s advice. Yitro figured that any of the people Moshe chose could handle general litigation while Moshe should focus on the general religious growth of the population. But Yitro missed one thing. In Judaism everything – even tort law – is a religious experience. Moshe knew how easily a stiff-necked litigant could falter in their religious growth and wanted to make sure he was there in those cases to help everyone grow as best as they could.

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One Response to “Good Advice?”

  1. Deb Fowler says:

    Good work, Liron. As was last week’s entry. And Adina’s too. I’m going to share all of your comments with my JFS congregation next week. Thanks! (and Happy Birthday) Shabbat Shalom


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