Jan 24 2019 Dvar Torah

Rabbi Helen Cohn

This week Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, comes for a visit as the Israelites are camped at Mt Sinai. He sees Moses spending the entire day acting as judge among the people. Yitro advises Moses to delegate, which he does. Delegation and shared responsibility is a good trait in a leader!

Yitro bases his advice on this observation: “The thing you are doing is not good; you will surely become worn out…for this matter is too hard for you, you will not be able to do it alone.” (Ex 18:17-18)

We can learn from Yitro’s wisdom, especially at this point in history. The brokenness all around us seems overwhelming. This matter is too hard for us; we surely can’t do it alone. If things seem to us bad now, consider the challenges our sages faced. For example, Rabbi Tarfon who lived between the fall of the Second Temple (70 CE) and Bar Kochba’s final defeat (135 CE) which signaled the end of Jewish hopes for self-governance. This was a time of one disaster after another, a time we can hardly imagine. And yet this is the saying Rabbi Tarfon was known for: “It is not up to you to complete the task, but you are not free to desist from it.” (Pirke Avot 2:21)

A more contemporary Jewish voice, Nathan Glazer who died yesterday, says the same thing in a different way: “I think you must keep on trying, even if you haven’t had great success. I think everything helps a little.”

This is clearly a value that is central to Judaism!

Sometimes it’s hard to keep “fighting the good fight” (as my step-father would say, as he devoted his life to just that). But as you can see, deeply embedded in the Jewish psyche is the mandate to keep working for justice for all peoples, sometimes just one person at a time.