Friday, January 21, 2011

Be Sure to Share the Burden: Parashat Yitro

We all know the personality type: Someone who takes all responsibility for himself, does not know how to delegate or does not want to do so, wears himself out, and resents those around him for not pitching in. At the end of the day, the do-it-all hero, fails himself and the community he seeks to serve.

In parashat Yitro, this know-it-all do-it-all, is Moshe Rebbeinu, Moses, our teacher. However, in this portion, our teacher is the one who is learning. Not only is he learning leadership from his father in law (awkward), but also from a man who is a priest from Midian. Moses, the ultimate Israelite, is taught how to be a better Jewish leader from non-Jewish clergy.

Regardless of Yitro's religious faith, he sees Moses' leadership style and knows it is bad news for the Jews. Seeing Moses adjudicate all cases alone, he tells Moses: (Genesis 18:17-18)

יז וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵלָיו: לֹא-טוֹב, הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה, עֹשֶׂה.17 And Moses' father-in-law said unto him: 'The thing that you are doing is not good.
יח נָבֹל תִּבֹּל--גַּם-אַתָּה, גַּם-הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ: כִּי-כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר, לֹא-תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ.18 You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone.

When leading a community with great needs and limited human capital, it is easy to take the burdens all upon yourself. Every success and failure is personal, and you feel the need to carry the concerns and anxiety of everyone upon your shoulders.

However, this mode of leadership will wear the leader out and it will ultimately damage the community. Sometimes the most important part of being a leader is delegating responsibility and asking for help. This move is not an act of weakness or laziness -- it is what shows true concern for your personal endurance as a leader and care for your community. Giving up some of the burden takes courage, faith, and the ability to withstand the initial stumbling of others as they assume new tasks. However, in the long run, even though it is the hard lesson to learn, it the right choice to make.

Shabbat Shalom!