The central theme of this week’s parsha is the Revelation on Mt. Sinai and the Ten Commandments, however the parsha is named after Moses’ father-in-law, and called “Yitro”, in reference to the part of the reading that records Yitro’s advice to Moses in establishing Israel’s legal system.
It was Yitro who showed Moses that it was unrealistic for him to rule and inspire every person on his own, that he would need to delegate and empower others to be mentors in their own right.
Yitro explained that Israel’s leaders must be “anshei-chayal, yirei-elokim, anshei-emet sonei batzah/capable men who fear G’d, who are trustworthy and spurn ill-gotten gain (18:21)”.
A leader and macro-manager can not also be a micro-manager. Yitro invented a functioning bureaucracy and legal system. He founded the basis for good leadership: Empowering others to lead, inspire, teach, and connect with others.– Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu
So Moses appointed 78,000 people, focusing on “anshei-chayal”, people of strength – meaning not only capable, strong people – but people who know how to empower others to find their own strength. By distributing mentors to hear the nation, to be open to dialogue and build a trusting relationship, he was able to lead effectively.
Although traditionally, the parsha usually takes the name of the first important word in the text, it may still seem odd that this week’s parsha, containing the Ten Commandments, takes the name of Moses’ non-Jewish father-in-law. Yet both of these themes are about how to elevate the nation and inspire each individual. When G-d gave the ten commandments, He said “Anochi Hashem Elokecha” – I am your G-d: in singular form. I am the Spiritual, the Good, The Kind, the Just…,in each and every one of you. I am a Personal G-d to each individual, and unique to each single person. In the same vein, Yitro is teaching Moses how to reach each person. As a human being, it is impossible to be everything to everyone, but a good leader finds “anshei chayal”, other qualified and capable people to harness their strengths and motivate and support others to be strong too.
Being a good mentor, and having a good mentor is the essence of a functional system. It is not enough to have one leader, the moral fibre and principles of justice need to permeate to the masses through a system that recognizes individuals and the need for personal connection, expression, and responsibility.