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Yitro and the Merits of Delegation

Yitro and the Merits of Delegation
Parshat Yitro, 5781
Saturday, January 23, 2021

פרשת יתרו, תשפ״א

Parshat Yitro, 5781

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

Yitro and the Merits of Delegation

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with a few members of our synagogue leadership about the merits of delegation. Although we have quite a few community members who are ready and willing to volunteer, some big decisions are made and some time-consuming tasks are often done by a small group of the same people. Yes, the initial steps of delegation - explaining, teaching, and organizing - can take a good amount of energy. However, whether at our synagogue or at our workplace, that initial effort towards delegation can ultimately lead to more effective, rewarding fulfillment of our responsibilities.

As Parashat Yitro, this week’s Torah portion begins, Moshe’s father-in-law comes to visit and sees Moshe’s frustration at work. Yitro asks, “Why are you sitting by yourself, with all of these people lining up in front of you from morning until evening?” When Moshe explains that it’s his job to answer the people Israel’s questions of judgment in the name of God, Yitro demands delegation:


לא טוב הדבר אשר אתה עשה. נבל תבל גם אתה גם העם הזה אשר עמך כי כבד ממך הדבר לא תוכל עשהו לבדך.


This thing that you’re doing is not good. You will surely languish - you and this people with you - this thing is too much for you. You cannot do it alone! (Exodus 18:17).Yitro proceeds to advise Moshe on a proper division of judges and appointment processes, leaving Moshe only the most important cases on which to focus. 

Yitro knows that his son-in-law cannot do everything himself, even if he is God’s chosen prophet. Moshe needs sleep, time with his family, and time to focus on the integrity of each and every decision he makes. Otherwise, his motivation and energy may fade away, directly affecting the motivation and energy of that community who relies upon him. While it may take him a while to teach judges about the intricacies of God’s commandments, after the training process has finished, Moshe will be better equipped to mediate claims and arguments for the people Israel.

None of us can carry an entire community or an entire workplace on our own. Even if it may seem like you are the only one who can, chances are that there are others who can take tasks off of your plate so that you can focus on what’s most important to you, personally, about the decision or action at hand. When we delegate, we allow ourselves to become more invested in the work with which we’re left, and we allow others to share in our commitment to that work. With more voices involved in a project or goal, we’re able to generate more ideas and more communal buy-in. 

As an employer or perhaps a leader of a group such as our synagogue, you can start this process by making a list of tasks that need delegating - what are things that others could do just as well as (or maybe even better than) you? There might even be tasks that others would enjoy more than you do. You can then write a list of those people who you know would love to help and would be good at it! After all, Yitro does not tell Moshe to assign just anyone as judges; he instructs his son-in-law to find people of valor who respect God, people of faith who hate injustice (Exodus 18:21). For the sake of delegation, we want to find individuals who will not only make our lives easier, but also, who will improve the state of our businesses and organizations. 

Perhaps the most difficult part of the delegation process is the crucial step of instruction; as medieval commentator Ibn Ezra points out, Yitro does not advise Moshe just to teach the judges, but to warn them - to supervise them at the beginning to make sure they are fulfilling their roles. Delegation must not be about dropping responsibility, but rather, about spreading that responsibility, allowing us to dive into our goals more effectively, and allowing our communities and businesses to be more invested in those goals.

Keep in mind, please, that this skill of delegation can go beyond the workplace or the synagogue. Whatever committees on which we find ourselves, we can increase participation by sharing the wealth. Although with younger children, assigning chores may take more time than just doing those chores, delegation at home can lead to a greater sense of responsibility for all involved. Through delegation, we can teach that lesson that each and every one of us are in this family, this group, and this world together. And going back to a topic I spoke about months ago, a different form of delegation can always be reaching out; you can ask for help.

As Yitro’s visit comes to a close in our parshah, Yitro addresses his son-in-law once more:

אם את הדבר הזה תעשה וצוך אלהים ויכלת עמד וגם כל העם הזה על מקמו יבו בשלום

If you do this thing, when God commands you, you will be able to withstand it, and also, all of this people will be able to go to their place in peace (Exodus 18:23). Ultimately, a community, business, or household of mutual buy-in and participation has a greater shot at peace than one run by just one person or just a few. The more we invite people in, the more they have the chance to recognize the joys of these structures and these communities we’ve spent so much time building. The more people are involved, the more we will be able to create spaces for constructive conversation, towards airing both frustrations and words of approval so that we can better know how to improve our communities.

Just here at Agudath Achim, we pay dues, we come to services, and we show up to volunteer because we care that our community continues to grow and thrive. In the coming weeks, you may receive an email or a phone call asking if you want to dive into the community in some way beyond the work you already do. You may receive an email or phone call asking if there’s any way we can make your responsibilities to this congregation more manageable. We hope that the training our board members will receive next Wednesday and in the coming months will strengthen our efforts to spread the wealth of participation in our community. And at the end of the day, I hope that we can learn from our efforts to delegate at Agudath Achim how to more effectively delegate in our lives outside of this sacred community, as well. Shabbat Shalom.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784