After the splitting of the Red Sea, Yisro traveled to the Jews’ encampment and saw Moshe sitting in judgment over the people from morning till evening.
Troubled, Yisro said to Moshe, “What you’re doing is not good. You will wear yourself out together with the people with you. This matter is too hard for you; you cannot handle it all by yourself.” So with the approval of Hashem, Moshe Rabbeinu appointed 78,600 junior judges to work under him. Imagine! Moshe Rabbeinu had tried to do the job of 78,600 people!
Unfortunately, many of us expect our rabbis to be like Moshe – before he listened to Yisro and Hashem. We expect them to be super-human – to have well-prepared sermons with both scholarly Biblical and Talmudic references while also being up to date on all current events and community challenges. We want their discourses to contain a mixture of lomdus, agadata, and halacha with just the right sprinkling of humor and stories. We want them to service the men, the women, and the teens.
They should give a Daf Yomi shiur while also catering to the people who are not up to learning Daf Yomi. They should make hospital visits, not only to members, but to members’ parents. They should take care of the funeral arrangements and eulogies and also make sure everything has been cared for in the house of mourning (even when there are concurrent houses of mourning in the same week).
We want them to solve our shalom bais problems and help us get our children into schools they were kicked out of. We want them to help us with writing a will and be well-versed in both the relevant halachos and secular laws. We want them to be available for an unveiling, and would they please write a nice poetic formula for the tombstone? We want them to take over the bulk of fundraising and share dinner preparations and be abreast on all the latest shul politics.
At the same time, we want them to be up-to-snuff on the eiruv and mikveh and all the institutions of kashrus in town, and we want them to be very involved in the local Vaad HaRabonim.
We expect them to be punctual and not miss shiurim. But we also want them at every one of our weddings, bar mitzvahs, bas mitzvahs, brisim, pidyon habens, and vorts. And… it would be nice, if the rabbi feels close enough, for him to attend those of our grandchildren as well.
When a sane person hears all this, he hears an echo of Yisro’s words, “Navol tivol – You will wear yourself out.” The Panei’ach Raza offers three interpretations of “Navol tivol”:
1) “Nafal tipol” – the leader will fall apart! 2) “irbuvia” – confusion. Everything gets mixed up and everyone starts to suffer. 3) The leader will become old before his time. Indeed, we find many middle-aged rabbis who are gray and wrinkled from the impossible demands made of them.
Yisro wasn’t just concerned for his son in-law’s welfare. He knew that if two million people had to wait for the services of one person, it would lead to much frustration. Which explains why many a rabbi who tries to be Superman ultimately receives unsatisfactory reviews from his community. While such an assessment seems preposterous, the truth is that when there is too much to do, the rabbi invariably will neglect some tasks.
I remember about 25 years ago I was saying Daf Yomi on a page of Gemara that had quotations from over 20 verses from all over Nevi’im and Kesuvim. Since the Gemara has no punctuation (and I had no time to memorize the punctuation of all these rare verses), I read some of the verses with the wrong punctuation. With self-righteous indignation, one of the attendees approached me afterwards saying he was embarrassed that his rabbi didn’t know how to properly pronounce pasukim.
I told him I’d try to do better in the future. The next time I didn’t have ample time to memorize verses, I came in with a Gemara with punctuation. This prompted an immediate response from another member who approached me to say that he was ashamed his rabbi gave a lecture from a student’s edition of the Talmud!
What was Yisro’s solution? Delegation. Don’t lay everything on your rabbi’s shoulders. Not every rabbi is skilled in the art of shalom bayis or helping a family dealing with a severe addiction. Since we’re paying dues, we may feel entitled to have all our problems handled by our rabbi, but this expectation is both unrealistic and unfair.
It is equally wrong to expect a rabbi to maintain a full host of prepared lectures and yet be a social butterfly at every simcha. Nor is it fair to expect a rabbi to be a lamdan like Reb Chaim, a master of parables like the Dubno Maggid, a storyteller like Rabbi Krohn, and a posek like Reb Moshe.
Learn your rabbi’s strengths and figure out how to delegate the rest. If your rabbi isn’t a great fundraiser, allow him to minister to the flock with his G-d-given talents and get others to raise his salary.
If we think and act in this manner, our rabbis will be more productive, better role models for our families, and more able to facilitate our collective avodas Hashem.