Having just finished teaching a series on Jewish history, I can say that far and away the best lectures I’ve heard on this topic are from David Solomon (you can find his courses on YouTube). These helped me as I prepared my course, as did reading Sand and Stars by Yaffa Ganz in collaboration with Rabbi Berel Wein, which chronicles the period post-Bayis Sheini until the 16th century.
I recall hearing Rabbi Wein speak on a few occasions. One time he remarked how so many stories of the acharonim seem to glorify their poverty, and that we have this wrong. Poverty wasn’t necessarily a choice or a joy and shouldn’t be held as a model for us. Just because life was really hard for them and many of their contemporaries doesn’t mean it’s a mitzvah for us to aspire to poverty. Another time, he relayed an encounter with someone in front of him in line at the post office muttering to himself about the protracted wait. Rabbi Wein said to the person, “We waited 2000 years for a Jewish post office, what’s another half hour?”
Jewish history is full of waiting and the hope that the waiting would be over soon.
Yisro is instrumental in shortening the Jewish people’s wait time. He may be history’s first management consultant. As a “company” outsider, he observes an ineffective process, helps his client Moshe identify a lack of efficiency, and proposes a solution that will benefit all the stakeholders.
Reading the second and third Torah readings last week, I found it fascinating to see how Yisro makes his case. He starts by innocuously expressing his curiosity around why the Jewish people are left waiting from morning to evening for a meeting. Moshe articulates why this is happening and presumably, as Moshe listens to himself respond, he realizes that his answer is an insufficient justification for the problem at hand, i.e., masses of Jews waiting for him in the desert extremes. Yisro then highlights for Moshe the fact that the problem runs even deeper than it first appears and makes a stark projection: It’s not just about the customer experience, it’s about the health and survival of the organization itself, i.e., Moshe’s diminishing ability to sustain the process over time.
Yisro knows that his client will ultimately be convinced by an argument that demonstrates this is what G-d would want and proceeds to mention G-d several times. This also serves to remind his client that G-d alone is singular and – as much as he may want to emulate G-d – Moshe shouldn’t feel defeated if he can’t do everything alone: Echad v’ein yachid k’yichudo – G-d is one, and no other singularity compares.
Yisro then recommends a mass hiring initiative, detailing the core character traits of the new hires, and Moshe adopts the plan in its entirety. (The language used to describe Moshe doing “everything he had said” is remarkably similar to the way Moshe and other biblical characters follow G-d’s words. Please reach out if you know of another instance in the Torah where this language is used to describe someone following the advice or proclamation of another mortal.)
Next time you find yourself burdened by the weight of a task, know that you aren’t G-d and that it’s okay to ask for some assistance (even from your in-laws!). Maybe it’s time to delegate or let go of something. It’s very possible that others will be only too happy to serve as a sounding board and will appreciate the opportunity to lend a hand, advice, or mentorship. And since the whole system stands to benefit when there’s less stress on the constituent parts, it’s likely that the end users of your product or service will benefit too.
What did Moshe do with all the extra time on his hands? Hopefully he had more time to sleep and relax. Maybe he took up a hobby. What do you think?