Friday, February 09, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Yitro ("Birth of Bureaucracy")

This is my first Dvar Torah in Season 2. A year ago, on this very parasha, I started writing what I at the time thought was going to be a one shot deal. Yet people really liked it and I found it therapeutic so I continued. Now I have to make the decision whether to continue, I am leaning toward "yes". And now a year later I have the added challenge of being original. Bli neder, I will try to be somewhat original, though I will not always read over my previous Divrei Torah. So hear launches Season 2, version 2.0, the sophomore year.

So let me start by focusing on the other section of the Torah portion. This portion has two major sections: that of Jethro (aka: Yitro/Yeter/Hobab/Reuel/Chever/Keni/Putiel) and his arrival, contributions, and departure, and that of the account of the Revelation, namely the Aseret HaDibrot. Last year I tackled the latter, this year I will tackle the former.

Jethro, the quintesential ger hatzedek and shaliach of the Jewish people, as well as Moses' father-in-law came at some point (disputed whether before or after the Ten Commandments) to deliver his daughter and grandsons as well as to have a heart-to-heart with his son-in-law. He has tried all religions and deities and, rejoicing in what God did for His people Israel, he found Judaism to be the only one that made sense and the God of Israel as the only God. He then sacrificed to God and shared his thanksgiving offerings with the people, a national celebration of his conversion. He then went home, midrashically he did it to be a missionary to the rest of the world, to proliferate the Name of God.

But before he left, Yitro, as all parents-in-law so often do, saw fit to leave some parting words of advice. He noticed that Moses was judging the people all day and all night, poskining law for the entire community and individuals. "This is not good the thing that you are doing", you can't concentrate power into only one person, even if you are Moses and if you're doing this for too long you're going to get tired and you will be lax in judgment. The latter resulted in the mitzvah that Jewish courts can only convene during daylight hours (one of the reasons that the Sanhedrin could have never convened to condemn Jesus). The former resulted in the creation of a court bureaucracy and hierarchy. There would be courts representing various populations to adjudicate regular law. The really big cases would go to the "Supreme Court", that being Moses and ultimately God, the smaller ones would consist of judges over 1000 people, 100 people, 10 people and other numbers.

God likes this idea and tells Moses to go ahead and find people to ordain as judges. What does it mean to be a leader? According to the criteria, a judicial candidate must be "valorous men who fear God (must have experience and a good track record), men of truth who hate bribes (must be trustworthy). Are there other qualities we look for in a leader. Though these criteria can obviously be applied to the modern judicial system, let's take leading a service as a modern example. A Shaliach Tzibur, as literally the representative of the community, has to know how to lead the service and read hebrew (preferably with a nice voice), they must be known as honest and upright people to be allowed to appeal to God on behalf of the community, and around High Holiday times having a little extra money doesn't hurt. Indeed wealth is considered a good quality for an ancient judge not because they're better than everyone else, and not only because they are less likely to take bribes, but that they know how to properly manage money. Is this an important quality for a leader?

These are not rhetorical questions I am asking. What qualities should we look for in a leader? Please comment.

Shabbat Shalom!

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