Parshas Yisro: Helping Others, Helping Yourself

In the very beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshas Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro comes to the Israelite camp in the desert.  After hearing about the miracles G-d wrought and how He saved the Israelite nation from the Egyptians, split the Reed Sea, gave them manna from heaven, water from a rock, and saved them for Amalek, Yisro journeys to Moshe and the people.

After a celebratory meal of thanksgiving, Yisro sees Moshe sitting from morning till evening judging the people, with them standing around Moshe bringing him their halachik questions and legal disputes.  

As the verse says: וַיְהִי֙ מִֽמׇּחֳרָ֔ת וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִשְׁפֹּ֣ט אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיַּעֲמֹ֤ד הָעָם֙ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִן־הַבֹּ֖קֶר עַד־הָעָֽרֶב – and it was the next day, and Moshe sat to judge the nation, and the nation stood upon Moshe from morning till evening; וַיַּרְא֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵ֛ת כׇּל־אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה לָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָֽה־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה עֹשֶׂה֙ לָעָ֔ם מַדּ֗וּעַ אַתָּ֤ה יוֹשֵׁב֙ לְבַדֶּ֔ךָ וְכׇל־הָעָ֛ם נִצָּ֥ב עָלֶ֖יךָ מִן־בֹּ֥קֶר עַד־עָֽרֶב – and the father-in-law of Moshe saw all thats he was doing for the nation, and he said: what is this matter that you are doing for the nation?  Why are you sitting alone and the entire nation is standing upon you from morning till evening?  לֹא־טוֹב֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה – that which you are doing is not good; נָבֹ֣ל תִּבֹּ֔ל גַּם־אַתָּ֕ה גַּם־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּ֑ךְ כִּֽי־כָבֵ֤ד מִמְּךָ֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר לֹא־תוּכַ֥ל עֲשֹׂ֖הוּ לְבַדֶּֽךָ, Weary, you will surely become weary, also you, also this nation that is with you, because the matter is too heavy for you, you cannot do it alone (Shemos 18:13-18).

Yisro proceeds to give Moshe important and pertinent advice to set up lower judges to hear the ‘small claims,’ while ‘big claim’ matters that the lower judges cannot answer, will still be brought to Moshe.  וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע מֹשֶׁ֖ה לְק֣וֹל חֹתְנ֑וֹ וַיַּ֕עַשׂ כֹּ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר אָמָֽר – and Moshe listened to the voice of his father-in-law and he did all that he spoke (v.24).

There are many insights, divrei Torah and lessons to be derived from this passage.  However, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his “Growth Through Torah,” offers a piercing, important and novel interpretation of Yisro’s advice to Moshe.  Rabbi Pliskin writes, “Yisro saw that Moshe took total responsibility for helping the Jewish people in spiritual matters.  He foresaw that Moshe would eventually wear himself out.  Therefore, he advised Moshe to delegate authority and by this means share the burden with others.  

“People who devote their time to helping others needs to learn from this.  It is very easy for an idealistic person to suffer from burnout by accepting too great a burden on himself.  One must be aware of his limitations.  If you are not careful and you overextend yourself in helping others,  you are likely to wear yourself out.  Not only will you suffer, but all the people you could have helped if you have not burned yourself out will also suffer.”

Hence, Yisro told Moshe: נָבֹ֣ל תִּבֹּ֔ל גַּם־אַתָּ֕ה גַּם־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּ֑ךְ – weary, you will surely become weary, also you, also this nation that is with you.  Wearing oneself out when helping others ultimately benefits no one, and then, both the giver, and receiver, will suffer.  

Continues Rabbi Pliskin, “If you help others, make certain to schedule yourself in a way that you will be able to help others for many years to come.”  This will only happen if you yourself first stay healthy.

“Note that Moshe did not come to this awareness himself.  Yisro had to point it out to him.  When a person is idealistic and feels the obligation to help others, it is very easy to think that what you are doing is not enough and you should even be doing much more than you are.  But an outsider is likely to be more objective.  He might notice how you are wearing yourself out even though you do not yet feel it. While there are well-meaning people who might try to discourage you even though you are not really burning yourself out, there are times when you actually might be doing so.

“If someone points out to you that you will not last if you keep up your present pace, try to weigh the matter objectively.  If you really are doing too much yourself, it’s time to share the responsibilities that you have with others who can alleviate your load and burden” (Growth Through Torah, p.183-184).

We are a nation of rachmanim, bayshanim and gomlei chassadim – a merciful, modest nation who excels in acts of loving kindness towards others (Yevamos 79a).  Furthermore, we know that one of the pillars that upholds the world is gemilus chessed – doing for others (Pirkei Avos 1:2).  Without this pillar of doing for others, the world would cease to exist.  And so, we have Gemachs (free-loan funds) for every need under the sun!  We have organizations dedicated to filling what others lack, and many volunteers to fill the need.  We have well-stocked hospital respite rooms, for those who are with loved ones in hospitals.  We have Hatzalah and Chaveirim, Hachnasas Orchim and Bikur Cholim.  וּמִ֚י כְעַמְּךָ֙ כְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל גּ֥וֹי אֶחָ֖ד בָּאָ֑רֶץ – Who is like Your nation, O Israel!  A unique, singular nation on earth (Shmuel II 7:23).  

And yet… the maxim that “chessed begins at home” is a truism we must remember and live by.  If we become too taxed, too tired, too worn out and too discouraged from our extensive efforts to help others, then we will suffer, and those we want to help will suffer as well.  We must always find balance, the shevil ha’zahav (golden path of moderation) in our avodas Hashem.  When we live by this path and ideal, we will be a nation ready to accept the Torah and mitzvos.  

Only when we are personally healthy – spiritually, emotionally, and physically – can we best use our kochos to serve Hashem and help those around us.  

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


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