A Taste of Torah in honor of Shabbat
from Rabbi Avi Weiss
22 Shevat 5760 / January 28-29, 2000
EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF
Watching Moshe (Moses) judge the Jews from morning to
night, Yitro (Jethro), Moshe's father-in-law, offers sound advice. He tells Moshe
that if you continue trying to judge everyone, you surely will wear away-it is too
difficult a task. Yitro suggests that Moshe appoint other judges, who will share
In advising Moshe to share judicial responsibility, Yitro insists that lower courts
handle less important matters, matters of greater magnitude would go to Moshe. "And
it shall be," Yitro concludes, "that every major (gadol) matter they shall bring
to you, but every minor (katan) matter they shall judge themselves." (Exodus 18:22)
Moshe listens to Yitro's advice with one deflection. Rather than dealing exclusively
with major matters, Moshe tells Yitro that he will judge the most "difficult
(kasheh)" cases. (Exodus 18:28).
Hatam Sofer notes that Yitro uses the term gadol because he believes that only the more
important people, only the large "tycoon" type companies should be judged by
Moshe. The less important people, the small corporations, regardless of the
complexity of the judicial issue, would automatically come before the lower courts.
Moshe rejects this division insisting that he would deal with the complex questions, no
matter where they come from-the lower courts would handle the easier questions, no matter
Here the Torah accentuates the importance of every individual problem. No matter how
low one is seen by society, his or her problem is of great importance. For
this reason, depending upon the complexity of the question, every person can potentially
come before Moshe.
It is ironic that Moshe teaches his father-in-law this
particular lesson. According to some commentators, Yitro converts to Judaism. (see
Ramban, Numbers 10:29) Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for the convert to be
treated as a secondary citizen. Moshe informs Yitro that no one's claims would be
overlooked, everyone, including Yitro, is given equal attention.
An important message surfaces: The test of a community, is not the way it treats the
most powerful. Rather it is the way it treats the little people, those whose problems, on
the surface, seem to be insignificant.
As much as Yitro teaches Moshe by proposing the division of judicial
responsibilities between higher and lower courts, Moshe teaches Yitro that even the
lowly, even those who seem to be insignificant, are entitled to supreme
of Torah Index
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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