Parashat Yitro- Yitro’s Advice to Moshe
Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, joined Beneh Yisrael as they encamped by Mount Sinai, and he saw Moshe sitting all day long single-handedly presiding over all the legal cases that arose among the nation. Seeing how Moshe assumed this responsibility alone, Yitro felt that a better system was needed. He turned to Moshe and recommended that he appoint a hierarchy of judges to serve underneath him. Specifically, Yitro advised Moshe to appoint judges in charge of one thousand constituents, judges in charge of one hundred, judges in change of fifty, and judges in charge of ten (18:21).
The Torah tells that Moshe accepted Yitro’s advice, and thousands of judges were appointed to serve underneath him (18:24).
We might wonder, why did Moshe heed Yitro’s advice? As the expression goes, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Moshe obviously felt he could handle the burden of judging the nation alone. What was it about Yitro’s suggestion that Moshe found so compelling?
Apparently, there was something deeper to Yitro’s recommendation that simply alleviating Moshe’s burden of responsibility.
Indeed, the Midrash comments that since Yitro performed a great act of kindness for Am Yisrael by recommending the appointment of judges, his descendants were rewarded by being forewarned of Am Yisrael’s attack on the nation of Amalek so they could leave the area and be safe (Shemuel I, chapter 15). At first glance, it does not appear as though Yitro performed a great act of kindness for Am Yisrael. His suggestion helped Moshe, and perhaps those who would have otherwise needed to wait on line to bring their case before Moshe. But the Midrash speaks of Yitro performing kindness for the entire nation, indicating that there is deeper significance to Yitro’s advice to Moshe.
A Kabbalistic explanation was offered by one of the great sages of Aleppo, Rav Yitzchak Shrem, in his work Likutim Mi’Pardes. He writes that Yitro’s advice to Moshe involved not only his concern for Moshe, but also the concern of the “Mazikin” – the harmful spiritual forces that threatened Beneh Yisrael.
Every weeknight, before Arbit, we recite the verse, “Ve’hu Rahum Yechaper Avon Ve’lo Yash’hit…” The Kabbalists explain that nighttime is a time of harsh judgment, when we can potentially be harmed by the “Mazikin.” We therefore recite this verse, which offers us protection from these harmful forces. The four primary “Mazikin” are called “Avon,” “Mash’hit,” “Af” and “Hema.” We therefore ask that “Yechaper Avon” – we should be protected from “Avon”; “Ve’lo Yash’hit” – we should be protected from “Mash’hit”; “Ve’hirba Le’hashib Apo” – we should be protected from “Af”; and “Ve’lo Ya’ir Kol Hamato” – we should be protected from “Hema.”
The Likutim Mi’Pardes explains that when two litigants are embroiled in a legal conflict and waiting for it to be resolved according to Torah law, this empowers the “Mazikin.” The situation of friction and conflict has the potential to cause great spiritual harm – and this is what worried Yitro. It was not Moshe’s burden of responsibility that concerned Yitro, but the spiritual effect of people embroiled in legal disputes waiting for it to be resolved.
Yitro therefore urged Moshe to appoint “Sareh Alafim, Sareh Me’ot, Sareh Hamishim Ve’sareh Asarot” – judges over one thousand, one hundred, fifty and ten. The letter “Alef” at the beginning of “Alafim” represents “Af”; the “Mem” at the beginning of “Me’ot” represents “Mash’hit”; the “Het” at the beginning of “Hamishim” represents “Hema”; and the “Ayin” at the beginning of “Asarot” represents “Avon.” This is what Yitro was telling Moshe – that he needed to expedite the process of resolving the people’s disputes, if for no other reason than to negate the harmful effects of strife and conflict between people, a situation which poses grave spiritual danger to Am Yisrael.
Moshe listened to Yitro because this was, indeed, a matter of grave concern. He recognized the need to avert this dangerous situation, and he proceeded to appoint judges. And thus Yitro truly performed a great act of kindness for the entire nation – protecting them from the spiritual harm caused by conflict.