The Bible Says What? ‘Jethro was more forward-thinking than Moses’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Jethro was more forward-thinking than Moses’

Rabbi Charley Baginsky takes a controversial issue from the Torah and looks at a progressive Jewish response

Moses father-in-law said: What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.

All those who have ever led a cheder, school or youth movement class will know that session 101 is often to look to the Torah to provide role models for great leaders.

But as we move through life and learn that leadership is far more nuanced, a deeper examination shows our ancestral leaders were complex characters who were, at times, deeply flawed.

The Torah does also, however, reflect a different type of leadership than the one that relies on one person, struggling on their own.

It is a communal system that sought to divide power. The best example is perhaps found in the advice that is given to Moses by his father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 18:14-23).

Jethro dismisses Moses’ attempts to do everything on his own, telling him clearly he will not only wear himself out, but also the people. He instructs him to delegate authority to trusted judges to help him govern.

Jethro doesn’t get credit today. His sage advice obviously isn’t as sexy as parting the Red Sea or killing a giant with only a slingshot. Yet, it is immensely forward-thinking.

As we come to the end of a year during which polarisation and leadership cults increasingly grow, I recall the Jethro passage and am inspired to be part of a Jewish tradition in which we aspire to share power and benefit from others’ skills and experiences.

I want to bring back those models, to think how we can shape the next generation of leaders who collaborate, embrace a multiplicity of perspectives and, most of all, feel part of the move to the future.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships

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