Parashah of the week: Yitro

“Moses’s father in law said to him, ‘It’s not good the thing you are doing… You are not able to do it alone’” Exodus 18.7-18


What is Jethro teaching Moses when he says that it is not good to lead the people alone?

 This is often understood as a pragmatic management tip to delegate, but the Torah teaches us something more profound through its literary mode of echoing itself and this teaching offers two telling echoes.

At the beginning of Bereshit, most of this world we live in is emphatically characterised as “good” or “very good” until the Divine sees that “it is not good for the human to be alone” (Bereshit 2.18). Now Jethro echoes and reframes this dictum. 

We therefore understand that even and especially as our worlds get bigger, busier and messier, loneliness remains a possibility and is fundamentally not good. Loving partnership is a responsibility in our work, communities and creative contributions, just as it is a compelling, joyful commitment in our personal lives. 

Moses, our greatest leader, being told frankly that he is doing something “not good”, also recalls that when he was born his mother saw him and saw that he was “good” (Exodus 2.2).

 Hearing both that a person is good and that what they do is sometimes not good reminds us to resist conflating ourselves and our acts, and to express and rectify our potential for good as best we can.

Finally the movement from “good” to “not good” underlines how the Book of Shemot recapitulates Bereshit here, echoing a movement from Divine power (the creation of Bereshit, then the wondrous acts of churning creation in the Exodus) to human-Divine partnership. 

We are now invited to recognise a real world with the good and not-good mixed up, and to respond to it together. 

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