Parashah of the week: Yitro

“[Jethro advised Moses] Establish ministers… Alleviate your burden and share it with them” Exodus 18:21-2


One of the most common ailments I see my congregants— especially teenagers — suffer is burnout. We often fall victim to the misguided belief that we must take on every task that comes our way. Not only do we tell ourselves that we must fulfil that duty, but that we must do so brilliantly, for if we fail to do so, we would be showing others our limits and they may turn to others the next time they need something done.

While it is certainly noble to take pride in our work and to strive to help others, doing so often comes at great cost — physical, emotional, and even social. With only so many hours in the day, there is only so much we can do with that time.

If we dedicate a disproportionate amount of our day to performing tasks for others, how do we find the time for our relationships or self-care? Do we sacrifice time with loved ones at the altar of the keyboard? Do we forgo sleep, exercise or hobbies for the possibility of being praised by someone else — someone who celebrates not who we are, but rather what we can do for them?

What do we truly gain by taking on so much? Sometimes we choose this path for self-aggrandisement or promotion. Other times we do so out of a sense of obligation or because we care so deeply about a cause. No matter what our motivation, we will almost always suffer for such choices.

I find it somewhat reassuring to know that even the greatest of us can err in this matter. In this week’s parashah, we see Moses attempting to sit in judgment for every case brought before him by the Israelites. From morning till night, he sits as magistrate, neglecting his family and self and still failing to meet all the demands of the people. Seeing this folly, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro advises Moses to delegate his burden to a network of ministers who will save the most challenging cases for him. Not only is this sage advice, but the reason Jethro provides is telling: “Both you and the people will suffer for this foolishness.”

If Moses — one of the most wise and humble people to ever live — struggled to recognise how his exertion was harming him, how much more difficult must it be for us to realise when we need to take a step back? As Jethro explained to Moses, there is no shame in asking someone to help lighten our burden.

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