Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)
Parshat Yitro chronicles Moshe’s father-in-law’s visit. As Yitro observed Moshe sitting and rending judgments for the people all day, he realized that the process was bad for the people and Moshe and that a more sustainable system must be installed. Yitro suggested a hierarchal judicial system that will allow people to “reach their place in peace” (18:23). Why would this delegation increase peace? If anything, being more removed from Moshe’s direct teachings would seem worse.
The Netziv (19th-century scholar) asked this question and explains by quoting a Gemara (tractate) in Sanhedrin (6a). The Gemara there says that the preferred mode of conflict resolution is mediation because then both sides get at least some of what they want, thereby increasing overall peace while having a judge decide by definition means that one side loses. The one caveat is that if the judge has already analyzed the case and knows who is wrong and who is right, mediation is no longer allowed. With this, we can now understand that Moshe preferred justice, and his actions promoted true justice. However, for the good of the people and overall peace, Yitro argued that compromise was preferable, an argument that Moshe agreed with and implemented.
What’s fascinating about this conclusion is that because Moshe was essentially a judge, he was unable to mediate. This necessitated a delegation that enabled others to thrive and contribute to their new Jewish brotherhood. We all have our strengths and limitations, and when we recognize each of those, we are able to rely on others to maximize our individual and collective potential.