By Daniel Chejfec
While we might argue passionately as to whether the stories in the Bible are in fact historical or not, there is not denying that the stories contain a wisdom that resonated through the centuries. Jews read a different Torah (Bible) portion each week at the synagogue and reflect on it. I'm not what you would call a faithful services attendee, but I do love an appreciate my Torah. This week's portion I believe it to be special. It is the story of the Ten Commandments, yet the story doesn't begin with the fire and brimstone at Mount Sinai but with the wise advice of a father in law to his son in law; a conversation between Moses and Jethro. Simply put, Jethro tells Moses...don't be an idiot, you cannot do it all...DELEGATE; create lower courts to deal with the minutia and reserve yourself as a court of appeal, so you can focus on the large picture and do your job as a leader. Of course the language is different, but this is the way they have been interpreted by most. So why the story at this point, and how does it relate to the Ten Commandments?
When the Israelites left Egypt, they had a slave mentality, and they were in shock of the newly acquired freedom, and in awe of Moses and the God he spoke for. But the novelty wore off and they started questioning Moses' leadership, making the role of leader a lot more complicated. They also started to find time to quarrel with each other, demanding more intervention of mediators and judges. So as the newly liberated Israelite society grew in complexity, the need for a different kind of organization became evident. The first step was to redefine the role of the leader and to create an administrative class to support Moses, and that is what Jethro is saying. The second step is to clearly set the rules, the Law, so that everybody abides by the same code of conduct.
The establishment of law or codes allows a group to deal in a more predictable way with the consequences of their actions, and it also defines what is OK and what is not within the group. The Ten Commandments, for all intent and purposes, became the Israelite Constitution and transformed a band of runaway slaves into a Nation, and one fundamentally different from other in that their Law was second only to God itself; not even Moses is above the Law. It marks the beginning of what Freud and others called Ethical Monotheism, a force destined to take the world by storm.
The same that applies to Nations applies to communities or organizations. Leadership is not about doing it all as Moses did before Jethro, but about facilitating the active participation of those in the organization. In a community, leadership is about facilitating a dialog among the different groups to make it possible to pull the wagon in the same direction. Should Moses had continued with his prior management style, he would have probably failed and the Ethical standards set in God's gift to the Jews would have never taken root. By participating in the administration of the Law and public affairs, the newly created leadership cadre made those principles their own, firmly rooting the Law in the body of the people.
In today's world, infinitely more complicated that the world o the Bible, the idea of delegating and integrating leadership in a process is even more valid, I would even say imperative. It is necessary from the lowest committee in the smallest organization all the way to the White House. And if our leaders cannot see it, maybe we need to take the role of Jethro...