After the new US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner rolled out the Obama administration’s new recovery program, the response was underwhelming. Now, I am no economist and I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever on the possible efficacy of this plan. However, what I find interesting is that many pundits and experts are calling for Secretary Geithner to solicit some advice and assistance from former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. It seems that there is some consensus that in these troubled times, Mr. Geithner who is 47 might benefit from the wisdom of Mr. Volcker who is 81. In other words, no matter how smart and experienced we think we are, we all need mentors at various points in our lives.
In this week’s parashah, Yitro, we are reminded of the importance of mentors. The biblical narrative picks up with Moshe welcoming, his wife Tziporah, his two sons Gershom and Eliezer as well as his father in law Yitro into the Israelites’ camp in the Sinai Desert on the safe side of the Red Sea. Moshe told his father in law all about how the Israelites were able to leave Egypt thanks to God’s miraculous intervention.
Yitro was impressed by what he heard from Moshe. However, he was also taken aback when he saw what Moshe’s daily schedule looked like. Moshe sat in front of the people and settled disputes from morning until evening. Yitro’s response was, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone (Exodus 18:14)?” In other words, Yitro – who was himself the chieftain of the Midianite people – recognized that Moshe needed some help even after career accomplishments which included the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea. Moshe’s approach wasn’t good for Moshe and it wasn’t good for the people.
Yitro virtually insisted that Moshe find and appoint honest men within each of the tribes to handle smaller disputes, and only bring the major disputes before Moshe. In this way, Moshe’s schedule improved greatly, and the people began to make the transition from a nation of dependent ex-slaves to an independent, free people involved in their own governance. Through this exchange between father-in-law and son-in-law, we learn an important lesson about communal organization and participation. More than that, though, we learn about the importance of the mentor/disciple relationship.
In these difficult economic times, no one should be afraid to ask for some help. While many of us may have done pretty well on our own in the past, things are clearly different today than at any time in recent history.
Here at the JCC, we are in the process of figuring out how we can connect our most knowledgeable, experienced members with those who are suffering financial and career crises. We haven’t put it all together yet. More details will be forthcoming in the Chronicle and other forms of communication. However, if you find yourselves at a crossroads and you’re not sure how to proceed, it’s possible that your Yitro is right here at the SJCC. Please be in touch so that we can start looking for him.