THE COURAGE TO DELEGATE
There is a myth within our society that hard work will get you anything.
After all, it is central to the American Dream, that if we work tirelessly and put our heart and soul into any endeavor, we can succeed in life.
But is there a fine line between hard work and self destruction?
Are there times in our lives, when we agree to take on a task ourselves that we do more harm than good? And in so doing can we actually hurt others?
The Torah this week sends a clear message on this issue.
Moses, who the Bible depicts as a "workaholic," is described as sitting in his tent from dawn to dusk settling the legal and interpersonal problems of his people.
This is a new nation, recently released from the bonds of Egyptian slavery, and there is much to taste and explore within a free world. And Moses is at the heart of this exploration.
The Torah describes a scene which is not that much different than what would transpire these days between a wife and husband, or a wise CEO and a hard working junior executive.
In this week's Parashah (weekly portion), Yitro, Moses' father in law arrives for a visit. As he sets foot within the Israelite camp, he notices Moses hard at work as the lone judge of the Jewish people.
Yitro is concerned.
"What are you doing?" asks Yitro. "And why do you act alone?" (Exodus 18:14)
Moses replies that as a leader, it is his responsibility to solve problems.
But as Yitro surveys the scene -- the long lineup leading to Moses' tent, and perhaps Moses wife and family sitting home alone, he touches Moses on the shoulder, and counsels:
"The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out and the people as well." (Exodus 18:18)
How many times in our lives have we taken on a difficult project or a position of responsibility and with the best of intentions insisted on doing it ourselves? Is this always good?
How many organizations have we been part of, where a charismatic leader takes charge, and leads a group into unchartered territory? But what happens when that person leaves the group?
Often the organization or the endeavor collapses.
Indeed, while charismatic leadership helps an organization, company or committee overcome a short term obstacle, it often weakens the overall group structure.
Yitro offers advice. He advises Moses to appoint seventy wise men to serve as magistrates. The judges will take care of the smaller person to person disputes. Meanwhile, Moses will oversee the values and mission of the nation under God's law.
Moses accepts Yitro's advice and in so doing strengthens the Children of Israel with a judicial system which would last for millennia. This system served as the forerunner for the Sanhedrin, the seventy person national court which sat in some form until the fourth century Common Era.
There was however personal damage which Yitro's intervention could not avert.
In later chapters, we will learn that the marriage between Moses and Tzipora fails. We can only guess why, but we are given a hint this week through the Yitro's assessment of Moses' work habits.
This week's Torah portion sends us a message that while so many of us enjoy the challenge of a project, if we do not share the responsibility with others, then we weaken ourselves and the very structure we seek to strengthen.
It is also important that we invest and nurture our personal relationships.
It's sometimes hard. Often, when we look around us at less experienced associates, it's easier and less time consuming to do it ourselves.
But in the end, if we want our synagogue, church, club, committee, group or organization to grow and prosper, we must be prepared to accept a temporary but minor drop in quality, as we train others to share the load, if not eventually take our place.
A wise CEO once advised me as I entered a position of senior management.
"Begin immediately training your successor."
This week's Torah portion is timeless, and relates just as much to ancient times, as it does to today's boardroom or committee table. It also resonates within our homes.
In the words of Yitro, "make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you." (Exodus 18:22.
The Torah teaches this week, that we can best help ourselves and those we love and serve by balancing our lives.
Indeed, more work is not always better work.
There are people waiting in the wings to help. Are we prepared as Moses did, to show courage and share the load?
Our lives, our organizations and our personal relationships will be better for it.
Shabbat shalom. Kol tuv (with all goodness)
Rabbi Irwin Huberman