At the beginning of Parashat Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, sees Moshe single-handedly resolving all disputes and questions, both large, and small. Yitro advises Moshe to delegate the duties of making simple rulings, and to himself listen to only those that actually need his personal attention or his direct connection to G-d.
I always thought of this as a matter of efficiency. Yitro only arrived in the desert because Moshe had left his wife and children behind, noticed his son-in-law was not doing things as efficiently as he could, and suggested an alternative.
But the language used is telling, and is relevant to most parents, especially those reading this. Yitro tells Moshe: “This thing you are doing is not good. Both you and this People with you will wilt (literally wilting you will wilt, a form of emphasis common in the Torah), because this task is too heavy for you; you will not be able to do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18)
This imagery of wilting, of a plant literally unable to continue to stand, struck me powerfully. Upon looking at the commentaries, I saw an emphasis not only on the difficulty Moshe was facing, but also on the detrimental effect on the people he was serving. Chezkoni and Rashbam, for example, say that Moshe was going to make mistakes, becoming confused with all those speaking as to who said what. Rashi and Ibn Ezra focus on the imagery of a wilting leaf, damaged by the elements. . Sforno says Moshe simply would not be able to get to everyone, so they would not get the attention they needed.
Moshe Rabbeinu, like many parents, thought he was the only one who could do the job. But, try as he might, he was not able to, and did a disservice to the very people he was trying to help, by not asking for help. In his case he was not refusing assistance; it simply didn’t occur to him that things could be done differently. But how often do we all get stuck doing things one way, because it doesn’t occur to us there could be another way?
We all need to give ourselves a break. Share the load, or just do less. We don’t have to do it all ourselves, and, as parents, it really doesn’t always all have to be done at all. Let’s listen to those who love us, who tell us that we are not selfish for asking for help, or for taking care of ourselves. By taking care of ourselves, we are more able to take care of those we love, and to fulfill our other obligations. And sometimes, by saying “no” to extra commitments, we ensure that we can fulfill those we have already undertaken.
This is, admittedly, easier said than done. I myself feel extremely selfish when I do anything for myself. I have to push myself even to exercise, by telling myself “my children deserve a healthy mother and a good example, and my husband needs me to be healthy and well.” Society tells us that everyone and everything deserves attention except ourselves. So we have to remind ourselves, and each other, that we matter, too.
After all, we don’t want to “wilt we will wilt.”
Talya Bernstein Galaganov