Moses, Jethro, and Asking for Help | Parashat Yitro

Rabbi Joshua Lobel | Temple B’nai Israel, Florida, USA

Our Torah portion, parshat Yitro, finds Moses exhausted and overwhelmed. Can we blame him? He has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, having to deal with every single problem experienced by each Israelite. One can only imagine the mishegas he had to sort out over the course of an average day. The complaints must have been endless. However, Moses, as leader of the people, feels obligated to hear them all out, morning to night, and render the final decision. So we find him, sitting in his tent, as while the Israelites harangue him.

In this moment, Moses feels alone, isolated, due to circumstances beyond his control. Unsure of which way to turn, he attempts to handle things the best way, the only way, he feels he can, which is by doing everything himself. He thinks he can handle this tremendous burden alone, but Moses is clearly beginning to falter. He needs help.

Enter Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. Jethro, no stranger to leadership as a priest of Midian, sees what is going on and immediately diagnoses the problem and presents Moses with a solution. Jethro advises Moses:

“Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.” (Exodus 18:19-23)”

Using gentle words and expressing a perspective rooted in his own experience, Jethro convinces Moses to accept assistance with the heavy task of communal leadership. He urges Moses to delegate, to find capable people to handle the day to day problems which arise, so Moses no longer has to sweat the small stuff. In doing this, Jethro assures him, not only will Moses find renewed strength, but the people will also benefit. It is a win-win!

This episode comes to teach us an important lesson about how essential it is for our mental health to reach out and ask for help when we are feeling overwhelmed. We all experience dark times when we feel lost, uncertain. When we do not know the right thing to do. Sometimes, in these moments of isolation and sadness, we may turn inwards and try doggedly to plow ahead, not wanting to admit we are feeling vulnerable, anxious, and alone. We tell ourselves we can tough it out, that we do not need anyone’s help. But, consequently, in trying to soldier on, ignoring our feelings, our mental health often suffers.

No more has this been more evident than the past year as we have confronted the challenges brought on by COVID-19. Surveys have shown that many people are reporting increased stress and anxiety due to the life-altering changes required of us during this unprecedented time. We miss our family and friends we no longer see in person as we socially distance. We long to return to our houses of worship to pray with our congregational families. Things we used to enjoy without giving it a second thought – going to the movies, going to a ballgame, eating out at a restaurant – all come with questions about potential health risks. We desire to return to our normal routines, but we still remain vigilant about protecting our physical well-being and the well-being of others. However, this vigilance can come with a cost to our emotional well-being as we try to cope with our new reality.  

It is important to take care of our mental health as we continue to struggle with the challenges of the pandemic. When we are feeling overwhelmed by the situation, when we are feeling afraid, melancholy, and alone, let’s resolve never to struggle alone. Let’s pick up the phone, send an email, create a zoom meeting and chat with a loved one, a friend, a confidant. Let’s reach out and connect with each other, for we can be sure that others are feeling the same way. There is no shame in asking for help. All of us need support and comfort, especially during these trying times. Instead of suffering silently, let’s resolve to talk to each other, being open and honest about our emotions. For, as Moses and Jethro teach us, only by sharing our burdens are they made lighter.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).