You Cannot Do It Alone

In this week’s parshah, Moses has something to write home about. His father in law, Yitro, also the priest of the Midianites, heard all that G-d had done for Moses and for Israel.  The commentator Rashi notes that this refers chiefly to the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea and victory over Amalek.  Not bad.  His daughter found a winner.

Moses is a leader not only in taking the Jews out of Egypt, their “foreign affairs”, so to speak, but he also becomes a judge over them, managing their “domestic affairs” and disputes.  Yitro notices that Moses is simply taking on too much:

When Moses’ father in law saw what he was doing to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening?”

Moses said to his father in law, “For the people come to me to seek Gd. If any of them has a case, he comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the statutes of Gd and His teaching.
Moses’ father in law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

(Shemot/Exodus: 14-18)

Even Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader of the Jewish people, handpicked by Gd to manage them, cannot bear all of the responsibility by himself.

When we are called upon to complete a task, either by other or out of our own sense of obligation, it can be hard to say “no”, especially if it seems like no one else can do it.  Where do we draw the line between stepping up to the plate and accepting responsibility and taking on too much?  No one gets direct directives from Gd these days, so it’s up to us to decide.

When do we take on responsibility because it seems that no one else can do it, or because it seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up?  Moses is described as the humblest man on Earth (Bamidbar/Numbers 12:3), so it is not his ego that got in the way.  For many people today, I think that can be the case.  We don’t trust others to do the job well enough, so we say “might as well do it myself,” or we feel threatened that someone else might do it better.

I think the best way to choose a level of responsibility is understanding yourself and your obligation to Gd.  Knowing your own greatness is no contradiction to humility. Understand what you can do, and don’t be afraid to do it well or to teach others.  To not do so would be to sacrifice the gift.  However, ultimate humility is when a person who excels in good attributes does not seek credit for his or her greatness. If you recognize that your talents come from Gd, you cannot be conceited or self-congratulatory.

Something that often gets overlooked in the discussion of humility is that limitations are also Gd given.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help in a task or on a project.  Looking outside of ourselves can open up ways of being better people, both in terms of functionality and in building better characteristics.  It was the advice of Yitro, a non-Jew, someone very different from Moses, to help him be a better judge and leader.

On a personal level, we are advised to have both a Rav and a mashbiah, an advisor, to help us manage our personal growth.  Someone else can help us step outside of ourselves and recognize whether we are doing things for the right reason, in service to Gd, or only in service to ourselves.

Yitro warns Moses that taking on too much will not only wear him out, but also the people whom he is governing: “You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you.”  Getting overburdened has ramifications for those around us as well.  If you don’t take time for yourself, how can you be the advisor, parent, or friend?

As an independent contractor, I find myself constantly caught between ambitiously taking on new projects and responsibility, and turning away those that will leave me burnt out and unable to fulfill my existing commitments.  Work has to also be balanced with my obligations to myself and to my community.  Without set hours, should I take on more work when I have free time? Study Torah? Volunteer?  Get physical exercise and enjoy the outdoors? It’s not always easy to tell what the right balance should be.  Ultimately I make the decision, but seeking the advice of a caring, objective outsider can help.


1 Response to “You Cannot Do It Alone”

  1. 1 Rosie March 3, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    I feel like this on a personal level. Live alone without any emotional or financial support. Shabbat and Jewish holidays alone. My community is not inclusive or only inclusive to a certain few.

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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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