“Now Yitro [Jethro], the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 18:1)
Last week, Parasha Beshalach featured God’s dramatic rescue of the children of Israel from Egypt, the land of bondage and slavery.
God’s intention, however, was not just to bring His people out of misery, but to lead and guide them to their final destination: the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a place of abundance.
The name of this week’s Torah study, Yitro (Jethro), comes from the Hebrew root yeter, meaning abundant or exceedingly abundant.
While we are often limited by the confines of our own imagination, God is able to do exceedingly abundantly (yeter) more than we could ever ask or think or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20)
Delegate or Burnout
“Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.” (Exodus 18:8)
When Yitro, the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all the great and wonderful things God had done for Israel, he realized that the God of Israel was the true One God of the universe.
Yitro rejoiced, worshiped God, and offered a sacrifice to Him.
“‘Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for He did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.’ Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.” (Exodus 18:11–12)
But when Yitro saw that Moses stood from morning till night single-handedly settling Israel’s disputes, he realized that his son-in-law was at risk of a burnout.
Yitro understood that the effort Moses made on behalf of the people was putting an excessive strain on him.
While we’ve come to think of “burnout” as a modern phenomenon, it really isn’t. Yitro was wise enough to confront Moses and offer him some sage advice.
“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17–18)
He advised Moses to teach the people God’s decrees and instructions (Torah) and show them how to live godly lives.
He also counseled him to judge only the difficult issues, leaving the easier ones to capable, trustworthy leaders that Moses would select.
The lesson for us is obvious: If we persist in trying to handle everything ourselves, we may never get to the truly important things we are meant to do; however, if we learn to delegate, not only will our stress be relieved, but we will also make way for others to serve, using their unique gifts and talents.
On Eagles’ Wings: God’s Personal Protection
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ [nesherim] wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4)
In this Parasha, God says that He brought the Jewish People to Himself “on eagles’ wings.”
This metaphoric language is so rich and meaningful.
The eagle (nesher) is protective of its young. While the mother eagle is training the young to fly, she sometimes flies under them with her wings spread out to catch them if they fall.
Likewise, God brought out the Jewish People in such a way that He personally watched over their fledgling attempts to live in communion with Him.
The word nesher, however, can also be translated as Griffin vulture. This vulture flies higher than the eagle and is wonderfully graceful in the air.
Furthermore, “I carried you” [va’esa etchem] is sometimes translated as I elevated you.
An alternative translation of Exodus 19:4, therefore, is the following:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I elevated you on the wings of nesharim, and brought you to Myself.”
Though the phrase “on vultures’ wings” doesn’t sound poetic to speakers of English, this alternative translation helps us understand that God, through His miraculous redemption, raised the Jewish People as a nation to spiritual heights that were abundantly above anything in the natural world.
This verse speaks to the personal, tender nature of God’s deliverance of the Jewish People out of Egypt. Not only was their way paved and guarded by the pillar of cloud and fire, but they were brought into covenant and communion with God.
On Eagles’ Wings: Modern-Day Deliverance
“…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
The deliverance of the Jewish People from Egypt has a modern-day parallel.
On the heels of the Holocaust, Jews emigrated from Europe to the safety of Israel.
Following the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, however, the situation for Jews living in the Arab world became progressively more dangerous.