Parashat Yitro 5779
Seeking Balance between our Work and our Personal Lives
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
This week’s parashah, Yitro, begins by telling us that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, heard about all that God had done for Moses and his people—how God had freed them form Egypt and brought them to the desert. And then, it is written that Jethro brought Zipporah, Moses’ wife, and Moses’ two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God (Sh’mot 18:1-5).
These lines show us that Moses’ wife and children were not living with him, but with Jethro. Why did they live with Jethro and why is Jethro now bringing them to Moses?
Last time that the Torah had told us about Moses’ family was when Moses was in Midian and God asked him to return to Egypt. There it is written: “So Moses took his wife and sons, mounted them on an ass, and went back to the land of Egypt” (Sh’mot 4: 20). So, Moses’ family went with him to Egypt. When did they return to Midian and why did they do so?
There is a Midrash that imagines that after Moses received the divine call to redeem Israel from slavery, he went to Egypt with his family. When he met Aaron on the way, Moses introduced his wife and sons. Aaron answered, “We are worrying about those already there and now you bring upon us these new comers!” At that moment, Moses asked Zipporah to return to her father’s house (M’chilta, Amalek 3).
According to this midrash, Moses sent the family with his father-in-law because it would be difficult for him to manage the liberation of the people of Israel and to attend to his family at the same time. Perhaps it would be dangerous for the family to be with him.
Why did Jethro bring Moses’ family at that moment recorded in our parashah? Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law and he also was a teacher and good adviser to Moses. Jethro heard that the people of Israel were liberated from slavery, so he considered that it was an appropriate time for the reunification of the family. Now Moses was not so busy negotiating with Pharaoh, so Moses would have time and focus for his family.
However, what happened when Moses and his family were reunited?
It is written in the Torah: “Jethro sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. Moses then recounted to his father-in-law everything that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them.” (Sh’mot 18: 6-8)
According to these verses, Moses welcomed only Jethro and told him all that God had done for his people in order to free them from slavery. Apparently, he talked with Jethro about his work and accomplishments, his challenges and triumphs, but he didn’t say anything to his family! Moses greeted Jethro, but it appears that he didn’t greet the rest of his family, ask after their welfare, or bring them into the tent.
Jethro noticed this and he disapproved Moses’ attitude towards his family. Thus, in a vey polite way, after seeing how Moses led his people, Jethro recommended that he find suitable people to whom he could delegate some of his work. In this way, on one hand, Moses could work more efficiently, and, on the other hand, he would be able to spend more time with his family.
Jethro, being the priest of Midian, a leader with experience, knew perfectly well that people who take leadership roles often do so at the expense of their personal relationships. Thus, he wanted to teach Moses about the importance of being a good leader but also a good husband and father.
Following Jethro’s advice, we may affirm that it is important to dedicate time to our work commitments and also to our personal relationships. Both are important realms in our lives.
Jethro taught Moses and teaches us that, indeed, it is possible to look for a balance between our work and our personal lives. We should look for ways to enjoy and develop a strong commitment to both worlds, which are significant and meaningful dimensions of our lives.