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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-21) – Knowing your limits

>When I went off to university I was really excited about all of the possibilities and opportunities which were available to me. And I tried to take advantage of them as much as possible. I played football and hockey, I got involved with the Israel society, I helped organise the summer party, I went to all of my classes, I got all of my papers in on time, and I even found time to stay very involved with RSY-Netzer. I had a great time juggling everything. I loved being busy (I still do), but I had bitten off more than I could chew. As the final term of the first year approached, it all got a bit much, and I dropped a couple of balls. Thankfully there were no serious repercussions, but it taught me an important lesson about knowing my limits.

Ever since that first time I have tried to be more disciplined about what I take on, and conscious of what I can and cannot manage. I am sure I am not the only person who has struggled with taking on too much. On this subject, Moses once again provides a very important role model for us.

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he assumed responsibility for virtually every area of civic life. And he was busy from morning until night. When his father-in-law Yitro saw him judging all of the people, all day, he made the simple assessment: ‘The thing that you do is not good’ (Exodus 18:17). Moses accepted the advice and delegated responsibility amongst the people. It was only once this had been done that Moses could lead the people to Mount Sinai, where they would receive the Ten Commandments and enter into the covenant with God, until then he just hadn’t been able to find the time.

Deuteronomy contains within it Moses’ final speech to the Israelite people. In many ways it is a farewell address reminding the people of what has gone before, with lessons for the future. We might have expected the speech to begin with Egypt, or the crossing of the sea, or maybe even the Ten Commandments. Instead Moses began somewhere else.

Moses’ oration to the people begins with the people leaving Horeb (another name for Sinai) to continue their journey to the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:6). Having laid out the journey the next thing Moses said to the people was: ‘I spoke to you at that time, saying: “I am not able to bear you myself alone”’ (Deuteronomy 1:9). Moses first words acknowledge his limitations, recognising that he was unable to lead the people by himself.

As Moses retells the story of the delegation of power and the selection of leaders the one thing missing is the involvement of Yitro. In Exodus Yitro offered Moses advice, which prompted the delegation of power; in Deuteronomy Moses’ father-in-law is conspicuous by his absence.

We may feel aggrieved on behalf of Yitro after his exclusion from the retelling of the story But as is the case throughout Deuteronomy, Moses is attempting to teach the people a lesson; a lesson for life when he will no longer be the leader. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a Yitro, who can suggest that we have taken on too much and offer a strategy for improving the situation. Most of us have to rely on ourselves.

Moses offers an example of self-reflection and honesty about his own limits. He is a model of a person who considers the work before him and acknowledges that it is simply too much. Moses teaches us to know our own limits; not to rely on Yitro (or someone else), but to know what we can and cannot do. This is the lesson which the Israelites need on the eve of entering the Land of Israel, and it is a lesson which we can learn from many generations later.

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