Rabbi Michael S. Jay
Jewish Community Center of Long Beach Island
Long Beach Island, NJ
THE HOLINESS OF A MENTOR
The relationship between Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, and Moses is unique. Jethro is a Midianite priest who spends much of his time in the Torah helping Moses. When Moses first arrives in Midian after fleeing Egypt, Jethro, without hesitation, invites Moses to join him and his family. Ultimately he offers his daughter, Tzipporah, as a wife to the Prophet.
When God tells Moses that he must return to Egypt to help God free the Israelites, Jethro willingly sends Moses. Ultimately, Jethro even takes care of Tzipporah and the couple’s sons. So close is their relationship that when Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, Jethro immediately goes to meet his son-in-law. When they meet, Moses is anxious to tell him everything that happened. The picture one conjures up of this scene is simply beautiful. One can envision Moses sitting alone with Jethro and animatedly telling him all that happened and painting a vivid picture of the myriad miracles that God performed on behalf of the Israelites.
Jethro gives him positive feedback and acknowledges God's greatness in a blessing. (As a Priest, Jethro’s message and blessing have power.) Moses must have loved the fact that his father-in-law fully and deeply appreciated what had happened.
And then something unexpected occurs. Jethro, always the mentor, observes Moses' leadership style, gives him feedback and provides a way to do it better. He doesn't chastise Moses; he simply tells him that his leadership style is untenable.
Moses, who has, up until this point been taking direction directly from God, humbly listens and puts Yitro’s plan into action. And it works. What a relationship!
Perhaps the most intriguing part of this is that Yitro is not even an Israelite. It is incredible that Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses Our Teacher, the greatest prophet, is taking direction from a priest from another religion! Interfaith dialogue began at an early stage.
I think that the Torah is providing a bigger life lesson. God is letting us know that a mentor is important. Connection with the Holy One is vital and necessary, but we all need to be blessed to have a bond with a person of maturity and wisdom upon whom we can rely to observe and to give feedback - both positive and negative. Each of us needs a person whose only objective is to teach us how to sail the boat, but who has no interest in sailing the boat himself.
On the other hand, wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of us could be a mentor to someone as well?