Shabbat Table Topics – Parashat Yitro

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Moshe's Leadership

PDF Version of Moshe's Leadership

In Shemot 18, RalbagShemot 18 Toelet 12Shemot 18 Toalot 14-15About Ralbag and AbarbanelShemot 18About Abarbanel debate the issue of Moshe's leadership skills: Ralbag writes that one of the purposes of our chapter is:


להודיע עוצם שקידת משה בדבקות ה׳ יתעלה, עד שמרוב שקידתו בזה היה שוגה בשאר הדברים. ולזה סיפר כי משה, עם הפלגת חכמתו, לא הפנה לבו להתישב בענין שופטו את העם איך יִשְׁלַם זה באופן יותר נאות לו ולעם, עד שהיישירוֹ אל זה יתרו חותנו.

To let us know the intensity of Moshe's vigilance in cleaving to Hashem, to the extent that due to his deep vigilance, he would err in certain matters. As such, the Torah shares that Moshe, with his vast knowledge, did not turn his attention to determining the best way of judging the people until Yitro, his father-in-law directed him.

Abarbanel responds:


וכבר רבים דברו על זה מאד כנגד אדון הנביאים שהיה חסר בהנהגה המדינית, ומהם אמרו שמפני התבודדותו בנבואה היה בלתי מרגיש בחכמת המדות. והוא שקר, כי שלמות מדותיו יורו על חכמתו בהם. והש"י איך לא למדו דעת ותבונה קלה כזאת?

Many have already spoken much about this matter, against the master of prophets, suggesting that he was lacking in civic leadership… And this is a lie, for the perfection of his ways demonstrates his knowledge of them. And how could it be that Hashem did not teach him this basic wisdom and understanding?

With whom do you agree? Set up a debate at your Shabbat table, drawing on material from both Shemot 18 and other stories in Tanakh which relate to Moshe's leadership qualities. For more, see Moshe and Yitro's advice.

Moshe's Family Life

Leadership responsibilities often exact a heavy price, not just from the leader, but also from his/her spouse and children.

  • Was Moshe justified in sending Zipporah and their children back to Midyan? Should he have sent for them immediately after the Exodus? See Zipporah in Midyan.
  • Did Moshe divorce Zipporah? See אחר שלוחיה.
  • Were Zipporah and Moshe's sons present for the revelation at Sinai? See Chronology.

Interfaith Encounters

According to R. D"Z HoffmannShemot 18:7Shemot 18:12About R. D"Z Hoffmann and U. CassutoIntro to Shemot 18-24About Prof. U. Cassuto, Yitro visited Moshe on a diplomatic mission, without any intention of converting. [For other readings of the incident, see Purpose of Yitro's Visit.]

  • What does this encounter teach about interactions with those of other faiths?
  • How does one show respect to the other side without compromising one's own beliefs?

For other stories where Jews and Gentiles engage in friendly dialogue, see Encounters with Foreign Leaders.

To Delegate or Not to Delegate

    • When in a leadership position with many different tasks to accomplish, how does one decide which of those responsibilities delegate? When is it preferable to assume those responsibilities by one's self?
    • Why might Moshe have been reluctant to delegate some of his responsibilities? See Did Moshe Need Yitro's Advice.
    • Which of Moshe's tasks does Yitro suggest he assign to others? Which does he suggest that Moshe retain for himself and why? See Moshe's Duties and Yitro's Advice.

Moshe and Intermarriage

According to most commentators, Yitro, "the kohen of Midyan," is Moshe's father-in-law (חותן)‎.1 Is it possible that Moshe married the daughter of an idolatrous priest?! Several questions merit consideration:

  • Was Yitro an idolater when Moshe arrived in Midyan? What about Zipporah? See Yitro's Religious Identity and כהן.
  • Was there a prohibition against intermarriage before receiving the Torah or only afterwards? See Intermarriage.
  • What were Moshe's own religious beliefs when he arrived in Midyan? If he grew up in Paroh's palace, to what extent did he know about and identify with the Children of Israel? See Moshe's Upbringing.

Judicial Qualities

  • What are the qualifications required to become a judge in your area of residence? How is Yitro's list of traits similar or different? How might one understand the differences? What do they suggest about the Torah's values and its view of judges? Was Moshe able to find people with all of these qualities? See Advice and Implementation.
  • Compare the appointment of judges in our story with the discussion of the appointment of R. Elazar B. Azariah as Nasi in Bavli Berakhot 27b. What traits do the Rabbis laud in R. Elazar b. Azariah? How do those compare with the traits listed in our chapter? How do the jobs of a judge and a Nasi compare? Why does each require the traits that it does? Why might wealth (see אנשי חיל) be the one trait that makes it to both lists?

Divine Civil Law

One of the hallmarks of the Torah is that it incorporates both cultic and civil legislation. Not only are ritual observances ordained by Hashem; civil law is as well. Was this always the plan? The Akeidat YitzchakShemot #43Did Moshe Need Yitro's AdviceAbout Akeidat Yitzchak suggests that until Yitro's advice, Moshe did not realize that Hashem was planning on bequeathing a Divine code of civil law, and that Yitro was the first to conceive of this concept and recognize its desirability. For more, see Did Moshe Need Yitro's Advice.

  • Is it possible that Yitro thought of this idea while Moshe himself had not? Why might such an idea have eluded Moshe?
  • What are the advantages of a Divine code of civil law? How does it compare to a system which has a separation of church and state?


For more, see: Parashat Yitro Topics.