|Unsung Heroes and Your Unique Contribution
Since the breakout of the war, we have heard so many stories of heroism. Some involve a hero with a name and a picture. Some involve an anonymous hero who makes a donation or performs an act of chesed (kindness) and then disappears. And then there are stories that we never even hear about. They involve people who do something that very few people know about, and their story is never told, either because the people who know aren’t in a position to tell the story or because the act of heroism, while great, is too technical to make for a good story. It’s quite possible that for every story of heroism, there are many stories of unsung heroes that will never be told. But just because they are unsung, doesn’t mean they aren’t heroes. How does this relate to us?
The title of our Parsha is Yitro (Jethro), which literally means “his addition.” Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and a newly minted convert, was responsible for having an extra chapter written in the Torah.” What was Jethro’s addition and how did it contribute to our understanding of divine wisdom? When Jethro arrived in the Israelite camp, he was shocked to discover that Moses was serving as a one-man educational and judicial system for a community of several million souls.
Why do you sit alone, he asked his son-in-law, and the entire people stand about you from morning till evening…It is not good, this thing that you are doing. You will wither away, both you and the people who are with you . . . you cannot do this alone. Jethro then suggested that Moses appoint judges from among the people.What was Jethro’s plan? Moses would continue to teach the Torah and the actions required to maintain it but the application and adjudication of the laws to daily life concerning matters of settlement of monetary and other disputes would be delegated to the newly appointed judges. “They shall judge the people at all times: the great matters they shall present to you, and the minor things they shall arbitrate themselves.”
Moses accepted and implemented Jethro’s plan, appointing judges in charge of thousands, judges of hundreds, judges of fifty and judges of tens. In that way the responsibility of applying the Torah would be delegated and Moses would remain as the master teacher and adjudicator in deciding the most difficult cases. The entire episode ends with Jethro returning to his own land.
Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he (Jethro) went his way to his own land. (18:27)
Why did Jethro decide to leave the Israelite camp and return to his land? Rashi says he left in order to convert the people of his hometown. It has been suggested (R. Yonason Eibeschitz) that Jethro initially thought that converts had nothing to contribute and therefore, there would be no purpose in bringing more converts to the emerging Jewish nation. However, now he realized that he had been mistaken. After seeing the impact that he made on the justice system, Jethro realized that converts are the same as any other Jew. We all matter and can make an impact and therefore, decided to go back home and tell people about Judaism.
It’s nice to be recognized for stepping up and it can even be hurtful if someone’s contributions are not recognized, but the Jewish people also need unsung heroes. People who do things no one else will know about, and sometimes can’t know about. The main thing is that we all have a part to play in creating a Jewish narrative for the present and future. If Jethro, who had been an idolatrous priest, was accepted into the Jewish nation and was able to make a significant contribution, so too with us all —Jews by choice and Jews by birth.
People ask, am I really needed? Does my existence really make a difference? Jethro has given us an answer. Everyone can contribute in some way. No matter what your background, level of knowledge, or devotion, we all have something to contribute to the Jewish people. We are living through a time when, months ago, some young men and women in Israel might have wondered where they belong in the world and what significance their life has. Then came October 7th, and people who might have questioned their usefulness ended up fighting or helping those who are fighting. Tens of thousands of Israelis helped civilians who had been evacuated from Gaza, distributing medical and other supplies. Others went to army bases to bring meals, organize concerts, and just be present.One never knows when his or her purpose will become apparent, but the main thing is not only to believe in yourself but, more importantly, believe that the Almighty has placed you in the world at this time because you have a purpose—a contribution to make that no one else can. Jethro, a former accomplished idolator, never imagined what a great contribution he could make for the Jewish people, but G-d did.What unique contribution are you willing to give your people? Good Shabbos