Real Leadership

Vayishma Yisro (Shemos 18:1)

Parashas Yisro begins by relating that Yisro heard about all of the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jewish people. This motivated him to come join the Jewish people in the desert and to convert to Judaism. Although our verse calls him Yisro, Rashi notes that we find seven different names used in reference to him. Each name connotes a different aspect of his personality or accomplishments.

One of the seven names is Yeser, which is also the Hebrew word that means “to add.” Rashi explains that this name refers to the fact that a portion of the Torah was added based on Yisro’s suggestion to Moshe in our parashah that he establish a system of courts and judges.

However, in referencing the section that was added based on Yisro’s proposal, Rashi curiously quotes the verse (18:21) in which Yisro delineated his plan to Moshe and enumerated the requirements for proper judges. This is difficult to understand, as a cursory perusal of the parashah reveals that Yisro’s exchange with Moshe began several verses earlier (18:17), when he advised Moshe that the current arrangement was flawed and unsatisfactory. Why does Rashi seem to misquote the beginning of the portion of judges added by Yisro?

The Imrei Emes was once present at a Rabbinical conference in Warsaw that was called to discuss the burning issues of the day and to brainstorm possible solutions. There was one man present who seemed to take great pleasure in finding fatal flaws and poking holes in every proposal that was mentioned. Eventually, the astute Imrei Emes approached the critic and said that because he seemed to be so good at raising questions, he would like to pose to him one of his own.

The Imrei Emes turned to the cynic and asked him our earlier question about Rashi’s citation, to which the man had no answer. The Rebbe proceeded to cleverly answer his own question. He told the critic that without much effort, virtually anybody can find problems with the status quo or tear apart a new proposal. Rare is the individual who constructively offers an alternative plan of action.

In intentionally quoting the later verse as the beginning of the portion added as a result of Yisro, Rashi is teaching us that had Yisro only approached Moshe to criticize the current system as flawed without offering a viable alternative, he wouldn’t have merited an additional section in the Torah. It was only because Yisro’s critique was a constructive introduction of a superior alternative did the Torah find it worthy of recording.

We live in a society in which it has become natural and even praiseworthy to show one’s brilliance by criticizing the broken status quo and calling for change while attacking any solutions proposed by somebody else. Co-workers do it well, spouses do it better and many of those who’ve perfected the art recently ran for president. While we cannot change the approach of others, we can internalize for ourselves Rashi’s lesson that while anybody can focus on finding faults, a true leader and innovator will concentrate on proposing constructive solutions.

Q: Yisro blessed Hashem for the miracles that He performed in saving the Jews from the Egyptians (18:10). The Gemara in Brachos (54a) derives from here that a person who sees a place where a miracle was performed for Jews says a blessing. As this blessing is said only when seeing the actual place where the miracle occurred, why did Yisro recite it in the middle of the wilderness?

Q: At what time of the day were the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments) spoken, and how long did it last?

A: The Sefer HaEshkol, a 12th-century scholar, and Maharsha suggest that their travels in the wilderness were considered part of the Exodus. Because Yisro saw the miracles of the manna, the well of Miriam, and the Clouds of Glory, he was able to recite the blessing praising Hashem for all of the miracles of the Exodus. The Meiri and Ra’ah, 13th-century scholars, answer that because Yisro saw the people to whom the miracle happened, he was able to say the blessing even in the wilderness. For practical matters, the Mishnah Berurah advises against relying upon the latter opinion to say a blessing when seeing a person to whom a miracle occurred and not the location, unless that person is his father or primary Torah teacher.

A: The Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer teaches that the Aseres Hadibros were spoken six hours into the day, and the Jews returned to their tents nine hours into the day. Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, points out that three hours divided among 10 Commandments means that each one took 18 minutes, which seems quite lengthy. He suggests that perhaps the entire event, with all of its preparations and introductions, took three hours. In the Hoshanos prayers said on Sukkos, we say “Hosha na shalosh sha’os.” Many explain this as a prayer that we be saved during the war of Gog and Magog, which will take three hours, but Rav Steinman suggests that perhaps the intention is that we are praying that we be saved in the merit of the three hours we spent at Sinai.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email