It’s rare to have a parsha named after an individual, and even more distinct to have one identified by someone seemingly outside the tribe. Yitro’s standout selection comes in part because of his approach to helping Moses manage burnout and lead effectively. His suggestion of delegation to trustworthy leaders is often cited as the reason for his distinction. But it’s not what Yitro suggested, rather how he approached giving that advice to Moses that is worth noting.
Instead of coming down on Moses or leading with his advice, Yitro’s first action is to ask a question. In doing so he is able to better understand Moses’ concern and address it in a way that Moses can hear. His advice reflects a deep understanding of what Moses needs and offers a solution that honors what Moses values most about the holiness of the work — that the people’s needs are met and disputes are solved diligently and with care.
As we find ourselves in the dreaded seasonal slump of “Farch” (February and March can often be a challenging point for educators and learners to maintain energy) it’s all too easy to see our students or our colleagues at risk of burnout and to approach them with advice that we think will serve them best. Leading with questions enables us to better understand the landscape of their situation and ensure that our wisdom effectively addresses their concerns and alleviates stress.
Danielle Natelson is the Simha and Sara Lainer Director of Jewish Learning and Leadership for Hillel at UCLA.