Delegation: Yitro 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Why is it so important for leaders to delegate responsibilities to others? What are the consequences when leaders don’t delegate enough?

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, teaches his son-in-law to reduce his personal burden, just in time for the Revelation at Mount Sinai:

The Pitch: “‘Let [appointed chiefs] judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.’” – Exodus 18:22-23

Swing #1: “The Sages term a compromise ‘peace’ because in such an arrangement neither of the disputing parties emerges as the loser. However, according to Jewish law, a compromise can be made only in cases where the Court of Law has not clear directives as to how the Law of the Torah is to be applied. Once it is known to the Court ‘how the Law of the Torah is inclined’ compromises are not permissible. In view of this rule, Jethro said to Moses: ‘If you decide all legal questions single-handedly, you will not be able to arrange a compromise, for to you the Law is always abundantly clear. But if you will delegate some of the authority to lesser judges, it will be possible for them to arrange compromises because the Law will not always be clear to them, and then all these people too will go home unwearied, they will be satisfied with the compromise arbitrated in their disputes.” – Rabbi Hayyim Berlin

Swing #2: “Jethro’s advice to Moses, which he implements, comprises what in our time have become classical principles of public administration. There is ‘management by exception’ under which routine matters are covered by standard operating procedures, leaving the difficult cases for special attention by higher authority. There are job qualifications established in the selection criteria set out by Moses: employees should be capable, God-fearing, truthful, honest, unswayed by prospects of material gain. Specialization was there before Moses’ time as indicated by the numerous references to craftsmen. Division of governmental labor, however, Moses owes to Jethro in the persons of the captains of tens, hundreds, and thousands.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #3: “But everyone, you know, totally kneweth that Jethro was right. And Moses learned to delegate. He even let Aaron white-board an org chart. There were no computers then, or there were, but they were slow and clunky and took up an entire tent.” – Rebecca Odes & Sam Lipsyte, from Unscrolled, edited by Roger Bennett

Late-Inning Questions: While Jethro receives deserved credit for suggesting how Moses can ease his workload, Moses also should be recognized for taking unsolicited advice from a newcomer to the Israelite community. How do we usually react when our behavior is critiqued by outsiders? Are we as receptive as Moses is? Should we be? Or is a good idea worthy of our consideration regardless of its source?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Just in time for President’s Day, we will honor our Synagogue’s past presidents at services tomorrow morning. Please join us to celebrate Emanu-El’s leaders past and present.

The Big Inning at the End: This summer, some low-level minor leagues will experiment with a major rule change: during extra innings, each half-inning will begin with a runner on second base. Major League Baseball wonders if this will help to speed up the conclusion of extra-inning games. Is this a worthwhile experiment?

Shabbat Shalom!