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Parsha Devarim

08/08/2019 04:32:16 PM


In beginning his “last lecture” with the nation, one of the first issues that Moshe discusses is his struggle with being a solitary leader and how the challenge of being unaided in carrying the vast burdens of the Jewish people caused him to appoint other men to direct, judge, and guide the nation under Moshe’s general jurisdiction.  The Midrash explains this to be a reference to the story in the beginning of Parshas Yisro, when Yisro enters the camp as an objective outsider and observes Moshe single-handedly judging the nation from “morning till night” in an exhausting way for both himself and the people waiting to speak with him.  Advising Moshe to alleviate this burden by appointing other leaders under him, Yisro cautions “Lo Tov Hadavar,”- this current state is “not good.”  It is fascinating to note that this phrase of “Lo Tov” appears only once before in the Torah, in Parshas Bereishis, when God declares that Adam’s solitary state in the world is “Lo Tov” and creates Chava as solution for the predicament of Adam’s aloneness. Epitomizing the concept of missing the truth and essence of the “good” of the world, aloneness, or perhaps the harsher shade of loneliness, is the emotional state that threatens to deprive one of the good of life, both in terms of basic human connection regarding Adam and in terms of leadership regarding Moshe.  It is the same lesson of “Lo tov” that precipitated the concepts of companionship and marriage that precipitated Yisro’s advice that Moshe share his leadership with others.

The Netziv advances a novel idea based upon the wording in Parshas Yisro at the conclusion of Yisro’s advice: “and also all the people will come to their destination in peace.”  Simply understood, the point of the Pasuk is that this new efficacious system would make society happier, but the Netziv saw something deeper in the words.  He cites the Gemara in Sanhedrin that states that Moshe was a man of pure justice who favored the letter of the law over peace, as opposed to Aron and others who placed primacy on peace in settling the disputes before them.  To Moshe the law was always certain and sure, a black and white truth that transcended emotion and all ideas of compromise and settled deals.  Others did not react to the disputes with the same instinctive logical reasoning that Moshe had, perhaps, suggests the Netziv, precisely because the law was never as clear and determined to them to begin with, and they therefore favored peace in settling disputes and applied “alternate” methods to judgment.  This is the meaning of the Pasuk that because of the new system of judgment, “people would arrive at peace,” meaning that many of their disputes would end up being settled in harmony without the strict law governing the ruling, in contrast to Moshe’s tendency to value the ruling of the book at all cost.  There is no one “right” way of judging, but the important point was that the different methods contrasted, balanced, and complimented each other in a well-rounded way of general leadership.

This idea emphasizes the point of “Lo Tov” in solitary leadership.  “Checks and balances” are rudimentary themes of Jewish leadership, rooted all the way back to Moshe and his appointed leaders under him.  Throughout Jewish history, the system called for a shared vision for leadership- a prophet together with a King, or a Nasi together with an Av Beis Din.  Recognizing that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” the Torah’s stance is that “Lo tov” applies to leadership as much as it applies to basic human interaction, and that any leader can only gain from sharing the power with others.    



Wed, June 7 2023 18 Sivan 5783