Yitro – The Gift of Asking

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This week’s parsha, from the book of Exodus, is Yitro, or Jethro, so named for Moses’ father-in-law. In this reading, Jethro visits Moses in the desert near Mount Sinai, where he now lives with the Israelites. Upon arriving, he discovers that Moses spends all day surrounded by the Israelites, who come to him morning and night so that he can judge their problems. Says the Torah, “Moses tells Jethro, ‘Whenever they have a problem, they come to me. I judge between man and his neighbor, and I teach G-d’s decrees and laws.’ ”

Jethro responds, “ ‘What you are doing is not good. You are going to wear yourself out, along with this nation that is with you. Your responsibility is too great. You cannot do it all alone.’ ” And so he helps Moses appoint a system of judges who can deal with the Israelites’ lesser problems, freeing Moses to solve only the most difficult cases.

This parsha resonated with me since I’ve recently been thinking a lot about delegating — and how it’s so easy not to, for a variety of reasons. It’s easier just to do it myself, I think. I don’t want to hurt his feelings by pointing out what he did wrong, so I’ll just fix it myself. I can do this better than anyone else so there’s no point in asking for help.

At work, I’ve been on both ends of the delegation spectrum. I know I have a tendency to micromanage when I get stressed, thinking it’s faster or easier if I just do the task myself. I know it also gives me a false sense of control over a situation very much out of my control (and it’s usually this feeling of being out of control that makes me stressed in the first place). And sometimes I micromanage simply because I feel bad about asking someone to do something I think I should be doing myself.

When I catch myself taking over someone else’s work, I remember how I feel when someone does that to me — and also how I feel when they give me autonomy over my own tasks. I realize that when I feel someone is constantly looking over my shoulder, double-checking my work or telling me how to do it, I start to feel resentful and often make more mistakes. But when someone steps back and gives me responsibility over my own work, I rise to the occasion and usually do a better job.

So these days, when I’m stressed and catch myself micromanaging, I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that by asking someone to do something instead of doing it myself, I’m not slacking or burdening someone else. Instead, I’m giving them the gift of trust — that they too are smart and and capable of doing a good job.

So my kavanah, or intention, for this week is that we ask ourselves: Are there times when we could ask someone to do something for us but don’t, simply because we’re afraid to ask? What would it feel like if we did ask, both for ourselves and for the person we’re asking?