Take my advice

Part of a series on resilience in Jewish spiritual life.

The older I get, the more willing I become to admit that I don’t know it all and can’t do it all.  Life experience teaches all of us what the brilliant Albert Einstein recognized: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Our resilience journey asks us to learn this lesson well enough that we open – truly open – to receiving and accepting advice from others. In turn, we must become inwardly vulnerable, which means holding onto ourselves a little bit less.

This is Moses’ resilience lesson from this week’s Torah portion (Yitro), named for Moses’ father in law.

Yitro was Priest of Midian, where Moses had sought refuge from Pharaoh. After the Exodus, Yitro saw Moses overwhelmed resolving the people’s disputes – all of them, by himself, day after day.  Yitro saw Moses burning out and stepped in to give Moses unsolicited advice to delegate.

So was born western civilization’s first judicial system and first governance system.  And spiritually, so was born the sacred tradition of giving and receiving advice.

It’s telling that this tradition arises from someone unlike Moses.  Yitro wasn’t from Moses’ tribe.  He didn’t share the people’s experience of bondage.  He didn’t experience or witness the liberation.  In all of these formative ways, Yitro was an outsider.

That’s key: sometimes the best advice comes from outside.  When we surround ourselves with people like us and listen only to them, we’re likely to hear only the “groupthink” of that echo chamber.  It took an outsider to reach Moses, shift his momentum and change him.

Of course, Yitro was no stranger.  He was Moses’ father in law and kind protector.  Like Moses growing up in Pharaoh’s court, Yitro was affluent and worldly.  And like Moses from the Burning Bush forward, Yitro was spiritual leader of his people.  Yitro and Moses shared enough common attributes that they could empathize with each other.

That’s key also: natively we might not trust outsiders too unlike us.  As with many things, our task is to seek balance in our circles – people enough like us that we can hear them, but not so like us that we merely echo each other.  That’s exactly what Moses did, and thus was able to hear Yitro’s advice to delegate leadership to others, raise others into leadership and not burn out himself.

When we evolve this kind of balance, we surround ourselves (and help bring to others) the full palate of qualities needed for wisdom, self-reflection, course corrections and collective goodness.  We become practiced in opening ourselves to other perspectives.  Over time, we become ever more able to fulfill the wisdom of the sages: “Who is wise? One who can learn from everyone” (Avot 4:1).  In short, we become resilient.

Just ask Yitro and Moses, this week’s resilience teachers.

R’ Evan J. Krame and R’ David Evan Markus

Originally published at The Jewish Studio.

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