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If Someone Asks For Help, Say No

01/25/2019 09:37:21 AM


What can we learn from the account between Moshe Rabbeinu and his father in law Yitro?

Yitro wakes up early one morning and sees Moshe sitting in his judicial chair, and there's a long line of people waiting to consult with the master of Torah. The line is so long that people would have to wait for hours until their turn. Yitro is unimpressed with this system. “How can you do this alone? How can you make the people, including exhausted mothers and the elderly, stand under the hot sun for so long? You will wear yourself out, as well as the people.”

Moshe responds, “What can I do? They all want to hear the Torah’s ruling and advice. I’m trying my best to help them all.”

Yitro tells him, “I understand you and your good intentions. But this is not a sustainable system. You need help. I suggest that you setup a comprehensive judicial system by training and appointing others as judges. Allow the others to address the easier questions, and the real difficult ones can be brought to you. This way, the people won’t have to wait so long, and you will have a workload that you can sustain.”

Moshe – and G-d – agreed to Yitro’s plan.

Now, whilst it’s difficult to speak for the great Moshe Rabbeinu, or judge his actions, nonetheless there is a profound lesson here for us.

Many of us suffer from the condition called ‘Trying-to-be-everything-to-everybody-all-the-time.’ Because of our righteous values system, we want to be the best spouse, the best child, the best parent, the best friend, the best worker etc. But when we try to live this way, we make a big mistake, because we end up being ‘not-very-much-to-not-many-people-all-the-time.’

My mother told me a story about her mother. One afternoon, when my mother and her siblings were young, it was a particularly raucous afternoon in the home of five children. For some time, my grandmother tried to manage and control the scene, but then suddenly she disappeared. The children looked for her all over, until eventually they found her in her room, sitting on the couch, eyes closed and breathing deeply. “Mummy, we were looking for you everywhere. Why did you vanish? What are you doing?” My grandmother responded in yiddish, “Ich mach dir a mamme” (poorly translated as “I’m preparing myself to be your mother”).

We are given a limited amount of time and energy in our life, and it is our task to use them to the fullest. Achieving this requires us to be wise and disciplined about how we allocate our precious and limited resources.

We need to prioritize between what is more and less important. What good is it if you’re a hero to a client but unavailable to your own children? We often feel guilty if we can’t be available to everyone who needs us, but if we understood our priorities, and recognized our G-d-given role in this world, we would be at peace with our decisions. It helps to recognize the trade-off of all our decisions. Whenever you say yes to something, recognize that you are saying no to something else. ‘Yes’ to an evening meeting might be ‘no’ to family time. ‘No’ to an event might be a ‘yes’ to quality time with yourself.

One more point: We need to appreciate that taking time for self-care, and for gathering our thoughts and senses, is critical to our success. The more we wear ourselves down without respite, the less effective we will be. If we ‘burn the candle at both ends’, we won’t be able to produce light for very long. When we pause to ‘charge our phones’, we can be more helpful to others once it is charged.  

President Abraham Lincoln once said, "If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours sharpening the axe."

The story of Moshe and Yitro is a lesson for how to find the right balance in our lives so that we can fulfill our mission and be the best person we were created to be.

Shabbat Shalom!

PS I was nervous about the title of this article – it didn’t sound right. Yet I believe this is a very pressing issue for many of us. Now that I’ve caught your attention, and hopefully explained the idea, I’d reword the title as follows: If someone asks for help, try to help them. But remember that it might be more beneficial – for them and for you - if you’re not the one helping them, but rather delegating it to someone else.

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784