I am terrible at asking for help. I almost always accept it when offered, but it takes me a really long time to actually ask for what I need. I’m sure part of it is my innate stubbornness, feeling like I can do it all on my own, and part of it is a desire to not inconvenience anyone. Neither of these are healthy habits, and over the years, I have had to learn how to accept help, and how to ask for what I need so that I won’t become so overwhelmed I can’t function. And I know that when I can’t function at my usual capacity, I’m not just letting myself down, I’m also letting down family, friends, and coworkers.
The central piece of Parshat Yitro, this week’s Torah portion, is the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moshe and the people Israel. We now have a set of laws to live by, a guide to being a free people outside of slavery. But before the Torah shares these laws, it reminds us of the familial relationship Moshe has with his father-in-law and how he sets up a legal system.
The end of the portion encapsulates the intensity of the experience at Sinai, but in an odd way. Moses is exhausted, and there’s an endless line of people needing his counsel and judgment. He’s alone as the leader; he doesn’t have an assistant or anyone else who is allowed to make those decisions. In walks his father-in-law, Yitro. Seeing the situation, Yitro, a “priest” (leader) in his own community, suggests a way to support Moses to lessen the burden and spread out responsibility for problem-solving.
What’s odd is that throughout the parshah, it becomes almost comical the number of times Yitro is called “father-in-law.” The text goes to great lengths to emphasize that the person who Moses accepted help from was his partner’s father. Even in the best of family relationships, in-laws are not often the first people you might go to for advice. The Torah conveys this repeatedly because it’s important to know that even Moses, the leader of the Israelites chosen by God, needed and accepted help.
Perhaps there’s a lesson or two here for all of us. If Moses can ask for guidance, so can you and I. And I’m not just saying this because my own partner’s parents read these weekly writings, but maybe – just maybe – in-laws have good advice to offer too.