Everyone Can Learn From Anyone

This week we read from Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10), which details the outfitting of the Tabernacle, the portable home for God in the desert, with many new specifics about what goes inside the structure. Most of the text focuses on what the priesthood will wear, and how to fashion these garments.

The parasha opens with these words:

Exodus 27:20, “And you shall command (or instruct) the Israelites...”

Nachmanides, an important Thirteenth Century Spanish scholar, points out that the text uses the an additional word here, in Hebrew “you” is unnecessary.

We see this in English when we issue commands. We don’t need a pronoun when we turn to someone and say: “Do this!” When we say, “You, do this!”, the emphasis changes.

Nachmanides observes that when God commands Moses without the additional “you”, Moses doesn’t need to do the command himself, he may pass on the work to others. We read this particularly when God commands Moses regarding the building of the Tabernacle. Moses finds others, namely artists and builders, to do the work.

In the first words of Tetzaveh, this week’s reading, Moses gets appointed to instruct the Israelites. Moses communicates directly with God, so when clear instruction is needed, Moses is most qualified to do it.

God helping Moses figure out who should do what shows an improvement in Israelite management styles over what we saw only seven chapters ago, just a few weeks ago in our cycle of reading the Torah.

There, in Parashat Yitro, we read how Moses’ father-in-law, the Midianite priest, Yitro, or Jethro, advised Moses on the art of delegation. Moses was exhausting himself judging the Israelites on every matter. Yitro advised him to instruct wise men and appoint them as judges of different populations, from small groups of tens, to large groups of thousands. The judges only came to Moses with questions of law that needed clarification with the highest court. So Moses could better lead the Israelites by focusing on the big picture, and specializing in his connection with God.

In this week’s reading we see that Moses has learned how to delegate, and that God has begun to assist Moses in the task. Nachmanides’ interpretation highlights the differences between things that Moses must take the lead in, like clarifying the word of the divine, and those that he can pass on to other experts, like the different construction and crafting assignments to complete the Tabernacle, all based on the addition of the word “you”.

Yitro, Moses’ non-Jewish teacher, observes a problem, makes a suggestion, and Moses incorporates it into how he judges. Perhaps God sees this, understands that Moses can’t do everything, and then incorporates this wisdom of delegation into how God instructs Moses. In this way new and better methods get transmitted up and down the management structure of the Israelites in the desert.

Nachmanides interprets this week’s parashah as a teaching about the interactions between Moses and God specifying who does what. We take another step and learn that new ideas may come from unexpected sources, and that no matter how high up the management chain we are, (and who is higher than God?), we can still learn something.

As community leaders we aim to keep our ears and minds open to these insights. We never know who may come up with the next big idea.