Yom Rivii, 18 Elul 5779
Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Parashat Yitro 5776

Rabbi Richard Jacobi
29th January 2016

Inside Outsiders

One of the traps that many groups or organisations fall into is ‘group think’. ·This is when everyone falls into the same pattern of thinking, the identical way of looking at the world. When we share the same upbringing, the same inputs and teachings, we often cannot see outside the ‘box’ that frames or shapes our world.

In our Torah portion this week, Moses has fallen into a pattern of leadership and all the people seem to share his belief that this is the only way of doing things. In Exodus 18:13, we read that “Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning until evening.” Moses did not know any different or better, and neither did the people. Yet, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, did not share the same assumptions, did not fall into the same patterns of thinking. So, Jethro sees a solution.

Now, some analysts, including British leadership author John Adair, have called Jethro the first management consultant. In my previous existence, when I was a management consultant, I might have been content to accept such an explanation and stop there. Now, I look for other explanations, as well. That’s not to dispute this analysis, but it is to say that there might be more.

Here’s another opinion: Jethro was an outsider. He saw the world differently because of his upbringing, his religion, his family story and so on. Diverse backgrounds give us different lenses through which to view the world, and each of these different views might be valid. In the example of Exodus 18, Moses is willing to see the value in Jethro’s perspective, which says as much about Moses being open to alternative perspectives, as it does about Jethro’s ‘consultancy’.

We are living at a time when holders of a different view to ours are often seen as dangerous. Different ideas and ways of seeing the world are never bad per se. It is when the ideas are actually harmful or dangerous that we should reject them, never just because they’re ‘different’. The second commandment (two chapters later within this week’s portion) about not having “any other gods” also includes holding on to our own ideas so strongly that we deify them. Remember Moses and Jethro, and we might learn something new and different of value for 2016 and beyond!