Yitro, Moshe’s father in law, merited something very few others did – to have a parsha added in the Torah because of him, and to also have a parsha named after him. Yet when remembering what Yitro did to merit these, what immediately comes to mind is that all he did was to advise Moshe Rabeinu how to implement an efficient law system. This raises the question – what was so special about his advice? In any institution, especially a large one, the delegation of authority and responsibility is simple common sense, both for the prosperity of the management, but even more so for the organization; sharing the load is essential. This idea is so simple and straightforward that it is to be found in all areas of society, starting even at the family level and extending obviously to the highest levels of government. It is therefore difficult to understand why Moshe Rabeinu and Am Yisrael had to “wait” for Yitro to come to them and reveal to them this “profound” advice.
However, the Netziv of Velozhin, after a closer closer reading of the pesukim, reveals to us a different understanding of Yitro’s advice.
וַיַּרְא חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר הוּא עֹשֶׂה לָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר מָה הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה לָעָם מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב לְבַדֶּךָ וְכָל הָעָם נִצָּב עָלֶיךָ מִן בֹּקֶר עַד עָרֶב:
After Yitro sees what Moshe is doing, he asks him two questions. Firstly, why are you, Moshe, sitting alone without any aid from other people, and secondly why are “all the people” approaching you, not just people who are quarrelling with each other?
To this Moshe responds:
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנוֹ כִּי יָבֹא אֵלַי הָעָם לִדְרֹשׁ אֱלֹהים:
כִּי יִהְיֶה לָהֶם דָּבָר בָּא אֵלַי וְשָׁפַטְתִּי בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים וְאֶת תּוֹרֹתָיו:
Moshe explains that the people approach him for three different things – firstly, לדרוש את אלהים, meaning to inquire of G-d. This should be understood in the same way it is used by the Torah regarding when Rivka was pregnant and because of her extreme discomfort she “went to seek out G-d”. What Rivka was doing was going to someone, a Navi or great person, who could explain to her the meaning of her suffering and what would be its outcome. Similarly here with Bnei Yisrael, they were coming to Moshe to confide in Moshe their issues and to hear what their outcome would be. This was a task for which only Moshe was suitable, and in demand for from the people, being the Navi that he was.
Secondly, וְשָׁפַטְתִּי בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ – they would approach Moshe to judge and settle civil arguments and grievances, Moshe serving in the capacity of a judge in court.
Thirdly, וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים וְאֶת תּוֹרֹתָיו – Moshe would teach them Torah and explain the details and halachot of the mitzvoth. Obviously this too was something only Moshe could do, as he was the transmitter of Torah and Mitzvot.
To this Yitro responds:
וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵלָיו לֹא טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה:
נָבֹל תִּבֹּל גַּם אַתָּה גַּם הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ כִּי כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר לֹא תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ:
Besides the fact that both Moshe and the people will not be able to endure the present overloaded judicial situation (point number two mentioned above), Yitro tells Moshe that also the other two things he does for the people are not being done well (לֹא טוֹב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה).
It is now that Yitro gives Moshe his innovative advice. Moshe had told Yitro that when the people come to “seek out G-d”, he brings to them the word of G-d, Yitro however says to Moshe:
הֱיֵה אַתָּה לָעָם מוּל הָאֱלֹהִים וְהֵבֵאתָ אַתָּה אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים:
Instead of Moshe bringing the word of G-d to the people, Moshe must bring the issues of the people in front of Hashem. The responsibility of the Navi is not merely to say what will be, but more importantly it is to carefully listen to the troubles of the people and stand in front Hashem and beseech Him on their behalf.
The Netziv draws a comparison from every-day life. There are two types of people or positions that ensure a connection between the people and their government. There is the representative of the king or government that the people can turn to in order to inquire what to do. That person is a confidant of the ruling power and represents its interests. On the other hand, there is also a function of a person who represents the interest of the people before the authorities.
Yitro was advising Moshe that he had to first and foremost bring the issues of the people before Hashem, not just tell the people the will of G-d. In order to do this though, it would require from Moshe to devote even more time to each and every individual so that he would be able to become fully aware of their trials and tribulations and get to know all those coming to him on the closest of levels.
The second piece of advice was regarding what Moshe said that he “וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים וְאֶת תּוֹרֹתָיו”- “and I make known the statutes of G-d and His teachings”. Yitro said to Moshe that instead of only “והודעתי” it should also be “והזהרתה”, to warn. There is difference between informing (והודעת) and warning. To inform someone of the law is just making sure it is heard and known in even a laconic way, whereas warning against something is expressing concern and explaining the consequences of the law. This as well, says Yitro, is Moshe’s sole responsibility as only he is fully aware of the truths in the mitzvoth.
In summary, contrary to the initial impression of Yitro advising Moshe to delegate responsibilities, in fact he places on Moshe even more responsibilities, which apparently will only worsen the situation. It is as result of this, that Yitro’s final piece of advice to Moshe is to create an effective and practical judicial system, incorporating other worthy people in Am Yisrael who are capable of judging civil law, in order to free Moshe to spend more time on those things which only he could do.
Yitro’s practical advice was only secondary and a result of the turnabout he caused in the leadership of Moshe. The role of the Jewish leader, on all levels of leadership, is not merely to represent and bring the word of G-d to His people, but also, if not more so, to become deeply aware and sensitive to His people and bring their words and needs before Him.
Is it possible that this is another reason that the episode of Yitro’s coming to Am Yisrael in the desert is recorded before Matan Torah, before Moshe ascends Har Sinai to bring the word of Hashem to us, despite the fact that according to many commentators it actually occurred afterwards?
 Sources for the dvar Torah: Shemot 18; 13-26, and the commentary of the Netziv (Chumash Ha’amek Davar) on those pesukim.