28 Jan 2016

Yitro 5776: Bringing Out the Best

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‘The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it,
but that it is too low and we reach it.’
— Michelangelo

‘A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.’
― John Wooden[1]

It is no secret to many who know me that I am a big fan of Raphael Nadal. There are many reasons why I admire him as a tennis player but lately he has been having difficulty with his game and only last week had his second ever first-round exit at a Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open. From age 3 his coach has been his uncle Tony. Under Tony’s training not only has his nephew remained humble and grounded but he has also risen to stardom and become one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Recently, hard as it is for me to admit, Rafa’s game is faltering. The solutions that they are attempting are falling short. In response to these recent disappointments, people cannot help but ask whether it is time that Rafa found a new coach.

Having a coach is something that we take for granted in the world of sports; there are only very few professions outside of sports that recognise the importance of having a regular coach in order to maintain one’s personal best. A coach brings the value of having someone observe performance and provide feedback about aspects that one would otherwise not be aware of. No matter how good we are at what we do we cannot maintain our best without external observations and input.

Not every coach, though, is a good one. Good coaches know that they are looking to bring out the fullest potential of the individual or team that they are coaching. Coaching is not the same as criticising — even the constructive kind — although coaching requires some critique it also brings with it suggestions for correction and provides direction towards a solution. A coach observes, judges and guides.

In most pedagogical situations, training and instruction end at a certain point where the individual is deemed to have achieved professional status. Students graduate and set off to perform in their respective fields. In a coaching paradigm, however, it continues even for the high-level professionals. It assumes that even those who are well prepared during their years of study and training cannot maintain their best levels of practice on their own. An outside pair of eyes can be helpful in perfecting approaches and techniques.

The thought of having someone observe your tactics and suggest improvements sounds positive but it requires a certain level of vulnerability in order for it to function. This is particularly challenging to those of us who are long-time or high-level professionals. It means having someone who might not be best in the craft (Uncle Tony doesn’t play like his nephew) but who nonetheless has an eye and understanding for what needs improvement and an ability to guide towards the best way of achieving it.

No parasha teaches this lesson better than Yitro. Moshe is hired by G-d Himself to lead the Children of Israel to freedom. He is the giver of the Torah and we refer to him simply as Moshe Rabenu – ‘our master’. One could safely say he knew what he was doing.

Still, we are told that Moshe’s initial approach to giving over law to the people was less than optimal[1]. People were queuing to see him from ‘morning until evening’[2] and it threatened to harm the relationship the people were forming with the Torah. Fortunately, Moshe had someone at hand who was interested in Moshe’s success as well as the success of the people and had no ulterior motives. Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law, offered some unsolicited advice from a perspective of age and practical wisdom. He told Moshe that what he was doing would not lead to success and that he should set a judicial system in place to ease the experience of those who were seeking guidance in the Torah’s law[3].

Moshe listened to his father-in-law as a coach[4] rather than just a critic and implemented his entire plan which created a more user-friendly system and supported Moshe’s immediate goals. This was no less an example of Moshe’s greatness than his other moments of leadership and teaching. Being the top official in Israel, Moshe was seen by the people as a king, and yet he was not averse to hearing guidance from a set of eyes that were, for all intents and purposes, external to the circumstance yet dedicated to his success. Moshe acknowledged that no matter how great or how tuned into the reality of a situation we are, external perceptions help us with angles that we might not discover on our own.

When people reach lofty levels of leadership and expertise there are few who are in a position to genuinely suggest modes of better practice to them without prejudice or personal interest. At times, establishing a coach is greatly helpful even to the most seasoned professionals. When coaching is done well it can be one of the best aids to human performance.

Moshe and Yitro teach us that in our desire to reach and maintain our best performance and achievements listening to the guidance of a loyal coach is an excellent strategy. They also teach us that even experts should seek continued growth and development.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] John Wooden was a retired American basketball coach. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (class of 1961) and as a coach (class of 1973). He was the first person ever enshrined in both categories. His 10 NCAA National Championships in a 12 year period while at UCLA are unmatched by any other college basketball coach.

[1] 18:13-17

[2] 18:13

[3] 18:17-23

[4] 18:24

[5] Shulhan Arukh, 268:6 – Each section ends with the portion ‘Retse Bimnuhatenu’ and the blessing of ‘Mekadesh haShabbat’.


Law and Lore

About the Prayers – The Amida of Shabbat

On Shabbat the second section of the Amida is different at each service. We recite a different paragraph at night for Arbit, in the morning for Shaharit and in the afternoon for Minha respectively.

At night we read the section that begins with the words ‘Ata kidashta’ – ‘You sanctified’ in which we speak of how G-d sanctified Shabbat as a culmination of creation and we quote the verses in Genesis that speak of this. We then speak of ourselves as the nation who sanctify the seventh day.

In the morning we read the section that begins with the words ‘Yismah Moshe’ – ‘Moshe rejoices’ in which we speak of Moshe Rabenu receiving the ten commandments and that the mitsvah of Shabbat was inscribed upon the tablets. We mention that the Shabbat is a special bond that the nation of Israel shares with G-d.

In the afternoon we read the section that begins with the words ‘Atah Ehad’ – ‘You are one’ in which we speak of the uniqueness of G-d’s unity and the uniqueness of His nation, Israel. We focus at this time on the special rest of Shabbat that brings peace, calm and quiet. Although each of these sections are respectively set for a particular service, if one mistakenly replaced one with the other the obligation is fulfilled and the amida need not be repeated, for each section ends with the same words and blessing[1].
[1] Shulhan Arukh, 268:6 – Each section ends with the portion ‘Retse Bimnuhatenu’ and the blessing of ‘Mekadesh haShabbat’.

Parasha Perspectives

V              Yitro 

32             Yitro and Moshe meet (18:1-27)
Yitro brings Moshe’s wife, Tzipporah, and their two
sons to meet him (18:1-7);
Moshe recounts Exodus, Yitro praises God (18:8-12);
Yitro gives Moshe advice concerning judgment and
delegation (18:13-23);
Moshe puts the idea into practice  (18:24-27)
33a           Preparation for Revelation  (19:1-25)
33b           Revelation  (20:1)
33c            The Ten Commandments:  (20:2-6)
One: God who brought you out of Egypt (20:2-3)
Two: No idols (20:4-6)
33d           Three: Do not take God’s name in vain (20:7)
34a           Four: Remember Shabbat (20:8-11)
34b           Five: Honour parents (20:12)
34c            Six: Do not Murder  (20:13)
34d           Seven: Do not be an adulterer (20:13)
34e           Eight: Do not Steal  (20:13)
34f            Nine: Do not falsify testimony  (20:13)
34g            Ten: Do not crave your friend’s house (20:14)
34h           Ten: (ctd.) …or wife, servants, animals, all  (20:14)
35a           Reaction to Revelation  (20:15-18)
35b           No false gods. Altar construction (20:19-23)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS