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February 1, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Yitro

At the start of this coming week’s portion, Yitro (Moses’s father in law) tells him to stop dispensing justice single-handedly, and to appoint “rulers of thousands” (Exodus 18:21).  I had always thought this meant “one judge for every thousand men”, and Rashi agrees.

However, Ibn Ezra has a different slant.  He says that these should be people who (in Soncino’s words) “possess a thousand slaves or paid servants, and their actual number was twelve.”  Given that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt , it seems hard for me to imagine them collecting that many slaves themselves, let alone persuading them to join them in leaving Egypt.

Why would Ibn Ezra imagine any Jew having 1000 slaves? Here’s a hypothesis: Ibn Ezra wandered throughout Europe and the Middle East, so maybe he saw big cities with immense wealth, and thus found it easier to imagine someone who could afford 1000 servants/slaves.  By contrast, Rashi spent all his life in small towns (Troyes and Worms) and so perhaps was less likely to imagine such large-scale wealth.

At any rate, the judges don’t eliminate all of Moses’s workload.  According to Nachmanides, they merely judge civil disputes while Moses teaches Torah.  Here we see the evolution of a state: it begins with a priest-king (Moses) and as life gets more complex, we start to see a division of labor.


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