This week’s parshah – Parshat Yitro – is named after Moshe’s father-in-law the priest of Midian – Yitro. In this parshah, Yitro says to Moshe, “Listen to my voice and I will advise you.” Yitro advises Moshe to delegate adjudication of certain issues brought by the people, so that he will not exhaust himself trying to resolve every case. From this passage, we learn our middat hashavua: “Take advice from people that you trust.” Parshat Yitro also contains one of the most important passages of the Torah – Aseret Hadibrot, usually translated as “The Ten Commandments.” A more direct translation would be “The Ten Sayings,” which we can understand to mean the ten essential teachings of the Torah. Moshe listened to the voice of Yitro and trusted his advice; we listen to God’s voice expressed through the “Ten Sayings” that advise us on the most important matters of how to live our lives well.
This year, Parshat Yitro coincides with Tu Bishvat, the joyous festival which celebrates the New Year of the Trees. At Heschel we celebrated Tu Bisvhat by inviting speakers to advise and teach our students about our environment and how we can work to protect and live in harmony with trees, animals, and all of nature. The Hebrew word for ‘tree’ – etz, correlates etymologically with the Hebrew word for advice — eitzah. We refer to the Torah as “A Tree of Life,” Etz Hayyim. It is also eitzah lehayyim – “advice for life.” This Shabbat, in the spirit of Parshat Yitro and Tu Bishvat, let us attune our ears to advice we can receive from the Torah, from the natural world, and from all others — our parents, our children, and our teachers, whom we trust.