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Parasha of the week

Yithro

“And you should seek from all of the nation men of valour, who fear Hashem, men of the truth, those who hate improper gain.  And you should appoint them over the people as leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties and leaders of tens.” (Shemot 18:21)

Sometimes it is just wonderful to take a single passage of the Torah and consider the wonderful and exacting manner in which our Sages analyse its content.  Every passage must make sense in all of its details.  It must be internally coherent.  It must be contextually consistent.  It must correspond with established Halachic principles.

Let us consider one passage from our Parsha and the manner in which our Sages analyse it:

Moshe and Children of Israel are joined in the wilderness by Yitro - Moshe’s father-in-law.  Yitro observes Moshe judging and teaching the people.  Moshe is fulfilling the role of judge and teacher without assistance.  Yitro concludes that no single person can fulfil the role of serving as sole judge and teacher.  He advises Moshe to recruit other leaders who will share his burden.  Yitro describes the characteristics that Moshe should seek in these leaders.  He also advises Moshe to appoint these leaders as leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  Moshe will continue to serve as the highest judicial and governmental authority.  Moshe accepts Yitro’s counsel and creates the system he has proposed.

Our Sages disagree as to the meaning of this last instruction.  What is a leader of thousands, hundreds, fifties or tens?  Rashi’s explanation is well-know.  His explanation is based upon the comments of the Talmud in Mesechet Sanhedrin.  According to Rashi, Moshe was to create a multileveled judiciary.  Each of the lowest judges would be responsible for a group of ten people.  Above these judges would be appointed a second level of judges.  Each judge would be charged with the responsibility of leading fifty people.

The leaders of the hundreds would each care for the affairs of one hundred people.  Those appointed over the thousands would each have one thousand people assigned to his care.  Rashi continues to explain that the nation numbered six hundred thousand men.  This means there were six hundred judges appointed at the highest level.  At the next level, there were six thousand judges.  The next level required twelve thousand judges.  The lowest level required sixty thousand appointments.  The table below represents Rashi’s explanation of the system Moshe was to create.  As the table indicates, Moshe was to appoint a total of 78,600 leaders - representing slightly more than 13% of the total adult male population.

 

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