‘Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain… And let them judge the people.” … So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law… And Moses chose able men out of all of Israel… and they judged the people.
— Exodus 18:21-26
* * *
A space cleared from the surrounding wilderness. Evening.
Moses is seated on an elaborately carved chair. The milling throng departs, heading back to their tents at the foot of the mountain. The evening grows chilly. Jethro stands across an empty patch of hard ground, arms crossed over his chest.
Jethro: What do you think you’re doing?
Moses: The usual: dispensing wisdom, justice, you know.
Jethro: You do this all alone?
Moses: Who better?
Jethro: All day long, morning until night?
Moses: Everybody’s got problems. If I let things go, I’d never catch up. People kvetch.
Jethro: You couldn’t use a little help?
Moses: What? You’re suggesting I don’t do a good job?
Jethro: No, no, no. I’m worried about you, that’s all.
Moses: I’m fine.
Jethro: Today you’re fine. But this business wears you down. Believe me, I know.
Moses: Please, don’t start with the “When I was in Pharaoh’s court…” routine, okay? This is my responsibility.
Jethro: Delegating a little authority is not shirking responsibility.
Moses: That’s how it starts. You delegate a little responsibility —
Jethro: The small things.
Moses: The small things. And before you know it, you’ve got a bureaucracy screaming to be fed like Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Jethro: Like who?
Moses: Look at Egypt. Cradle to grave. No upward mobility. Okay, except for me. I got lucky. But the system feeds on itself.
Jethro: That’s why you have to make the rules. Just enough. No more.
Moses: Frankly, I make this look easy. It’s not. I don’t even know who I’d get to do it.
Jethro: Able men.
Moses: Thanks a lot. I never could have figured that one out on my own.
Jethro: Able men. Men who fear God. Men of truth. Men who hate unjust gain.
Moses: Like they grow on trees.
Jethro: Try it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come right back here and kill yourself with work.
Some time passes. By chance Moses and Jethro meet at the same spot.
Moses: Jethro, my man, you were right. I thank you. Your wise counsel —
Jethro: What wise counsel? You didn’t do what I said.
Moses: I did. Delegate authority. Able men. I do the hard cases. They handle the small stuff—
Jethro: Ah! There, you said it. Able men.
Moses: Of course able men.
Jethro: Is that all I told you?
Moses: No, but —
Jethro: But the rest you ignore.
Moses: Not at all.
Jethro: You don’t mention it in Exodus.
Moses: In what?
Jethro: The Book of the Revelation on Sinai.
Moses: What revelation?
Jethro: Not a revelation exactly. More like a gift. The Ten Commandments.
Moses: Dear father-in-law, maybe you should come out of the sun.
Jethro: I’m fine. What’s the matter with you? If I’ve already heard the thunder on the mountain, how come you don’t even know you’ve been up to the mountain?
Moses: Because I haven’t.
Jethro: But you know you’re going to?
Moses: Going to what?
Jethro: Wait a minute. Why do you think I came here?
Moses: To see Zipporah and me?
Jethro: Did I need to become the first convert to see Zipporah? No. I came because I heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel.
Moses: Right. The parting of the Sea of Reeds, the battle against the Amalekites —
Jethro: No. Much bigger.
Moses: The Sea of Reeds was pretty big.
Jethro: This will be bigger. You’ll see.
Moses: I don’t understand.
Jethro: Neither do I. Time with God is, um, well, it’s a little weird frankly.
Moses: You mean like a day of His time might be a millennium of our time?
Jethro: That part’s obvious. I mean really weird. Like this conversation might be taking place after something that hasn’t even happened yet.
Moses nods sagely.
Jethro: That doesn’t surprise you?
Moses: Naw. As it is written: “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon… And the sun stood still” (Joshua 10:12). But you know what? If I ever write that book you were talking about, I’m gonna give you full credit.
Jethro: I know. But do me a favor. Put it before the Revelation on Sinai. It’ll drive people nuts.
Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer who lives in Hollywood with his family.