Don’t I Do a Good Job?


By Jeffrey Fiskin

Published February 13, 2004, issue of February 13, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

‘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.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.