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Offering Counsel: Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya on Parashat Yitro

n the parasha Yitro advises Moses to appoint a team of magistrates and judges to advise him in the task of governing and administering justice to the Israelites.

Who doesn’t like being an advisor and offering counsel? What does the Torah say about providing guidance? Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Director of Midreshet Schechter and Midreshet Yerushalayim, discusses how Parashat Yitro teaches us the art of giving advice.

Full transcription below:

The hero of a famous movie I watched in my childhood used to say, “Don’t teach me how to live. You’d better help me financially.” In Israel everybody loves giving advice to you. Nobody listens to your advice but everybody loves giving some.

In Talmud Masechet Yevamot, teaches us that it’s a mitzvah to say what will be heard as well as it is a mitzvah not to say what will not be heard. So, if you think nobody will listen to your advice, you’d better keep one for yourself. Parashat Yitro teaches us the art of giving an advice.

Yitro comes to Moses. It starts with genuine interest of Yitro in Moses, of him coming forward to Moses. Then he proposes his personal relationship. He says, “I’m your father in law Yitro, I came to you.” Moses knows who he is and still he says that. Then comes the acceptance of the relationship. Moses invites him to his inner space, to his ohel. If you are not invited into an inner space of a person, you’d better not go there and smash everything.

Moses opens his heart to Yitro. He tells him his story and then Yitro is happy for him and they eat together. Then comes the observation. Yitro observes Moses in his life. Then he asks questions. He tries to understand whether he understands the reality correctly. The stage of advice comes next. There is a long way Yitro goes through in order to give advice to Moses.

In a different story, women teach us how to give advice differently. In Talmud Masechet Tamid there is a story about Alexander Macedon that comes to the city of women and he wants to conquer the city, but women tell him, “If you kill us, people will say you killed women and if we kill you, people will say you were killed by women.” Alexander Macedon understands that there is no winning way and he asks them to bring him food and bread. They bring Alexander Macedon, golden bread and golden pomegranates and apples on a golden table. He says, “Is that what you eat here?” And they say to him, “If you had no bread in your country, is that why you came here?” He understands. He received advice from women and he writes on the gates of the city that he was a fool until he came to the city of women and received advice from them.

You are probably sitting and asking me why I’m giving you all this advice. I don’t know you. I haven’t gone with all the stages as it Torah did. I’m not reflecting your reality for you as women did since I’m not even familiar with it. Well, Yitro and women, they came from faraway lands, from cultured countries and I, I spent too much time in Israel. So now, please listen to my advice whether you accept it or not.

Irina Gritsevskaya is the Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter. She holds an LL.B. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an LL.M., and was ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. A native of St. Petersburg, Rabbi Gritsevskaya made aliya as a teenager and currently lives in Tel Aviv.

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