Has your mother-in-law ever offered you unsolicited advice?

Does she say: “Kids thrive on discipline; you have to be firm with them. The two of you should always be on the same page; the worst thing is when kids see that you disagree?” Or how about: “Your children are onHas your mother-in-law ever offered you advice? the computer a lot. When my kids were growing up, I never let them sit in front of a screen. Children need to be active!”

Sometimes, you want to respond with: “I’ve been managing just fine without you. Don’t come into my house and tell me what’s not working! If you have nothing empowering to say, please don’t say anything at all!” But you’d never actually say that!

Moses, however, is different. When his father-in-law gave him unsolicited advice, he humbly accepts it.

Jethro was Moses’s father-in-law; Tziporah’s father. He came to visit Moses a few weeks after Moses had led the Jews in their escape from Egypt. Since they’d last met, Moses had become nothing less than an international hero. But that didn’t stop Jethro from critiquing his son-in-law’s leadership style.

Jethro watched Moses act as the sole judge in all legal and ethical cases for the entire people. With millions of Jews—and presumably hundreds of disputes and halachic questions each day—people had to wait from morning to evening for their cases to be resolved. Jethro found this system to be dysfunctional. He told Moses: “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening? The thing you are doing is not good.You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people who are with you, for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

After pointing out what was wrong, Jethro then offers some of his advice. He suggests that Moses delegate his responsibility by choosing a few eligible, G‑d fearing men to serve as judges. With this additional help, Moshe could create a hierarchical judiciary system, with local courts to handle “small claims” and higher-up courts to judge more complex issues. Moses, as the ultimate judge, would reserve his expertise for those cases that were unable to be resolved by the other judges. How is one person supposed to mediate all of their problems anyway?

Jethro concludes his advice to Moses with a promise: “If you do this thing, and the L‑rd commands you, you will be able to survive, and also, all this people will come upon their place in peace.”

So how does Moses react to this unsolicited advice? Being the humble leader that he was, he accepts it and begins to implement Jethro’s plan. He appoints judges to work with him so that each case would be considered more quickly and efficiently.

We can praise Moses for being open to hearing Jethro’s advice without getting defensive, but we still have to wonder: Why hadn’t Moses thought of doing that on his own? Hadn’t he noticed that people were standing from morning to evening” to get an answer from him? Didn’t he realize that for the amount of people he was leading, he needed a little assistance? Did Moses have trouble delegating responsibility? Was he afraid to let others help him?

We’re talking about Moses—the ultimate leader of the Jewish people. Was he out of touch with the common man?

Of course, not! Moses had a very good reason for taking such responsibility on hisMany great leaders are too busy to have time for the common man own shoulders—for judging each case personally. He was looking for an opportunity to meet people, to foster personal relationships with them as they came to ask him their halachic question. He treasured those minutes as he helped folks detangle their litigation and smooth out their affairs. To Moses, it was all an opportunity to connect with average man and to uplift him. Moses was accessible to everyone.

Many great leaders are far too busy to have time for the common man. Some are forced to keep their hours more exclusive; otherwise, they would simply have no time for themselves. Other so-called “important” people appear to be more exclusive than they really are. Even if they get your text message right away, they won’t respond immediately, lest you think that they had ample time to read it. Some doctors intentionally book patients two months in advance to seem in great demand.

Other leaders go out of their way to make themselves accessible to all. The Lubavitcher Rebbe is one such leader. Anyone could come to listen to his teaching of Torah; anyone could pray with him and sing with him. The Rebbe wanted to hear about people’s lives, their struggles and successes. So thousands of people wrote him letters. He didn’t prioritize the letters based on the stature of the writer, but read them all and spent hours each day responding to the letters. This would be comparable to the president of the United States making time each day to personally reading and responding to all of his emails. It just wouldn’t happen.

Then, becoming even more accessible, the Rebbe decided to dedicate each Sunday morning to meeting people and giving them dollar bills for charity. While taking a dollar from the Rebbe’s hand, you had a precious moment with the Rebbe. Thousands of people took advantage of this opportunity—men, women, children, Jews and often non-Jews. I did, too. I would wait in line for hours to meet the Rebbe for just a few moments. Those moments were uplifting, even life-changing.1 The Rebbe would not leave until the last person received his or her dollar and the Rebbe’s blessing.

Thousands of people got face time with the Rebbe. Like Moses, he went out of his way to be accessible. People came to Moses because they had a legal question, but during their time with him, they were inspired. In fact, the specific legal predicament mattered much less once they finally got to approach him. Moses brought out the best in everyone—the more idealistic, noble self. And that is why he didn’t mind sitting from morning until night answering questions that may have been quite simple; it wasn’t about the question, but about the personal interaction.

So if Moses knew what he was doing, why did he listen to his father-in-law’s advice?

For one, he knew that his system was not sustainable. Yes, Moses could single handedly uplift the masses, but what would happen when he wasn’t alive anymore. With no infrastructure in place, the whole thing could collapse. Jethro was reminding Moses to train people to organize themselves now so that there would be support and leadership for thousands of years to come. And Moses appreciated Jethro’s realistic advice.

But there is another reason that Moses valued that insight. Jethro was telling him that there was another way to educate and uplift people. Moses uplifted them by sheer osmosis; being around him hoisted you up to your higher self with little effort. All the petty worries, competition and resentment became irrelevant once Moses ignited your idealism and inspiration. But the other way to uplift a person is to let him be himself and to notice his ego, his insecurity and laziness. To confront the darkness in his heart. After an honest admission of where he’s at, he can start to lift himself up, one step at a time. And that’s just what G‑d desires most—to live in the part of your heart that was once dark, but now is a bit light.

This is most effective with the help of a mentor. Yet compared to Moses’ dramatic effect on a person, the effect of a mentor is almost laughable. That’s why he didn’t go there at first. But Jethro showed Moses that when people can be themselves—when they have a mentor they can trust—they can work on themselves from the bottom up, and ultimately, take ownership for their growth. Moses appreciated Jethro’s approach; he understood it to be the more correct one and implemented it immediately. While he still taught the Jews Torah for the rest of his life, he gave most of the litigation over to other judges.2

Like Moses, the Rebbe also created a hierarchy of mentors. I remember when the Rebbe had asked everyone to find themselves a mashpia, a personal mentor.3 This mashpia doesn’t have to blow you awayThe Rebbe’s mentorship program creates a pyramid of mentorship with inspiration; rather, he or she should be a relatable role model. I took the Rebbe’s advice and asked one of my teachers to play that mashpia (mentor) role, and over the course of years, she’s played a very important role in my life.

The Rebbe’s mentorship program creates a pyramid of mentorship, where each mentor has a mentor of their own, and everyone who buys in can find their place somewhere in this web of support.

As a mother, I kind of see myself as a (self-imposed) mashpia to my children. I try to see where they’re at and where they need to grow. And is it hard to confront their dark side! My first instinct is to reject that part of them—it shouldn’t be there; I shouldn’t have to see it. But one thing is for sure: I’m no Moses, and I can’t hoist them up and make it go away. I can only hold them and accept where they are at. As low as they go, I can only remind myself that G‑d loves to see darkness transformed to light.