Taking these concepts a step further, the Rebbe shows that also the process of the Oral Torah—i.e., the manner in which the laws andHow were the laws and principles to be translated into guidance for raising a child or resolving a dispute? principles revealed to Moses at Sinai are applied to everyday life situations by the sages of each generation—has an important precedent within the Written Torah itself. Namely, the precedent of the “addition” to the Torah made by Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses.

The use of the term “addition” to describe Jethro’s contribution to the Torah is not incidental. Shemoth Rabbah states:

Why was he called Yithro (“his addition”)?… Because he added a chapter to the Torah—[the chapter] “You shall discern from all the people…”1

The Rebbe understands the designation of this chapter of Torah as an “addition” as carrying dual implications. On the one hand, it implies that the Torah was complete without this section, and Jethro added something to it. On the other hand, it implies that as a result of Jethro’s initiative, this section became added to the Torah, and now forms an integral part of it.2

What was Jethro’s “addition” to the Torah? The 18th chapter of the book of Exodus describes the arrival of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, in the Israelite camp at the foot of Mount Sinai. It then relates:

It was in the morning, and Moses sat to adjudicate for the people; and the people stood upon Moses from the morning to the evening.

The father-in-law of Moses saw all that he was doing for the people. And he said: “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why are you sitting by yourself, and all the people are standing upon you from the morning to the evening?”

Moses said to his father-in-law: “Because the people come to me to seek G‑d. When they have a matter, they come to me, and I adjudicate between a man and his fellow; and I make known the statutes of G‑d and His teachings.”

The father-in-law of Moses said to him: “It is not good, this thing that you are doing. Wither shall you wither, also you, also this people who are with you. For the thing is weightier than you; you will not be able to do it alone.

“Now, hear my voice, I will advise you, and G‑d will be with you. You be for the people opposite G‑d, and you shall bring the matters to G‑d. You shall enjoin them regarding the statutes and the teachings, and make them know the way in which they shall go and the deeds which they shall do.

“You shall discern from all the people able men, those who fear G‑d, men of truth, who abhor profit. You shall set them over them as captains of thousands, captains of hundreds, captains of fifties and captains of tens.

“They shall adjudicate for the people at all times; and it shall be that the great matters they shall bring to you, and the minor things they shall arbitrate themselves. It will be eased for you, and they will bear with you. If you do this thing, and G‑d will instruct you, you will be able to endure; and also this entire people shall come to their place in peace.”

Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law, and he did all which he said.

We have already discussed the Rebbe’s understanding of the debate between Moses and the people of Israel regarding the revelation at Sinai (see The Role of Moses in the Transmission of the Written Torah, chapter 7 above). Here, too, the Rebbe insists that Jethro’s advice could not possibly have been in response to a misjudgment on the part of Moses regarding his own capacities and his ability to meet the people’s needs. Furthermore, if Jethro was merely identifying a technical problem (i.e., Moses’ insufficiency of time and stamina to personally deal with every individual’s needs for instruction and adjudication) and proposing a technical solution (that a hierarchy of leaders and jurors be appointed to alleviate the burden), then we would not regard his proposal as an “addition to the Torah,” which, as explained above, implies that there was no lack or deficiency in Torah prior to this “addition.”

Rather, says the Rebbe, Moses’ behavior prior to Jethro’s intervention represents a valid—indeed, ideal—approach to the application of Torah to the problems of daily life. Nevertheless, Jethro’s contribution introduced a different approach, which was accepted by Moses—and G‑d3—and incorporated as a chapter of the Written Torah.

The dialogue between Moses and Jethro bears many similarities to the above-discussed dialogue between Moses and the people following the revelation at Sinai. In fact, it is basically the same debate, albeit in regard to different aspects of Torah. The debate between Moses and the people was regarding the dynamics of the communication of the Torah from G‑d to man, while the debate between Moses and Jethro was regarding the dynamics of the application of Torah to everyday life.

At the core of both debates is the fact that mind and life of Moses, “the most perfect human being,”4Also the process of the Oral Torah has an important precedent within the Written Torah itself were on a far loftier level than the people. Yet it is also true that every soul possesses the potential for that greatness, and that as a true leader, Moses had the ability to reveal that potential within his people.5 So the question was: Should Moses raise the people to his level, or should he “lower” himself, and the Torah, to theirs? As we have seen, the people demanded, and G‑d agreed, that they should receive the divine revelation of the Torah on their own limited and flawed level, rather than on the elevated level to which Moses might raise them. So they received the entire Torah (with the exception of the all-inclusive first two commandments) as words emerging from the human mouth and pen of Moses, rather than as a transcendent voice from heaven.

Now the issue was: Having received the laws and principles of Torah through the agency of Moses, how were these to be implemented in their daily lives? Who would translate these laws and principles into guidance for raising a child, righting a troubled marriage or resolving a dispute between neighbors?

The obvious choice would be Moses. He received these laws and principles from G‑d; his knowledge and understanding of them were absolute. His application of Torah is certain to be the most authentic rendition of the divine wisdom and will. It is true that Moses is infinitely removed from the petty neighbors’ dispute he is being troubled to resolve. But it is also true that the two litigants standing before him are certain to be elevated by the experience: in the presence of Moses, they too are capable of rising above the pettiness of their conflict. Under Moses’ leadership and guidance, they too are capable of relating to the pure principle being expounded, and of applying it to their relations back in their neighborhood.

This was how Torah was taught and applied in the Israelite camp until Jethro came and challenged Moses’ “ideal” approach. Jethro was an outsider—a convert to Judaism who was not even present at the revelation at Mount Sinai.6 Moses saw the people of Israel from the inside—in the light of their highest potentials, from the perspective of the inner core of their souls as they are one with his own soul within the singular soul of Israel. Jethro saw them from the outside—their everyday selves, their petty cares and conflicts. He saw them as they are apart from Moses, while Moses saw them only as they are in their relationship with himself.

Jethro insisted to Moses that the people of Israel had to learn to govern themselves, to arbitrate their own disputes, to apply the laws and principles of Torah to their own lives. Moses was to remain the sole source of these laws and principles, but their implementation was to be achieved by a multi-tiered body of magistrates and counselors at every level of the community (“captains of tens, captains of fifties,” etc.), so that the divine law would permeate their lives on every level, not only at the apogee of their being.

This is what Jethro “added” to the Torah. Without his addition, the Torah was complete. Indeed, there was no real need for Jethro’s system, as Moses could always be counted on to raise the lives of his people to the level on which he expounded the word of G‑d. But their understanding and practice of Torah would have remained something that Moses had empowered them to attain, not something they had attained on their own. Jethro’s system made the Torah the personal achievement of every individual mind and life.

More significantly, Jethro’s initiative was accepted andJethro’s “addition” made the Torah the personal achievement of every individual implemented by Moses, and written into the Torah. Were it not for Jethro, the Torah would have remained “the Torah of Moses”—a guide to life for Moses-elevated souls. After Moses’ passing, a system such as Jethro’s would have been established, to “bring down” the Torah of Moses to lesser generations with lesser leaders. But Jethro achieved that Moses delegated of his own capacity to interpret the Torah to the sages of his generation, and by extension, to the sages of all generations. Because it was Moses who established this system, it was incorporated as a section in the Torah, making it an integral part of the divine communication to man.

We have already seen how in the Oral Torah the deficiencies and shortcomings of the human state are not only incorporated and embraced, but also enlisted to arrive at a deeper and truer understanding of the divine wisdom and will. In the case of “Jethro’s chapter,” this feature of Torah is shown to be rooted in the Written Torah, which the ultimate source for all that constitutes “Torah.”7