An Admonishment and a Warning

An Admonishment and a Warning

And you shall teach them (Exodus 18:20)

והזהרתה אתהם (שמות יח:כ)

During his visit to the Jewish camp, Jethro observed Moses as he dutifully attended to the needs of the fledgling nation. Then, Jethro offered his son-in-law important organizational advice that would allow Moses to properly and efficiently lead his flock. Most importantly, he advised Moses to install a graduated system of leadership in which lower appointees would address common problems while forwarding the truly difficult and important issues to Moses. When we take a careful look at the language of the interchange between the two men, we find that even before Jethro offered his organizational advice, he commented on Moses’ relationship with the people. When describing his efforts to bring the word of God to the people Moses explained that, “When they have a matter, it comes to me; and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know (ve’hodati) the statutes of God, and God’s laws.” (18:16) Jethro advised Moses that, “You shall teach them (ve’hizharta) the statutes and the laws and shall show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” (18:20) To convey the idea of teaching, Moses used the Hebrew word le’hodia—to inform—while Jethro utilized the Hebrew word—le’hazhir—to warn—which implies a very different type of instruction. Noting Jethro’s subtle change in language, Ramban (on verse 20) explains that, “In this [language] too there was counsel [on the part of Jethro] that Moses should strongly admonish them and warn them of the commandments and punishments [in case of transgression]…” Sometimes, simply “informing” does not suffice. Rather, we must also offer admonition and warning, in order to prevent a violation of the law.