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Exodus 18:22:

וְשָׁפְט֣וּ אֶת־הָעָם֮ בְּכָל־עֵת֒ וְהָיָ֞ה כָּל־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַגָּדֹל֙ יָבִ֣יאוּ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְכָל־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַקָּטֹ֖ן יִשְׁפְּטוּ־הֵ֑ם וְהָקֵל֙ מֵֽעָלֶ֔יךָ וְנָשְׂא֖וּ אִתָּֽךְ׃

They shall judge the people at all times; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to you, and every small matter they shall judge themselves; so shall they make it easier for you and bear the burden with you.

Compare with Exodus 18:26:

וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם בְּכָל־עֵ֑ת אֶת־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַקָּשֶׁה֙ יְבִיא֣וּן אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה וְכָל־הַדָּבָ֥ר הַקָּטֹ֖ן יִשְׁפּוּט֥וּ הֵֽם׃

They judged the people at all times: the hard matters they brought to Moses, and every small matter they judged themselves

Why is the word "great" used when Yitro is advising Moses, but the term "hard" is used when describing what happened? Is there a difference in meaning or nuance, here?

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The Torah Temimah gives an explanation that other nations give the "more expensive" trials to the higher-level judges (even though the ruling of the case may be very simple), while "cheaper" trials can be handled by the lower-level judges (even though it might be a very complicated case).

He says that the difference is that while they judge the importance of a case by its monetary value, din Yisrael judges its importance by its difficulty (i.e. how complicated the case is).

That's why Yitro says that the more expensive cases will go to Moses, while the Torah says that the harder cases went to Moses.

  • 1
    Note the definition in the United States for the different courts that a suit goes to is based on the amount being sued for such as "small claims court" – sabbahillel Jan 27 '16 at 19:36
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This question is treated in the Talmud.
The Mishnah in Sanhedrin says
אֵין דָּנִין לֹא אֶת הַשֵּׁבֶט וְלֹא אֶת נְבִיא הַשֶּׁקֶר וְלֹא אֶת כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל, אֶלָּא עַל פִּי בֵית דִּין שֶׁל שִׁבְעִים וְאֶחָד
In the Gemara (Sanhedrin 15B, 16A) we can read:
אמר רב מתנה הכא בנשיא שבט שחטא עסקינן מי לא אמר רב אדא בר אהבה כל הדבר הגדול יביאו אליך דבריו של גדול האי נמי גדול

The regent and the Cohen Gadol need the biggest (the supreme) court of justice.

Rashi says that Moses is in place of 71 judges.

And further the Gemara agrees very seriously in your question.

מיתיבי דבר גדול, דבר קשה אתה אומר דבר קשה או אינו אלא דבריו של גדול? כשהוא אומר את הדבר הקשה יביאון אל משה הרי דבר קשה אמור! הוא דאמר כי האי תנא דתניא דבר גדול דבריו של גדול אתה אומר דבריו של גדול או אינו אלא דבר הקשה כשהוא אומר הדבר הקשה הרי דבר קשה אמור הא מה אני מקיים דבר גדול דבריו של גדול

One opinion is there are two different indications for the treatment of the question by the biggest instance (Beth din of 71/Moses):
  1. The entitled people (Cohen & Nassi)
  2. The hard topics.

והאי תנא תרי קראי למה לי חד לצוואה בעלמא וחד לעשייה

The second opinion says that hard and great are one same thing: Hard topics. One verse is the injunction; and the next verse relate the fact that this has been accomplished.

ואידך א"כ לכתוב או גדול גדול או קשה קשה מאי גדול ומאי קשה שמע מינה תרתי

But this remains strong because the changing of the adjective (big/hard) has not be taken into consideration because this Tana that refutes all reference to entitled people.

After this, inside the opinion that entitled people need the biggest instance, the gemara provides precision. It is only for major trial, like or death sentences (Sanhedrin 18B).

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