Rashi says that Moshe Rabbeinu did not literally judge the people from morning to evening. The verse that says so means that judging true judgments for one hour is considered like learning Torah all day long.

מן הבקר עד ערב. אֶפְשָׁר לוֹמַר כֵּן? אֶלָּא כָּל דַּיָּן שֶׁדָּן דִּין אֱמֶת לַאֲמִתּוֹ אֲפִלּוּ שָׁעָה אַחַת, מַעֲלֶה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב כְּאִלּוּ עוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה כָּל הַיּוֹם וּכְאִלּוּ נַעֲשֶׂה שֻׁתָּף לְהַקָּבָּ"ה בְּמַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בּוֹ וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וְגוֹ'
(שבת י)

So if Moshe did not judge all day, why did Yisro say he will get worn down, and Hashem seemingly agreed to this?

  • 1
    If the amount of effort going into only one hour of judging is like learning all day long then the amount of time Moshe put into judging may very well equal many days of learning packed into one day which would certainly cause Moshe to wear down over a long period of time
    – Dude
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 15:29
  • But Moshe is still going to field the tough questions, he only handed over the easy ones to his helpers.
    – shmu
    Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 16:08
  • 40 days of continuous learning with G-d with no food or water - Sure, but one hour of Torah study per day - he will wear down? Don't take it seriously.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 13:31
  • Please quote Rashi you mention in full.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 13:32
  • I added the Rashi quote
    – shmu
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


Interesting question! But Moshe need not have literally been judging all day long for Yisro's point to be legitimate.

נָבֹל תִּבֹּל גַּם אַתָּה גַּם הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ כִּי כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר לֹא תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ

In the order of the conversation, the point made by Moshe immediately before Yisro's admonition is "when people have an issue I arbitrate between them and inform them of God's laws and statutes". Although the morning-till-night demand was the introduction to this conversation, it isn't explicit in Rashi's comment that it is what Yisro was responding to. The problem he saw may have simply been the large number of people bearing down.

If "נָבֹל תִּבֹּל" doesn't mean "you will wear down", but "you will get confused" (cf. Chizkuni) - i.e. between people/cases due to the volume he is processing - then the absolute number of people could be more of a contributing factor than hours spent per day. Then Yisro's advice fits right where it appears in context. But Rashi does not believe that is the meaning of "נ.ב.ל" (at least not here).

It is interesting to note that the prooftexts Rashi gives to corroborate his opinion that the operative root means "worn down" are both withered leaf metaphors. That is, a kind of decay that comes not from overuse but from disuse. Add to that the fact that Yisro is concerned not only for Moshe but also for the populace - "גַּם אַתָּה גַּם הָעָם הַזֶּה" - and it seems like Yisro is suggesting that the time it would take Moshe to deal with them all alone would be inordinate, leading them all to wither away in the queue. If so, then the logical suggestion of splitting up the work may not have made Moshe work any less hard, but improved the throughput of the operation nonetheless.

It is also worth noting the premise of Rashi's question, which is a paraphrase of Rav Chiya bar Rav Midifti's question in the g'mara:

?וכי תעלה על דעתך שמשה יושב ודן כל היום כולו? תורתו מתי נעשית

Could one possibly think that Moshe was sitting in judgment the whole day? [Then] when did he learn Torah?

As well as its resolution - quoted in the question - that the honest work of a judge is so fundamental to the functioning of the world that high quality execution thereof is not "all in a day's work", but "all in a day's work". So there is no reason to believe that Moshe would have been working any less hard or to any less effect in his capacity as judge before and after this reorganization since a) the question assumes his non judging time was occupied as well and b) as far as that d'rasha is concerned, he was presumably just as "מִן הַבֹּקֶר עַד הָעָרֶב" after as before.

  • +1 you should get extra credit for properly sourcing this answer. I was going to give a Seinfeldian "well there were a lot of people with a lot of questions" answer but didn't know how to source it Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 22:01
  • It is still not 100% clear why Moshe himself was saved from wearing down, if he was working just as hard even afterward. But let's assume the people's litigation needs were not being served. This would make them even more dissatisfied and unruly than they were already, causing Moshe to wear down. Just throwing out an idea.
    – shmu
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 5:42
  • @shmu Perhaps before the overhaul there was more than Moshe could ever get to and the overhaul made the job finite.
    – WAF
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 7:21

The Chafetz Chaim al Hatorah answers my question, in the second piece on Parshas Yisro. He says that Yisro asked Moshe what he is doing, and Moshe responded that he is teaching the people the laws of the Torah. Yisro said he will get worn down that way; he should rather teach the people:

וְהִזְהַרְתָּ֣ה אֶתְהֶ֔ם אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתּוֹרֹ֑ת וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֗ם אֶת־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔הּ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲשֽׂוּן׃

and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow.

This verse is explained by Chazal as referring to proper behavior between man and his neighbor, and going beyond the letter of the law, by means of which the people will sanctify the Name of Heaven through praiseworthy behavior:

דתני רב יוסף (שמות יח, כ) והודעת להם זה בית חייהם את הדרך זו גמילות חסדים [(אשר) ילכו זה ביקור חולים בה זו קבורה ואת המעשה זה הדין אשר יעשון זו לפנים משורת הדין:

The Gemara cites a source for going beyond the letter of the law in the performance of mitzvot. As Rav Yosef taught in a baraita with regard to the verse: “And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the path wherein they shall walk and the action that they must perform” (Exodus 18:20). The baraita parses the various directives in the verse. “And you shall teach them,” that is referring to the structure of their livelihood, i.e., teach the Jewish people trades so that they may earn a living; “the path,” that is referring to acts of kindness; “they shall walk,” that is referring to visiting the ill; “wherein,” that is referring to burial; “and the action,” that is referring to acting in accordance with the letter of the law; “that they must perform,” that is referring to acting beyond the letter of the law.

In other words, explains the Chafetz Chaim, Yisro was saying that teaching them the letter of the law is not enough. Moshe needs to teach them midos and derech eretz, and then the burden of leading the people will be lightened, and he will not get worn down.

  • I would comment that the addition of judges, as detailed in the verses of this Torah passage, was so the people will not get worn down. If the judicial system can't handle the burden of cases, due to shortage of judges, that will understandably wear the people down.
    – shmu
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 17:16

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .