The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Yitro: Learn To Delegate Authority

Moses' father-in-law, Jethro ( יִתְרוֹ, or Yitro, in Hebrew), comes to visit Moses in the Wilderness, and brings Moses' wife Zipporah, and their sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Gershom was the child who was circumcised during the "Bridegroom of Blood" incident. Jethro finds that Moses is swamped with work judging various complaints among the Children of Israel. The Torah tells us that around 600,000 adult men were in the Wilderness with Moses. Considering that they had mothers, wives, daughters and sons, we can estimate that a crowd of roughly two million people were in the camp being led by Moses and Aaron. Moses was the only lawgiver, executive, or magistrate for this unhappy and unruly mob. That meant that he had to do nothing but listen to cases brought before him from dawn until dusk every day.

Jethro is described as a Priest of Midian, and also as a Sheikh of Midian. Jethro is clearly a successful leader himself. He sees the condition Moses finds himself in, and he is critical:

"And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves." [Exodus 18: 14-26].
Jethro understands that a good leader delegates authority to subordinates. He doesn't micromanage. He sustains an organizing structure, and trusts the people within his structure to manage their portions of authority, thereby making the whole of it to work to everyone's advantage. The tribes therefore become jurisdictional entities, each of which are comprised of groups of a thousand people, each of which are comprised of ten groups of a hundred people, each comprised of two groups of fifty, each of which are comprised of five groups of ten. Each group has a leader who is capable of handling issues within his group. If a group of ten could not resolve an issue, it went to the leader of the group of fifty, and from there, if necessary, to the group of a hundred, and from there, if necessary, to the group of a thousand, and from there, if necessary, to the tribal head, and from there, if necessary, to Moses, and if necessary, to God.

The Masonic lodge opens at the will and pleasure of the Worshipful Master. A Master is presumably a ritualist, dinner planner, head almoner, a second secretary, head ambassador, head of social activities, a second treasurer, candidate educator, and has many other duties besides. But a bad master does all of these things without delegating authority to others. Truth be told, the Tyler should be in charge of security, the Senior Steward should lead the Junior Steward in helping set up and clean up the meals, the Junior Deacon should be in charge of the candidates during degree work, and should assist the Tyler in matters of security, the Senior Deacon should be in charge of all the junior officers and their floor work, the Junior Warden should be organizing the meals and in charge of the Stewards, the Senior Warden should be in charge of all the officers below him in authority, and make sure the Junior Steward is taking care of the candidates, and should be in charge of candidate education, the Marshall should be in charge of all floor work and should also be in charge of  accommodating all visitors, the Secretary should be in charge of dues, lodge communications, minutes and balloting, the Treasurer should be in charge of lodge finances, and making sure the Secretary collects dues, the Ritualist should be in charge of all ritual done in the lodge and should have a hand in candidate education, and there should be a head of social activities, an almoner, a head of candidate education, a lodge ambassador, and the Worshipful Master should check in with everyone and make sure they are doing their jobs, and step in when necessary to make final decisions.

Without delegating authority, a lodge is sunk and the Master is miserable.

Similarly, a Grand Lodge has a Grand Master who is the absolute authority for his jurisdiction. But rather than rule by fiat and edicts, the Grand Master understands that lodges are pretty much autonomous entities, and that lodges will properly regulate the men within their lodges. Lodges will defend the West Gate by the use of thorough investigation of candidates and the black cube, and they will regulate the conduct of their men through the use of Masonic trial. The Grand Master delegates a number of District Deputy Grand Masters, each of whom, in Massachusetts, is responsible for roughly eight lodges. The Districts have secretaries, Lodges of Instruction, and various District Officers (I, for example, am the Service Officer for my district). If things get out of hand in a lodge, the District Deputy Grand Master can step in and exert his authority to set things right. Thus, in practice, the Grand Master cares about the Grand Lodge as a whole, and leaves the management of districts and lodges to men in whose authority he trusts. He cares about membership on the whole, but he also has a Membership Committee with a head in place, and trusts them to handle their jobs. He cares about finances, but trusts that the Grand Treasurer has things handled. He gives the Grand Secretary enormous leeway to decide things for himself, as well as a group of Grand Lecturers to handle ritual, a Service Committee to handle charities and the relief of poor and distressed Brothers, their widows and orphans. He has an Education Committee to handle how candidates should be educated, and trusts that through the District Lodges of Instruction, their work is being done.

Thus, every Grand Master would prefer that if an issue with a Brother or Brethren comes up, the lodge will handle it, and if that fails, the District will handle it. The Grand Master understands that different lodges will have different styles and attitudes, and understands that there is no need to delineate the work of any individual lodge or district officer by a general edict unless the entire Jurisdiction is seriously out of whack, which is very rare. He understands that the average mason only knows the dealings in his own lodge, and if the district intervenes too strongly in a mason's relationship with his lodge, or worse, if the Grand Lodge intervenes too strongly, that the rank-and-file mason will assume that something is seriously wrong with the entire Jurisdiction, or with the Fraternity as a whole. After all, the Craft is made up of men chosen for their strong moral character. We are not ordinary men. Of course some unsuitable men make it past the West Gate, but the Grand Master would rather have a lodge deal with such men than to get his District Deputy involved, or even worse, to get involved himself.

Anyone who reads Masonic blogs these days is aware that some Grand Lodges (although thankfully, not Massachusetts) have had incidents that show that not every Grand Master understands Jethro's lesson to Moses. When Grand Masters legislate their own bigotry by edict, when they throw good men out of the Fraternity without trial, when they feud with other Grand Lodges over petty issues, the whole Fraternity is threatened. This is a volunteer organization, and many otherwise good men will walk away from such nonsense (and rightly so) if they encounter it.

Moses afterwards only heard the cases beyond the ability of the heads of the tribes to solve. Moses was chosen by God and could ask God for clarification, but that didn't mean he had to listen to every petty dispute among two million people.

The Ten Commandments (or more literally, Ten Statements) appear twice in the Torah. In this Torah portion, they are set up with a very dramatic display on Mount Sinai. God warns Moses not to let anyone up on the mountain, or they will die. From the foot of the mountain, the whole congregation of the Children of Israel can see God's presence descend onto the mountain in a cloud. Moses ascends the mountain, and hears the voice of God. God makes ten statements, which are numbered differently in Judaism from the way they are numbered in Christianity.
  1. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. [Exodus 20: 1-17].
Christians regard the first statement as a preamble to the Ten Commandments, and they split the tenth into two commandments. The sixth commandment might be better translated as "Thou shalt not murder", since the Torah allows for killing in war, and for capital punishment. The Talmud argues whether or not the eighth commandment refers specifically to stealing humans, or kidnapping. The Talmud punishes the false witness with the punishment for the crime for which the defendant is charged. Thus in a capital case, the false witness, if discovered, would face the same death penalty.

When this portion is chanted, there is a different trope, or cantillation, for the Ten Statements than would ordinarily be used for these verses. The whole congregation stands and recites along. It is very impressive.

In this version of the fourth commandment, we are commanded to remember (זָכוֹר, or zachor) the Sabbath day. In the version in Deuteronomy, we are commanded to keep (שָׁמוֹר, or shamor) the Sabbath day. Shamor might be better translated in modern English as guard, or observe. The Kabbalists believed that the change of verb was deliberate, and that God commands us to do both; that human language allows for one verb in a sentence, but that God intends us to juxtapose the two verbs into one action. Thus, in the beautiful liturgical love song to God, לכה דודי (Lekha Dodi, or "Come, My Beloved"), the first verse goes as follows:

"Observe" and "recall" in a single utterance,Shamor v'zakhor b'dibur eḥadשמור וזכור בדבור אחד

We were made to hear by the unified God,hishmiʿanu El hameyuḥadהשמיענו אל המיחד

God is one and God’s Name is one,Adonai eḥad ushemo eḥadיי אחד ושמו אחד

In fame and splendor and praiseful song.L'Sheim ulitiferet v'lit'hilahלשם ולתפארת ולתהלה
This song is sung during Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night sabbath services, and it is very lovely. The Sabbath is personified as a bride, and the song sings about rushing forth to the bride's home to escort her to the wedding, where she will be married to God, with all of the Children of Israel as guests at the wedding. The poem describes the consummation of the wedding in fairly explicit language, saying that God will love the Sabbath bride as a groom makes love to his bride (כמשוש חתן על כלה, or Kimsos ḥatan ʿal kalah). This sort of sexualized theophany appears in the poetry of St. John of the Cross, and John Donne, and in much Sufi poetry of Rumi as well, but it is dangerous theologically, and hence not usually mainstream. In many prayerbooks, the language is bowlderized to "as a groom rejoices in his bride", but the Hebrew language is clear.

The people hear the commandments from the foot of Mount Sinai, and they are terrified. They beg Moses to intercede with God on their behalf, but are afraid to death of interacting with God themselves. They beg Moses to insist that God never speak directly to them again. In this is the plight of the Prophet. The average person would rather die than speak to God directly, to even to hear God's voice speak to them directly. The mystic feels otherwise, yearning for God's voice, and willing to risk death to hear it.

Thus alone Moses entered the mists within which God's presence dwelt on the mountain. Each mystic who wishes to behold God must enter the mists, where his senses will fail him, and do so completely alone. That is why the candidate in the EA degree knocks on the West Gate by himself, of his own free will and accord. That is how momentous those three distinct knocks should be for the candidate, as if he were entering the mists on the summit of Mount Sinai.

Nobody has ever said that the Jewish people lack a sense of humor. The Torah portion ends with God telling Moses that if he, or the Priests, enter the stone altar at the Temple, to use a ramp instead of steps, because if they are not wearing underwear, they may accidentally flash God when they lift their knee to step up each step. Seriously, that's the last commandment in this week's Torah portion.

1 comment:

  1. Hebrew is a somewhat earthier language than English. There's no obvious translation for the English word husband, and except for "man" (or "master", which is worse). Israeli feminists have been trying to come up with a modern expression that denotes "husband" without any implied power dynamic.

    My grasp of Modern Hebrew is not exceptional, but I've heard from a fluent Hebrew speaker that the next most appropriate word translates as "the man who has sex with me", which is probably more accurate than husband, if not more discreet.