Playing with Your Edge: Jethro's Sustainable Approach to Justice

“Playing with your edge”: I first heard this phrase while reaching my hands towards my toes. The words inspired me to stretch a bit deeper, by viewing the discomfort with a new lens. Approaching the most serious aspect of our lives, “our edge,” with a lightness and curiosity, can allow us to achieve that which would seem impossible in a more rigid framework. Whatever we’re stretching towards, we can look towards Jethro for inspiration.
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, joins the Jewish people in this week’s Torah portion. He is a man who has played with his edge abundantly, which is what gives him the knowledge to be able to say, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods” (italics added, Exodus, 18:11). Our tradition teaches that Jethro studied all the religions, and his joining the Jewish people is what made them ready to receive the Torah. What had Jethro learned in playing with his edge?
Jethro sees Moses sitting while judging the people who stand around him. Jethro sees that this is difficult for the people and Moses alike, and advises Moses to stand up while he judges and appoint a hierarchy of judges below him. What makes these pieces of advise profound, and what do they have to do with each other?
Standing up is important. We can judge all day long from our seats, feeling disconnected from what we are judging. When we judge while sitting down, our minds our engaged, but our bodies are not. The position of sitting encourages passive engagement.
When we are standing, however, our whole self is engaged in the action. We have a personal stake, not only in the truthful resolution of the conflict, but also the efficient resolution, so that all parties can sit down in peace.
Sometimes we get so comfortable in our seats that we don’t want to get up. There may be suffering happening around us, but we don’t feel it. It is only if the injustice of the world compels us to stand that we will have a personal stake in ending it. If we have the privilege to remain sitting, we may never develop that personal stake until it is too late.
Standing up may not be comfortable. Playing with your edge never is. However, it is important, because it’s what gives us the strength to go beyond ourselves and help others.
On the other hand, we cannot stand alone. We need a community to support us in our quest for justice. Moses cannot judge alone, because it is too heavy a burden. Neither should we feel we must fight alone. We all need support, and our justice work can only be sustainable if we are building relationships with others who will stand with us.
Jethro’s advice to Moses, that he should stand with other judges, is a powerful reminder for us of the importance of pushing our limits, while doing so with support from others. This Shabbas, may we all have strength to stand up, allies to stand with us, and a playful spirit that pushes us from one edge to the next.

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