Watching Moshe (Moses) judge the Jews from morning to night, Yitro (Jethro), Moshe’s father-in-law, offers sound advice. He tells Moshe that if you continue trying to judge everyone, you surely will wear away-it is too difficult a task. Yitro suggests that Moshe appoint other judges, who will share the burden.
In advising Moshe to share judicial responsibility, Yitro insists that lower courts handle less important matters, and matters of greater magnitude would go to Moshe. “And it shall be,” Yitro concludes, “that every major (gadol) matter they shall bring to you, but every minor (katan) matter they shall judge themselves.” (Exodus 18:22)
Moshe listens to Yitro’s advice with one deflection. Rather than dealing exclusively with major matters, Moshe tells Yitro that he will judge the most difficult (kasheh) cases. (Exodus 18:28).
Hatam Sofer notes that Yitro uses the term gadol because he believes that only the more important people, only the large “tycoon” type companies should be judged by Moshe. The less important people, the small corporations, regardless of the complexity of the judicial issue, would automatically come before the lower courts.
Moshe rejects this division insisting that he would deal with the complex questions, no matter where they come from-the lower courts would handle the easier questions, no matter their origin.
Here the Torah accentuates the importance of every individual problem. No matter how low one is seen by society, his or her problem is of great importance. For this reason, depending upon the complexity of the question, every person can potentially come before Moshe.
It is ironic that Moshe teaches his father-in-law this particular lesson. According to some commentators, Yitro converts to Judaism. (See Ramban, Numbers 10:29) Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the convert to be treated as a secondary citizen. Moshe informs Yitro that no one’s claims would be overlooked, everyone, including Yitro, is given equal attention.
An important message surfaces: The test of a community, is not the way it treats the most powerful. Rather it is the way it treats the little people, those whose problems, on the surface, seem to be insignificant.
As much as Yitro teaches Moshe by proposing the division of judicial responsibilities between higher and lower courts, Moshe teaches Yitro that even the lowly, even those who seem to be insignificant, are entitled to supreme consideration.