Asking for help does not come naturally to me. I’ve always been independent to the point of stubbornness. And that worked for me…until I became a mom. Now, ohmygosh, I need help constantly. And little by little, I’m learning how to ask for it.
I know you’re dying to know how this connects to this week’s Torah portion, and I promise it will, but first a personal litany of top five motherly vulnerabilities:
1. Diapering technique. It all started when a hospital nurse showed me how to diaper my brand new baby. I watched her expertly fasten the tiny disposable diaper, thinking, how the hell did I get through 35 years without learning this? It seemed like the most basic skill in the world, but also entirely mysterious. Even after my hospital lesson, it took me two weeks to remember which side went in the back.
2. Post-partum help. For two weeks after Sylvie’s birth, my mom stayed in our tiny apartment to help us out, sleeping on our couch and sharing our one bathroom. (Yes, she is amazing.) For the first week, I couldn’t bend over because of my c-section incision, so my mom had to help me put on my underwear. That was humbling enough. By the end of week two, I was slowly healing, but when it was time for my mom to leave, I surprised myself by losing it. I still needed her help. I probably hadn’t cried and begged her not to leave since I was 4 years old. This was not exactly how I’d expected to start off my new life as a mother.
3. Professional help. A month later, we moved across the country with our little baby. Despite the warm welcome of my husband’s friends, I missed my old life terribly. That, plus the financial pressure of moving and looking for work, plus whatever hormonal stuff was going on, was simply too much for me to handle without outside help. It took me six months of googling “postpartum depression” to pick up the phone and call the local hotline and find help. I wish I’d done it earlier.
4. Child care. Because my aforementioned amazing mother stayed home with us when I was growing up, I had a hard time admitting I wasn’t cut out to do the same. And as a couple of freelancers without the structure of an office job, it was all too easy to try to have it both ways. It was hard to admit that we needed to find and pay someone to help care for our daughter, more than a few hours a week. That hiring someone to watch my beloved daughter could actually make me a happier person, and a better mother to her.
5. Marriage. Asking my husband for more help was the messiest of all. Since becoming a mother, I suddenly desperately needed all kinds of support I hadn’t even wanted before. Sadly, I cannot say I was able to gracefully express this need. Rather, a fiery outpouring of Biblical proportions erupted from my mouth every other night. Definitely not the best way to go about things, but we worked through it. And along the way I learned that he needed my help, too (first priority: learning to tame the fiery outpouring).
So what does this all have to do with this week’s Torah portion, Yitro? Well, the most famous moment this week is God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. But right before that is another, less sexy, but equally important moment: Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, teaches him how to delegate. In other words, how to ask for help.
Yitro notices Moses struggling to deal with the issues people bring him from morning to night, and asks, “Why do you act alone?” Moses explains that the people need him to settle their disputes, but Yitro pushes back: “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”
He tells Moses to find trustworthy people and assign them to rule over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. That way, the really hard problems can still get brought to Moses, but he won’t have to stand there all day long.
And this is how a sustainable judicial system gets created, so that Moses has time to do other things, like… receive the Ten Commandments. Is it a coincidence this is the next thing that happens? Moses could never have ascended Mount Sinai if he were still stuck down in the desert from morning to night, judging everyone’s disputes. Maybe he just didn’t have time before; or maybe he wasn’t ready to receive the Ten Commandments until he was ready to admit his limitations and step back from the fantasy of total control.
“The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”
I love these words. Moses assumes that as the leader of the Israelites, he’s supposed to handle their problems alone. But Yitro teaches him a lesson. That asking for help is not selfish. It is not weak. It does not make you less of a leader or a mother. Quite the opposite.
It’s the only way to make space for truly sacred moments.
To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.