Once there was a tiny, absolutely helpless baby who was all alone. He couldn't feed or clothe himself. He could hardly move. Left on his own, it seemed impossible for him to survive for even one day. Yet he did! How did he ever make it?
This baby was very fortunate. As out of nowhere, certain people came along and voluntarily agreed to take on the enormous expense and responsibility of providing for his every need. They took him into their home, bought him plenty of food and clothing, and even changed his dirty diapers. They spent many long and sleepless nights watching after him when he didn't feel well. They loved him and worked hard to teach him everything he needed to know to grow up and lead a good and successful life. It was a difficult task for a single person or two people to teach the baby everything that he needed to have a balanced education. The wonderful people taking care of the baby, now a big kid, sent him to school. They needed other people to share in the task of making sure he would become a competent adult. Now that the big kid was in school, the people providing for him had to have jobs to pay for his education and other needs, which meant sometimes the big kid had to rely on a babysitter after school.
When the child was grown up, he realized what these amazing people had done; he felt a tremendous sense of gratitude. He would always treat them with the utmost respect and do whatever he could to please them. He felt that it was the least that he could do. Sometimes, the child did not like his teachers, or did not want to be with his babysitter. He wished he could rely completely on the people who had taken him home from the hospital when he was a baby. Sometimes, in his frustrations, he lost sight of the importance of the roles in his life, or the sacrifices others were making to aid him in his journey toward adulthood. But in the end, as a grown up, he understood that teachers and babysitters had enriched his life, too, and that the special people who took care of him throughout his whole life wouldn’t have chosen incapable chaperones for him. Eventually, when it came time for him to take care of a baby who grew to be a child, he even realized all the reasons why one person or few people alone simply cannot do EVERYTHING. It takes a village, as they say.
In truth, each of us is that baby, that big kid, that grown up. And those special, wonderful people are our parents. In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Moses’ father-in-law suggests that Moses appoints judges or chieftains to help him take care of all the Israelites. Of course, each individual person would rather ask Moses than anyone for advice on how to live correctly. Only Moses is so close to G-d! But they must understand that Moses alone cannot take care of all of them. Sometimes it is necessary to delegate responsibility. It also made things easier for the Israelites, making help more accessible. Besides, sometimes it’s helpful to get be able to get advice from more than one source. Our teachers and babysitters and other authority figures sometimes fill this role. They’re not our parents. We’d rather hear get the advice from, spend the time with, our parents. But they are good, smart people. If they weren’t, Moses wouldn’t have appointed them to help guide the people of Israel, your parents wouldn’t have sent you to learn from them or allowed them to take care of you.
Later in the parsha, G-d presents the Jewish people with the Torah, including the Ten Commandments. One of these ten things that G-d chose to especially emphasize was to remind us to appreciate and honor our parents. It's the least we can do. But we should remember to also appreciate and honor all of the adults who enrich our lives, just as the Israelites respected the chieftains. When teachers assign a lot of homework, remember that it is to give you more opportunities to learn. When babysitters monitor TV or internet use, remember it’s to ensure you don’t stumble upon something your parents wouldn’t want you to see. May you all learn and remember to show respect for all who deserve it.