D’var Torah by Rabbi Josef Davidson: A better approach to service 


Rabbi Josef Davidson

The United States’ economy is currently oriented toward service. Employment opportunities abound in the service industries such as food service, hospitality service, call center service, repair services and delivery service, to name a few. As consumers in a service economy, we have grown to expect excellent service, whether that is in booking vacations, ordering dinner, purchasing products online, or speaking to a customer service representative. 

Nothing is more annoying than hearing the words, “Please stay on the line. All of our representatives are serving other customers. Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line.” This is usually followed by music that used to be played in elevators until the recording breaks in and reminds us how important our call is to the representatives currently serving other customers.

In a desperate hope that we can forgo speaking to a real representative, we often resort to using our computer, tablet, or mobile phone to navigate to the desired company’s website in order to obtain the service required. No instant gratification there! Rather most websites take us on a route that is so convoluted as to wear out even the most patient person. Too often in this service-oriented economy the pursuit of service can seem futile.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, named for Moses’ father-in-law, it was just such a situation which Yitro, observed as people waited in line for hours, even days, to obtain an audience with Moses in order to learn what it is that was expected of them or to settle a dispute. There wasn’t even a recording or anything to let them know that their issue was important to Moses and to stay in the line until he was available. He was busy all day taking care of other people. 

Yitro, as would any father-in-law, gave Moses some advice. He observed how tiring and frustrating this process was for both Moses and the people whom he served. He then suggested a better way to provide for them. He suggested that Moses train others to serve along with him, to adjudicate cases that lesser leaders could handle, and leave the most difficult ones for Moses. This would reduce greatly the time spent waiting in line and free Moses to take care of other personal and public responsibilities. What a great idea! Moses followed his father-in-law’s advice. The lines were shortened; the services provided sooner, and everyone was happier.

There are many of us who take on too much, whether that is at home or at work. For some reason we believe that we have to do it all and that we don’t require any assistance whatsoever. For some it is a matter of believing that no one else is as capable. For others, it is a matter of simply not being able to say “no.” For still others, it is a scheduling issue (Surely I can fit one more project into my calendar!). 

Consequently, studies have demonstrated that Americans are not sleeping enough hours per night to adequately replenish their energy and their brains. This further decreases the quality of the service that can be rendered. Then, people are forced to hear, “Your call/visit is very important to us. Please stay on the line, as our sole representative is serving someone else.” 

Yitro’s advice is still as important and as true now as it was then. Often we can be more productive by seeking the help of others than by doing everything ourselves. In so doing everyone, providers and consumers, is better served. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Josef Davidson serves Congregation B’nai Amoona and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.