The Shrewd Way to Harness Your Passion

3 minutes to read

Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Yisro - Exodus 18:1-20:23

When I was a kid I once ate an entire bag of Mother’s Frosted Cookies. You know the circus animal cookies with pink and white coatings and multicolored sprinkles? I was a FANATIC for those cookies. But to this day the sight of them makes me sick to my stomach. Fortunately, Parshas Yisro showed me the way to curb my fanaticism:

“You will surely become weary, also you, also this people that is with you.” (Shemos/Exodus 18:18)

How to Be Enthusiastic But Not Fanatic

In this Sabbath’s parsha Moses reunites with his father-in-law. Yisro or Jethro, a Midianite priest, had heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Israelites. Jethro outlines a leadership plan that Moses adopts. His reward? He gets a parsha named after him - the Biblical equivalent of appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

After Jethro departs, the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. They accept the Torah and prepare themselves to receive a message from the Almighty. The entire people heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but couldn’t comprehend them. So G-d repeated them. But after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and teach them the other eight.

Distinguishing Passion from Obsession

Jethro meets Moses in the wilderness. He sees his son-in-law teaching and judging the Children of Israel all day long. Jethro becomes concerned Moses will wear himself out. Perhaps in your mind’s ear, you can hear the proverbial Yiddishe mama worrying about her boy’s health. But a Yiddishe father-in-law?

Moses was very idealistic. He went to extraordinary lengths to care for his people. I suppose if you must have an obsession, this one is better than frosted cookies. But at times he was fanatic. Nothing else seemed to matter.

Before the exodus, Moses neglected to circumcise his son. His wife saved his life by fulfilling this obligation for him. Later, his sister questions his withholding conjugal relations from his wife. It turns out he acted properly. But a word of explanation might have saved his sister from a painful bout of tzaraas.

Great though Moses was, he couldn't the need to share his burden. Along comes Jethro who believed in and worshiped G-d. He renounced a high position to pursue a life dedicated to serving the Almighty. Their values aligned. But Jethro had perspective. And like any devoted father, he worried about his daughter. If Moses didn’t ease up a bit, would he burn out? Where would that leave his wife and children?

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Despite Moses’s greatness, his sons do not achieve anything of note. Would a less fanatic father have meant more successful sons?

Use Passion to Be Enthusiastic Not Fanatic

Life can get out of balance when you’re too focused on your goal. Don’t get me wrong. If you want a high paying job or a successful business you must pursue it. But that doesn’t mean you should give it all your attention. To make $100,000 a year, yet be overweight, divorced, and estranged from your children, is no victory.

Finding the balance point between enthusiastic pursuit of your goal and fanaticism will challenge you. It’s hard to see your life objectively. Ask your spouse or close friend to help you broaden your perspective.

But let’s be honest. Sometimes a spouse may sabotage your success. She may be uncomfortable with the risks you have to take. Or he may be afraid if you become successful you’ll end up leaving him behind.  A friend may feel the same way. And he could be jealous you’ll become more successful than him.

In spite of these pitfalls, seek the counsel of your spouse or close friend. If you feel their advice will hold you back, explore the motivation behind it. Are you blind to their genuine concerns? Or have they advised you out of fear or jealousy. Open, honest communication will improve your relationship and make your success more likely.

Moses and Jethro modeled productive interaction. Each had tremendous respect and love for the other. They communicated openly. Between them, Moses got a better plan for himself, his family, and the Israelites.

It’s easy to be a fanatic. Pursuing your goal can consume you. So you’ll meet your objective, but at what cost? Rather, check in with your spouse and trusted friend on a regular basis. Ask them to assess whether your passion is enthusiastic or fanatic. Let them help you keep your life in balance.

Question – Who provides you with the input to keep your life balanced?

You can leave a comment on this question or ask another question below


Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. It is named after the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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