The arrival of Yitro in the camp of Bnai Yisrael is a bright spot in Moshe’s otherwise challenging day. The leader of the new nation had an extremely difficult job: he had to mediate disputes among the population, keep them happy, and prepare them for receiving the Torah. Yitro brought Moshe’s wife and children, about whom Moshe had worried. Yitro told Bnai Yisrael that their fame had spread at least as far as Midyan, and he had come to see how they were doing.
Once Yitro saw how Moshe was solving the difficulties of Bnai Yisrael, however, he was overcome with sympathy for Moshe; the leader sat all day and all night mediating disputes and answering the questions of millions of people. Yitro suggested a more efficient method of mediation: Moshe should appoint a hierarchy of judges, with himself at its head, to ease the burden on himself. Moshe related the solution to Hashem, Who approved of Yitro’s plan.
The question is clear: didn’t Hashem notice Moshe’s problem? How could He have expected this reluctant leader to bear a burden so great?
The answer is twofold. The first part involves Hashem’s sensitivity to Moshe’s feelings: At this early point in his career, Moshe was still nervous about his position as leader of Bnai Yisrael. This is evidenced by his reluctance to go through with Yitro’s plan without Hashem’s approval – Moshe was nervous about giving responsibility to people who, until recently, were slaves. If Hashem had suggested this Himself, Moshe might have understood the suggestion as a lack of faith in his abilities.
The other answer involves Yitro’s own initiative: When Yitro arrived in the camp, he was an outsider. He had not been with the rest of Bnai Yisrael during the plagues or the splitting of the sea, experiences that bonded Bnai Yisrael together into one whole. In fact, Yitro’s discomfort with the close-knit tribal structure (of which Yitro, like all converts, was not a part) is evidenced by his intentions to depart in Parshat Beha’alotcha (see Bemidbar Sinai 10:29-32). Also, as with all converts, Yitro’s home was outside the camp, making it difficult to bond with the rest of Bnai Yisrael even if his status as a convert could be overcome. It was therefore important for Yitro to show Bnai Yisrael that even an outsider has something valuable to contribute – Hashem Himself said his was a good idea. Yitro, as the ultimate גר צדק, was the living example of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot: “Who is wise? He who can learn from everyone.”