Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Good to Great D'var Torah

This is the d'var torah on Apr. 3rd. I'll be delivering it at the Hashkama minyan (the 7am one) and it'll differ probably in delivery since I will probably ad-lib more, but you'll get the idea.

It's for a uniquely Jewish/business-minded crowd (and of course a few Rabbis).

The students of business among you may be familiar with an author by the name of Jim Collins. Best known perhaps for his book, Built to Last, his most recent best-seller is entitled “Good to Great,” where he describes the characteristics that enable competent companies to make the transition to superior companies.

This week’s Parsha, Tzav, illustrates some of these characteristics. For example, you need
· Level 5 leadership (a selfless persona devoted to the long-term success of the company more than to his own ego),
· to have the “right people on the bus” and the “wrong people off the bus”
· and a culture of disciplined thought and action.

It’s easy to dismiss Parsha Tzav as tedious. Trust me, I know. 18 years ago today, I delivered the obligatory Bar Mitzvah d’var Torah on it. Perhaps that’s why I chose to focus on the lone shalshelet outside of Breishit for my topic.

I mean, what difference does it really make if we put a drop of blood on the right toe of the kohen, what part of the bull can be eaten, what the appropriate amount for a meal offering is, or that if a vessel of clay become impure we must break it, but if it is brass, we must only scour it completely?

These are nice, but are they really relevant? Unfortunately, for those of you craving cholent and scotch right about now, they are.

The operative word in this parsha is Tzav, literally “command.” Rashi suggests that the imperative form of the verb creates a sense of urgency and immediacy. He comments that Tzav implies “zerizut miyad & l'dorot,” meaning do something eagerly, do it immediately AND do it for future generations.

The corporate sponsor for this week should be Nike, “Just do it!”

Even if you don't think it's relevant, you should do it, besides the change now is easier than the change that will be required later. I call this my “Iceberg Theory of Change.”

A few years ago, I saw a documentary about oil rigs in the North Atlantic. The biggest enemy of oil rigs are icebergs. In a confrontation between the two, the iceberg is going to win. So, oil rigs have an elaborate anti-iceberg defense mechanism that involves radars and tugboats. Once they detect an iceberg coming, they send out a tugboat interceptor, which has three options. One is to try and blow the iceberg to smithereens. The other two (literally lassoing the iceberg or throwing the engines in reverse in front of the iceberg to create wake) are designed to alter the course of the iceberg by a miniscule amount. However, at a distance of 300 miles, a deviation of a few degrees or so will make the iceberg miss the rig by 200 miles or something ridiculous like that (the mathematicians out there can give you the exact numbers, but you get the idea.)

So, what’s the point? Well, the sooner you see the need for change and the sooner you make the change, the easier it is going to be. It’s easier to change the course of an iceberg by 1 degree than 30 degrees, which is what you’d need to do as it gets closer to you.

Rashi’s point is that your actions now are going to, in large part, determine your actions in the future. There’s no point in saying “I’ll keep shabbos when I get married” or “ I’ll daven every day when I have kids who are old enough to understand.” If you attach value to it, you should start doing it now.

The details of the process are what sanctify the end result.

Judaism does a great job of infusing the mundane with the sacred by making each step unique and holy and thus making the entire process, not just the end result holy.

In Tzav, we see that you just can’t get up and decide that you will make a sacrifice. In Good to Great, Jim Collins shows us how you just can’t “poof” become a Great company. Similarly, you can’t just show up at a Seder and expect to fulfill the mitzvah of “Higadta Le Vincha.” I would submit that your ability to wholly fulfill this mitzvah is pre-conditioned on the degree of your engagement in the discipline of it all that is required to prepare for the Seder/Chag and in your ability/conscious choice to revel in it.

Why? If you just show up at a seder, it’s a meal like any other meal. Your children are supposed to ask you “Mah Nistahna?” but with no real reason to ask this question, they are just meeting expectations. If, however, they see the joyous effort that goes into the preparation and the opportunity to meaningfully engage in work where others simply bemoan it, there’s a better chance that they will AUTHENTICALLY wonder “hey, what’s going on here? Why am I schlepping all of these dishes? Something is different and I’d like to know what.” Or, as I’d prefer to quote that 80’s classic Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, “strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”

The mitzvah of Vehigadta leVincha requires this genuine discourse and its fulfillment is in line with the trait described by Collins of having a greater commitment to the success of the organization than the self. Perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that despite all of the bad news about Jewish continuity, 92% of American Jews attend at least one seder (that’s more than go to shul on Yom Kippur) and this attendance with its concurrent obligation for everyone to participate either as a speaker or a listener in the Vhigadeta LeVincha mitzvah (it’s almost like a board meeting on a national level) means that most of us are committed to the long-term success of the organization.

And perhaps that is why we come down so harshly on the Rasha. In Collins’ words, he is a wrong person and we need to get him off the bus.

In essence, you’re doing this Mitzvah for the team and, not directly profiting, the same way that the Kohen in this week’s parsha may not benefit from the Olah, the burnt offering.

This whole process of focusing on the details…of preparing the sacrifices, preparing for Pesach, or building enduring companies gives us an opportunity to emulate G-d.

Think back to Bereishit.

First, G-d focuses on the details of each day, which he describes as “Tov,” Good. Then, at the end of the week, when all is done and Shabbat is upon Him, he says “tov meod,” essentially Great. This is the first of Hashem's own Good 2 Great transitions and culminates in what many scholars call the 1st shabbat hagadol.

The other Shabbat HaGadol is, of course, today. My personal favorite explanation for why today has that name is that people returned later from shul on that day because of the unusually long discourse that was customary on that day (perhaps even at the Hashkama minyan!). I was going to use that as an excuse to keep going, but the first rule of speaking is “know your audience,” so I’ll wrap it up.

Collins points out that the Good to Great transition is an ongoing process, not a one-time event, and it’s a state of mind which must be frequently revisited. Pesach represents an opportunity to re-evaluate what we as a people need to do in order to continue b’chol dor va dor, in every generation, to make that leap from Good to Great.

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

This is campaigning in the digital age. Very impressive use of technology and an issue that is personal and relevant. Educates me on the facts and builds loyalty. Nicely done.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

It's hard to believe that Tamar has been my wife for three years. Today is our anniversary and though it's clear that the nature of love and life changes dramatically and in many ways so does our relationship, I feel blessed to say that I still am in love with my wife. With Calanit in the picture, it's a different, perhaps more meaningful, mature love. We celebrated in our typical fashion. We each got each other a card (she beat me to the punch by putting her card for me on top of the bag in which I had hidden the ones I got for her-unbeknownst to her) in the morning and then the three of us went out to the Vegetable Garden for dinner. Then, she went dancing and I brought "the Pooka" (as Calanit is now known) home.

Today was also the District meeting at Microsoft and we had an interesting team-building exercise that involved a scavenger hunt. I won't go into details, but the most valuable thing I learned today is one thing I've been continually working on...I need to improve my listening skills and truly seek first to understand and then be understood. I'm not there yet, that's for sure.

All in all, it's been a good week, with some nice accomplishments; some ups, some downs, but one of growth nonetheless.

This shabbat, we're off to Baltimore for a visit with the Moskowitz family.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

"The knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us.
IT is so easy to waste our lives : our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking. So many of us changed our lives when we heard a biological clock and dedided to have kids. But that sounds is murmur compared to the tolling of morality." (A Short Guide to a Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen)

I read this quote last night after an emotional session of welcoming the Shabbat (sabbath) while singing, praying, and holding my 3 month-old daughter, Calanit, in my hands. It is absolutely amazing how much perspective you gain on life with a child. Quindlen's quote is right on. Now, when I'm driving or walking or anything, I think much more about how unexpected things could happen and I may never see my family again. I was in NYC on 9/11 and watched the 2nd Tower fall, but the recent bombing in Madrid really impacted me. Here were regular people just going to work, the way that I do everyday, expecting to see their families that evening and then...poof, they're gone. Being so close to the situation in Israel, you'd think I would have felt this sooner, but I don't know, I guess after 3 months, I'm getting used to the idea of being a father and maybe beyond that, getting used to having "the Pooka" (as she is known-for no reason whatsoever) around. The idea that I may never see her pains me. It's not that I'm morbid about it or that I stress about it, it just makes me appreciate every moment more.

There are times, of course, when I lose perspective on things, but I'm definitely learning to stop and smell the roses more. There are other ramifications about this, of course, but we'll save that for another time.

I've had this blog for 2 years, but never really concentrated on doing it with any regularity. Now, however, I'm thinking there's a possibility that this blog could be therapeutic for me. During my travels in Asia/Europe, I wrote a lot--had more time and less responsibility perhaps, and it helped me clarify my thoughts. I am hoping that this blogging will do some of the same. We'll see. Figure 5-10 minutes every couple o' days.

Books I'm currently reading:
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Why Not? by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres
Leading the Revolution by Gary Hamel
Helping Clients Succeed by Mahan Khalsa

Heavy on the business side, but it's seasonal for me. This is just high tide. In the car, I'm listening to:
Managing in a Time of Great Change by Peter Drucker