Sometimes you are listening to a shiur or lecture and suddenly many things become clear.
I had that experience last night at the Student Bet Midrash. For those of you who don’t know, the Student Bet Midrash is a creation of Mizrachi, Bnei Akiva and the United Synagogue to provide a learning environment for our young people. Every Thursday night at Kinloss the Deal Hall is full of 70 or so students learning in chavrutot and then after a brief break for dinner, they gather for a keynote shiur or talk from prominent members of the community.
Last night we heard from Dan Sacker who shared with us insights from Rabbi Sacks about leadership and life. One of the thinkers he used to illustrate important points was Simon Sinek, the author of the bestselling book ‘Start with why’.
He showed us a clip from his famous Ted talk when he explains his idea of Start with why and how businesses are successful.
He says ‘A few years ago I discovered something that changed my life, a pattern that I found in all the great leaders (individuals and companies). They all think in the same way, and it’s the opposite of everybody else. It’s probably the world’s simplest idea (all I did was codify it). I call it the “Golden Circle”. There is “Why” – in the centre, surrounded by “How”, surrounded by a larger circle, “What”.
It explains why some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t.
Everybody knows “what” they do 100%. Some know how they do it. But very very few people or organizations know WHY they do it. And I don’t mean to make a profit, that’s the result. It’s the “why”, why do you do it? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should people care?
Inspired organizations and people all think, act, and communicate from the inside out. Start with the why. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’.
The problem is we have fallen into the same problem when it comes to Judaism. So many of our education systems have been geared to teaching the what and the how of Judaism but not the why. It means that people never engage as they are never inspired to, or even those who are observant are just going through the motions with no sense of passion or meaning in their actions.
In one of my first drashot at Stanmore in 2000 I said the following:
‘The problem we face today is how to transmit Judaism in a way that the younger generation can understand. Yes, this generation is living in a time of unprecedented freedom but it is also a generation that is practicing freedom from Judaism.
There is a triumph and a tragedy in today’s generation. The tragedy is obvious – that need not be spelt out. The triumph however I think is overlooked and it is something I have seen countless times over the years whilst involved with Jewish students.
The triumph is this. My parents’ generation were the ‘what’ generation – knowing what a Jew must do. A Jew must go to shul Rosh Hashanah, a Jew must fast on Yom Kippur, a Jew must marry another Jew.
Today’s generation is the ‘why’ generation, and herein lies both the tragedy and the triumph. “Why should I go to shul Rosh Hashanah, why fast Yom Kippur, why marry Jewish – I’m not going to do that just because that was what my parents and grandparents did. Show me why?”
We must give them the why, and you know what – when we do – more often than not they will become more interested, more committed and more involved in their Judaism than we can possibly dream of – give them the why.’
So let’s examine the greatest educator ever – Hashem – and learn from how He instructs us.
This week Parshat Vayakhel contains two of the most seminal ideas in Torah. The Mishkan – kedusha in space and Shabbat – kedusha in time.
We know that our shuls are termed a Mikdash Me’at – a miniature Temple and therefore the timing of Shabbat UK for Shabbat Vayakhel is quite perfect.
The Mishkan is a massive project full of “what” and “how”. However, look back in Teruma (25:9) as Hashem introduced the project to us. Initially he does not detail what is needed to build the Mishkan, or explain to us how it is going to be built – He simply tells us five words – ‘Asu li mikdash v shachanti b tocham’ build for me a Mikdash so that I may dwell among them.
He starts with the why, the whole idea of the Mishkan is to build a relationship between all of us and Hashem- that is the reason for the Mishkan, that is what we need to understand first, to internalise. The next 200 or so pesukim detail the how and the what, which of course we need to know – but all fuelled by the why.
Then we come to Shabbat, there are hundreds of halachot. Yet how does Hashem introduce the concept to us – this time also with five words – ‘Zachor/Shamor et yom Hashabat l kadsho’ (Shemot 20:8). Remember/Keep Shabbat to sanctify it – it’s about kedusha, connection to Hashem, that is why we keep Shabbat.
What do we have to do on Shabbat? How do we remember or keep Shabbat? That will come, but start with the why – why are you keeping Shabbat? To sanctify it, to create that connection to Hashem who created the world and rested on the seventh day and sanctified it.
In the seminal song to bring in Shabbat – Lecha Dodi we even see this concept in terms of Hashem Himself creating the world.
In the song, we explain Shabbat as ‘Sof Maaseh B’Machshava Tehilla’ – Last in deed, first in thought. The idea behind this, is that Shabbat may have been the final act of creation but it was primary in Hashem’s purpose. I.e. before Hashem performed the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the universe, He already had in mind the ‘why’ – Shabbat and Kedusha – He started with the why!
As Rabbis, teachers, parents or madrichim we must realise that for Torah to flourish we must inspire people with the why.
I will finish with an apocryphal story I read from Rav Weinberger as part of his wider excellent essay ‘All that is missing is the soul’ which deals with a lot of these areas.
Years ago in London, a poetry recital was taking place in a large auditorium. The finalists in the competition were given one last poem to recite – the twenty third Psalm. The obvious winner was a young gentleman whose rendition of the Psalm was perfect. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… He restores my soul… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The audience responded with thunderous applause.
Suddenly, an elderly, Eastern European Jew called out, “Judges! Would it be alright if I had a chance to say the Psalm?” The judges were amused and invited him up to the stage. In his heavy accent, the gentleman made his way through the kapitel (chapter). A reverent hush fell over the crowd, and many people were moved to tears. The winner received his prize but followed the old man out to the street. “Rabbi, you know that you really deserve the prize.” “Not at all,” he responded. “I wasn’t competing. You did a fine job and it belongs to you.” The young man continued: “But rabbi, perhaps you could explain to me why it is that when I concluded the Psalm the audience cheered, but when you concluded many people were crying?” The alter Yid replied: “The difference between you and me is that I know the Shepherd.”
The Shepherd is calling, he has been calling us since the dawn of time to cleave to Him and live lives of kedusha – holiness. HOW we do that is through halachic observance WHAT that is made up of is thousands of laws and customs but what it driving everything is an understanding of the reason of WHY we do what we do.
Shabbat Shalom P.S I recommend watching this brilliant video by Rabbi Sacks about Why I am a Jew.