The Jewish Secret of Success

Judaism makes a very strange statement about God and creation. "God looked in the Torah and created the world." This is a puzzling saying, since the Torah describes life IN the physical world, and even tells us historical events that occurred. How could that pre-date the existence of the world?

Well it doesn't, because the Torah that God looked in is the Torah of the spirit, before it was committed to physical words. What we have is just the This-World translation of spiritual essence that we are not able to fully grasp.

In other words, the Torah is the timeless truths that govern the Universe. If you wish to succeed in this Universe, you must live according to those timeless truths. You must live according to the Torah.

However there are many Torah observant people who are not successes in business and other important areas of life. Keeping the commandments is NOT the secret, and is no guarantee of a six-figure income and daily sunshine. Is there?

I think there may very well be, and it is hidden in the most mundane of sections of the Torah, the beginning of the Book of Numbers. As the name implies, there are a lot of numbers here. We have chapter after chapter of the names of the tribes, their leaders, exactly how many people were in each, where they camped, where they marched in the procession of Israel through the desert on their way to the Holy Land, etc... Very dry stuff and, seemingly, very unimportant except for perhaps a history trivia buff.

Isn't this the Book of the Law? Shouldn't we be focusing on how to live our daily and communal lives? Why should I care how many people were in the tribe of Gad and where they camped relative to the other eleven tribes?

A recent study was made testing the conditions of creativity.Two groups were given a task to come up with a creative idea in the area of communications, for example. One group was given free reign, and the other group had to meet certain criteria relating to cost, specific types of communication, and so forth. You might expect the first group to have an easier time coming up with great ideas, because they weren't so limited as the other group.

And yet, the latter group outdid the first. How? Because of a law of the universe. We may think of rules as limiting, but in truth, anarchy is more limiting. The worst enemy of brilliance is a lack of focus. A framework creates DIRECTION, which focuses energy and enable more intense achievement. In other words, ORDER is the fuel of excellence. Chaos is the fuel of failure. The Universe is orderly, the opposite of random. Live in harmony with that rule, and you harness the core power of the Universe.

There is a story of two sages who were about to depart the Land of Israel. When they came to the first town outside the Land, they saw people planting when they should have been plowing, harventing when they should have been pruning, and such. They cried, and returned to Israel, where people were planting when they should plant, harvest when they should harvest. In other words, the Land of Israel is a land of Order, and order is the fuel of growth and success. It is the frame that gives focus and energy.

Thus, at our nation's birth, we are told exactly who is where, how many, and when they each travel in succession. The details of the Order of the Israelites is not by accident. The Torah is telling us that if we wish to grow as a successful nation, we must be orderly. We must have rules and rituals. We must keep our space clean and our work sequenced. Instead of limiting us, they focus and empower us.

And remember, the ceremony we observe commemorating our nations founding takes place on Passover eve, and it is called a Seder. Seder means Order!

Believe in God and Do the Impossible

The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the difficult passage of the binding of Isaac. Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son, and he shows no hesitation in doing so. He takes the boy to Mount Moriah, ties him to the altar that he has fashioned, and is about to cut him with the knife when God's Angel calls out to him to stop. Abraham is told that he has passed the test, he must not harm the boy, and that many blessings are headed his way.

How could Abraham have been so willing to sacrifice his own child, for whom he had yearned all those years? Abraham didn't even argue, he just went! And why was this episode so powerful in granting merit and blessing to Abraham and his descendents?

Rabbi Solomon Sorotzkin claims that the binding of Isaac was a pre-atonement for the sin of the spies. The spies tried to prevent Israel from going where God told them, and so Abraham went to where God told him without question. A pre-atonement. What, exactly, is a pre-atonement? Perhaps it is a spiritual preparation for a future salvation. Perhaps, without Abraham's precedent, the spies would have succeeded completely. As we know, both Caleb and Joshua prevented the spies from having a unified front. Perhaps they gained the strength to do that by contemplating Abraham's binding of Isaac.

The Hasidic Rabbi, the Rabbi of Wurka, asked the opposite question. Why is Abraham's deep so special? If God spoke to him directly, and was crystal clear about what he was to do, Abraham was simply doing what anyone would do in that situation.

He answers that Abraham was probably being tempted by the Satan. Satan would point out that Isaac was Abraham's only son, and that Abraham's legacy will live through Isaac. Isaac was the sole gateway to the future of the Jewish people. If Isaac were to be killed, before he had any children of his own, there would be no Jewish people in the future! The whole legacy would be cut off!

And, so, Abraham had ample reason to protest. What's more, he was under no obligation to prevent Isaac from running away. But that's not what he did. He made sure Isaac accompanied him to Mount Moriah. He tied him up so that he could not run away. This was his great merit, that binding of Isaac. That showed Abraham's 100% commitment to do what God had told him. According to the Rabbi, Abraham basically said that the future of the Jewish people coming through Isaac was God's problem. His job was to fulfill this commandment, and God would figure out a way to carry out His promise.

In other words, Abraham taught us to believe in God, and do the impossible. Let's think about this. Abraham must have been 100% certain that it was God talking to him. He also needed to be 100% certain that he understood the message. Abraham knew that all of humanity was watching him. If he wavered, if his faith wasn't perfect and crystal-clear, his legacy would not endure. Perhaps he understood that his legacy going through Isaac was not biological, but spiritual. Perhaps he thought that, by sacrificing Isaac, he will ensure that faith in God will take root in all humanity. Maybe that's what God meant. And so Abraham was prepared to follow through, because this was bigger than him, or his son. All of mankind hung in the balance.

Not everyone comes to Abraham's level of faith, but because of his precedent, we have the potential for it. Sometimes we may waiver. Abraham was only tested with the binding of Isaac after a long life of consistent tests, some of which certain commentaries claim that he failed. The Legend of Rabbi Amnon, author of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, is a case in point. When pressured by the Bishop of his city to convert to Christianity, Rabbi Amnon had said he will think about it for three days. His answer was intended to push the Bishop away, for he obviously had no intention of ever abandoning the Jewish faith. Nonetheless, he felt tremendous guilt about having given the impression that he would actually think about it.

After the three days were up, the Rabbi told the Bishop that he regretted having even said he would think about converting. As a result, he was maimed and tortured. Shortly thereafter, The High Holidays came around. Rabbi Amnon was brought into the synagogue in his bed, and recited his original prayer. The central word in it is, "Truth." It expresses faith in God's judgment, and urges us to pursue repentance, prayer, and charity in order to be judged favorably by God.

As long as a person is alive, they have an opportunity to get it right. This is where the Satan comes into our story. He is telling us that we are not able. He is telling us that we are imprisoned by our past. He is telling us to give up the fight, we have no hope. The spies expressed the Satan's message, "We cannot go into the land."

The rabbis explain the significance of 100 sounds as being the sounds of childbirth. The woman in labor utters 99 cries of suffering, doubt, hopelessness. And, then, the child is born. The 100th sound she orders is a cry of great joy! This is a source for the especially long note, the tekiah gedola, sounded as the 100th note of the shofar.

The Satan, who wants us to give up, here's these 100 notes, and knows that we will do nothing of the kind. We will persist. Abraham persisted, Caleb and Joshua persisted, the mother in childbirth persists, and eventually that baby is born. Against the people that refuses to give up hope in God, and refuses to stop trying to do the impossible, the Satan has nothing to say.