Setting A S.M.A.R.T. Strategy - 12.22.2014

One of the most famous arguments between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel relates to Chanukah. The debate centers on the sequence of the menorah lighting, as in whether it should be “top-down” (light a full eight lights on the first evening and then one fewer candle each successive night, the opinion of Bais Shammai) or “bottom-up” (the view of Bais Hillel, in which we begin with one candle and continually add one candle until the last night, when we light eight candles. This is the opinion that we follow.)

The argument is also quote unusual. In most instances, debates between the great scholars that comprised these two “houses” were about levels of stringency. Most often, Bais Shammai assumes the stricter, more demanding view. On rare occasions we see the reverse. Our sages tell us that the law typically follows the position of Bais Hillel primarily because the people as a whole would not be able to adhere to a more stringent expectation. Yet, when it comes to Chanukah, the issue of stringency does not appear to be at play. Rather the question centers on sequence and direction.

I once heard an explanation for this debate from Rabbi Akiva Tatz. He said that the argument here was about how we approach growth processes such as Chanukah. According to Bais Shammai, the first step in achieving growth is to envision the finished product. Look first at a menorah that is filled with light, at the apex of its splendor. Then slowly wean yourself off of the externals day by day, as you seek to internalize the message. The initial inspiration will carry you as you begin the more arduous process of producing your inner menorah.

Bais Hillel argued the opposite position. The first thing that a person needs to do is to begin with the basics. Do something – anything – that will get you moving in the right direction. From there, you can build slowly but surely until you have reached your goal.

In essence, this debate is one of style, not substance. Everyone agrees that the purpose of lighting the menorah – besides for the need to publicize the miracle and express appreciation for it – is to engage in our own light-filling process. We, too, must banish the darkness that continually threatens to envelop us with clarifying light. The question becomes what is the best way forward.

Of course, when it comes to menorah lighting, we can only choose one direction. However, as we seek to grow along our own spiritual pathway, we may be best served borrowing from both concepts simultaneously.

Without question, goal setting is a real-important component of any growth process. We need to know where we want to go if we are to ever arrive at our destination. Seek to develop a clear picture with rich detail, where you are able to describe our goal in actionable terms as well as in how you would feel from achieving your objectives. 

But no goals, no matter how lofty and exciting, can be advanced without an action plan that will help you map out your course of action in a way that is realistic and sustainable.

One way by which we can get closer towards actualizing our potential is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for ourselves. “S.M.A.R.T.” stands for specific, measurable, attainable / realistic and time-related.

  • Specific – well defined, you know exactly what you seek to achieve;
  • Measureable – quantifiable in a way that helps determine whether the goal has been achieved;
  • Attainable / Realistic – a goal that is within reach, largely because of your deep desire to attain it;
  • Time-related – set to a time-frame to ensure continued, focused efforts towards attainment.

A person, for example, who seeks to pray with greater concentration, fervor and awareness, would be wise to apply this formula. Set specific goals of what you would like to work on that allow you to focus your energies. Determine how you will measure success, in terms of ability to translate more words, sustain concentration for extended periods, etc. Make sure that the goals that you set are attainable and not beyond the pale of what is presently realistic (this, of course, can and should change as you grow in this area). Then set a time-frame for your goal to keep you on task and moving in the right direction.

This process of setting proper goals and sticking to them may require the help of others, such as a spouse, friend or a coach. We are all busy and can sometimes lose focus or drive if we don’t have others supporting and pushing us to reach higher. The key is to contract and commit, so that this Chanukah does not become another flash of inspiration that quickly became a distant memory.

Shining the Light on Jewish Self-hatred - 12.18.2014

Throughout the recent explosion of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric all around the world, the Jewish people have felt particularly vulnerable, isolated and hurt. Everyone of significance, it seemed, was against us. Countless politicians, UN delegates, celebrities, business magnates, academicians and many others lined up to censure Israel for its many grave injustices and alleged crimes against humanity. Even our own president, the leader of our great nation and Israel’s strongest ally, would not come forward with the type of clarity and strength that the Jewish State so desperately wanted to hear. (Who can forget Obama’s half-hearted comments following the Har Nof massacre, as if both sides were equally responsible for the latest outbreak of barbarism and bloodshed?)

Yet, I suspect that the individuals whose anti-Israel stance bothers the Jewish people most are not those listed above. They are people like Gerald Kaufman, a British Labour Party politician who continually lambasts Israel for its Nazi-like (!) treatment of the Palestinian people, or Jon Stewart, the popular political comedian who routinely blasts Israel for its harsh policies (to the point where even Hillary Clinton had to rush to its defense).

Such people, we say, are “self-hating Jews,” individuals who are deeply conflicted by and largely troubled with their Jewish identity. They are not at peace with themselves as members of the Abrahamic progeny and seek to unshackle their burdens of Jewish lineage by acting in a manner that is hurtful to their brethren.

Leaving aside the terminology for now (it seems strange that we call such people “self-hating;” if anything, they may be religion or nation hating), it is clear that “self-hating” Jews like these have existed throughout our nation’s history. Whether they attempted to mislead their brethren with false ideologies and a new moral standard or simply looked to ingratiate themselves with their antagonistic overlords by acting as informers and offering up their brethren instead, these Jews have been a collective thorn in our side for millennia.

One historical chapter captures this tension particularly well. It is the period that witnessed the Chanukah miracle. Amongst the Jewish ranks at that time were Hellenists, people who were enamored with Hellenistic (Greek) culture and ideology and sought to integrate such thinking and practice throughout the Jewish homeland. Things came to a head in 174 BCE, when the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV accepted a sizable bribe from Jason, the Hellenized brother of the High Priest Onias III, and proclaimed him the new High Priest in Judah.

Jason’s ultimate intention was to convert Jerusalem into a Greek polis, to be named Antioch. This required that Greek political and cultural institutions be introduced into the city. He had a gymnasium erected near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, within direct sight of the Temple. This gymnasium would serve as a center of Hellenistic education and athletics, where nudity and immoral behavior was the norm. Pagan statues and altars were present as well; sacrifices were offered to Greek gods prior to the commencement of sporting events.

These changes attracted many Jews, particularly Jewish youth. Many priests were also influenced by this new culture, neglecting their sacrificial duties in favor of these new centers of diversion.

Jason had no intention of financing his position from his own personal funds. Taxes were collected at an even higher rate to help pay for the high costs of Hellenization, not to mention the king’s military campaigns. Jason and other Hellenists thus became identified not only for their political and cultural changes, but for increased taxation as well.

In an almost humorous twist, certain Hellenists accused Jason of not taking his reforms far enough. Three years after replacing Onias, in 171 BCE, he would also be removed from office. Menelaus, a non-priest, offered an even larger bribe to Antiochus, and had himself appointed as the new High Priest. In order to pay the enormous sum, he and his brother Lysimachus robbed the Bais Hamikdash and sold off many of its golden vessels. Onias was murdered when he protested this greedy behavior. Scores of Jews were killed in Yerushalayim when Lysimachus and his soldiers, fearing an anticipated revolt, fell upon the people. Lysimachus died in battle, but Menelaus was able to maintain his standing, which he used to further Hellenize the Jewish people.

The “self-hatred” demonstrated by Jason, Menelaus and their Hellenistic ilk was not one of personal loathing. Rather, their hatred was directed at their religious brethren, who they felt an obligation to enlighten to the ways of Greek thought, mannerisms and practice.

In some basic ways they succeeded, at least at first. There is no question that Antiochus was bent on promoting increased Hellenization amongst his Jewish citizens. However, he never would have attempted such a sweeping and torturous campaign against the Jewish religion. Only after witnessing the strong assimilatory interests of Jason and his cohorts did he shift his Hellenizing efforts into high gear.

The reason that we celebrate Chanukah is because a small band of fiercely loyal, committed and satisfied Jews rose up in opposition to the Hellenists and the Seleucid occupiers. Though small in number, they understood that they must engage in a winner-takes-all battle for the preservation of their Torah and its eternal values.

Self-hatred speaks to an inner dissatisfaction with one’s nation and its values. Combating such thinking and action requires self-affection, a deep sense of appreciation for one’s calling, purpose and uniqueness. It demands a connection that is so fundamental that one would be willing to give his life for it. In the end, it was this commitment that carried the day and delivered “the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.” (Al Hanisim)

This Chanukah let us remember that our success in combating self-hatred and anti-Semitism has never emerged from our ability to win the political battles or convince others to our way of thinking. Rather, we are at our best when we hunker down and reaffirm our own commitment to the identity, beliefs and values that we cherish and would give everything to maintain. Let us hope that at this time of great national celebration and joy that the true light of truth and freedom will shine brightly throughout the world in a way that even our greatest enemies will be forced to acknowledge it.


Confront Others with Care - Huffington Post 12.15.2014

To disagree, one doesn't have to be disagreeable. ~Barry Goldwater

Few leaders can avoid confrontation. There are simply too many items and employees that require oversight and guidance. The likelihood is very high that every leader will need to address numerous areas of concern within her organization at various points.

Whether the matter is personal (a coworker's attitude or manners, for example) or performance related, confronting someone about an issue can be one of the hardest things for a leader to do. It is generally unpleasant for someone to have to bring this concern forward and demand change and improvement. In fact, many leaders will go to extreme lengths to avoid it. Some reasons for this include:

  • Fear of how your relationship will be affected moving forward;
  • Concern over being seen as overly demanding or callous;
  • Bad feelings from past confrontations that went awry;
  • Second-guessing and questioning ourselves regarding our grounds and motives for the confrontation;
  • Negative memories from times that we were confronted by others.

Yet, we also know what can happen when a leader fails to step up and deal with a troubling situation. Without a doubt, it would be a mistake to allow it to continue in the spirit of being a nice guy and hoping that the situation will magically be resolved on its own. Problem behaviors and poor performance need to be addressed early on and in a clear and firm manner. Doing so will not only help you reset expectations but may also help you understand why the problems are occurring. Your actions will also be appreciated by the rest of your staff who may be even more fed up with such negativity and mediocrity than you are.

To be clear, the confrontation that we are discussing is not of the aggressive, agitated variety. Such approaches are almost guaranteed to engender ill will and may even go sideways on you. Rather, leaders need to find ways to discuss their concerns in a calm, direct and proactive fashion. Engaging in productive confrontation paves the way for alternative perspectives, healthier boundaries, innovative approaches, and challenges to the status quo, all of which are essential if we want to enhance our present realities.

Even with a calm presentation it can be very difficult for leaders to confront others, for the reasons stated above. What can leaders do to overcome their concerns and be more willing to address problems head-on?

  1. Be prepared - Take the time to assess the situation as fully as possible. This includes understanding the concern thoroughly in addition to how it impacts you and the company, practically as well as emotionally. Try to separate out the less crucial components from the core considerations. Once you have that clear, prepare for what you will say in detail. In that process, seek to identify the other person's agenda and what her likely reaction will be. Use logic rather than emotion to frame your argument; if you're too worked emotionally up then you're not ready to move forward. Lastly, seek to identify what an ideal outcome would look like that brings success and satisfaction to you both.
  2. Ask yourself, "How would I want to be approached?" - Oftentimes, the best measure for how best to advance an unpleasant conversation is to determine how you would like to be approached in such a situation. Unless you are one of those people who let things slide off of your back easily, your own intuition should guide you well. Naturally, setting and context are important. No one wants to be confronted in public or while they're in the middle of an important task. Ideally, they should know that the conversation is coming beforehand. This will help them begin to reflect about what might be bothering you. Of course, never begin any conversation if you are not in full control of your emotions. If you are not sure that you are ready to manage your emotions before the confrontation, role-play it with someone you trust and ask for feedback. Practice makes perfect, especially in cases such as these.
  3. Keep the conversation issues oriented - There is nothing wrong with being hard on the issues, so long as you remain soft on the person. Affirm your relationship with her and express your commitment to doing what you can to help achieve a positive outcome. Also express what is working before hitting home on the concerns. When expressing the problems, demonstrate as much care, respect, and compassion as you can muster. Once you have completed your opening statement stop talking. Don't hedge, qualify or compromise what you have said. Let the other person respond, and really seek to listen. Do your best to not argue. Stay calm, centered and focused.
  4. Be open to a new outcome - Though you will spend time thinking about your desired outcome and then rehearsing how to achieve it, it pays to remain open to the possibility of arriving at a different solution. Explore and discuss potential solutions and alternatives, and try to focus on both parties' individual needs and wants.
  5. Set a course of action - Once you have arrived at an agreement decide on a follow-up plan. What will each person will do to address the issue? Make sure that the goals that you set are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) and come with an attached timeframe. Then make every effort to stay to the agreed to process.