Israel was a “Start-Up Nation” long before there were start-ups. Genesis 32:29 tells us “no longer will your name be Yaakov (one who follows after others) but rather Israel (one who challenges and confronts)”. The essence of the start-up impulse is in the name Israel – not to accept things as they are and follow the herd, but rather to question, explore, and create new dynamics through new actions. The line from “but rather Israel” to today’s “Start-Up Nation” is direct and has passed through many stations of innovation that the Jewish people have provided to the world.
This is important but risks putting the focus of “Start-Up Nation” in the wrong place. As any entrepreneur knows it is no trick to be a start-up – any idea which sounds good (and some which don’t even pass this test) can be the basis of a start-up. The really important part of “Start-Up Nation” is that it combines both elements, the “Start-Up” impulse with the development and continuity of a “Nation” (or “company” in the case of a business start-up). Building an institution – a nation, a company, a social process, and anything else – involves a whole different set of skills. The nation of Israel, the Jewish people, also have taught the world much in this field. For thousands of years, without a land or country of its own, subject to the whims of many evil rulers and the temptations of many advanced societies, Israel has kept its entity as a people exactly by combining the dynamic adaptability of “Start-Up” with the solid and timeless foundation of “Nation”.
This balance within the people of Israel is as fresh and alive as this morning’s headlines. Harav Ovadiah Yosef z”l created an incredible start-up through his brilliant and innovative work, the Shas movement, and its success as a start-up is reflected in the phenomenal number and diversity of people who attended his funeral. But the fractures in Shas are already becoming evident and its future is unclear – can it sustain itself as an institution, as a “Nation”, or will it fail to have learned the lessons that a “Start-Up Nation” needs to know?
The very symbol of Israel, the Star of David, shows us what we need to do. The Star of David is two triangles which naturally fit together to form a box, and by nature the inclination would be to think “inside the box” according to a constant set of rules. But the Star of David not only shows us to think “outside the box”, but even more to break up the box into a new arrangement – some parts of the two triangles overlap, some don’t, the Star of David has a solid center section but always points in many directions, and in the end it is one symbol of one people. With the many challenges that face the Jewish people and the nation of Israel today as they have so often in the past, may we have the wisdom to fulfill the demands of being a “Start-Up Nation”.