Lech Lecha

Did you ever ask yourself, what is your image as an individual and as a Jew to the outside world? Or, what is your image to your family, friends and yourself?

About 20 years ago, I interviewed Ross Perot (a day before he declared his candidacy for President) for a business educational program sharing the insights of highly successful entrepreneurs. Two experiences he shared stood out. In recalling his success as a salesman at IBM he said “Selling IBM in those days was like selling umbrellas in a rainstorm. The reason I was one of the top salespeople, I was different, most salespeople worked 4 hours a day, I worked 8!”

In time, Mr. Perot had a vision, he saw the opportunity to provide large companies the ability to outsource their mainframe needs rather than buy them. To create huge data centers and sell access to large companies. With that fire in his belly, he brought the idea to the top executives. They saw this as a crazy idea, after all it would compete with their sales. Ross went out of IBM on his own and his first presentation was to the CEO of Frito Lay, the multi-billion dollar snack company.

IBM’s top executives got wind of the meeting, called the CEO of their bank who was also Frito Lay’s bank and together they visited the snack giant urging them not to meet with the young Mr. Perot. Whatever he was selling was too different from the status quo, destined to go nowhere.

Well, Ross Perot did get to meet with Frito Lay and landed the account. Knowing what IBM had done, he asked the CEO, “if those guys told you not to see me, why did you?” The executive responded, “If those powerhouses told me you were so different, not to see you, I figured you must have something special!” Mr. Perot’s company EDS went on to be a gigantic organization making him a Billionaire and respected enough to make a serious run for President of the United States.

Lech Lecha is an extraordinary chapter in our journey through Torah. It has to power to shape and influence who we are, carrying a message from G-d sharing what our attitude of how we are to be, privately and outwardly.

In Heschel’s last interview on TV, a few days before he passed, he was asked “You recently said ‘ What keeps me alive is my ability to be surprised.’ What has surprised you lately?” He said, “Everything!” He went on to counter Kohelet ,,,there is nothing new under the sun…. “ I would say there is nothing stale under the sun except Human Beings. I try and not be stale. That is the sense of the unique. Do you know out of the billions of faces in the world no two are exactly alike… Imagine a person complaining that in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that no two paintings were alike.”

Last week, Parasha Noach ends with G-d’s clear dissatisfaction, frustration perhaps anger at the peoples’ goal of making one city, one tower, all speaking one language, making one name for themselves thinking it will allow for a path inside of heaven. G-d interferes, using the same language in creating Man….that being “Come let us make man….” he says, “Come let us go down…..so that one will no longer understand the language of the other.” Why? What was G-d’s vision, purpose here?

In Lech Lecha G-d tells Avram, “Go for yourself, out of your country……..I will make you a great nation and I will bless you….make your name great.” R.Samson Raphael Hirsch comments that the idea of “Go for yourself…” stresses the idea of going your own way. That “the Divine command placed Avraham…. in contrast with the tendencies of the day.” In essence to begin his journey in life which ultimately led to others calling him The Ivri – The Hebrew- or …one from the other side. As Rabbi Hertz points out, someone in contrast to foreigners.

Avraham was the consummate entrepreneur, the founder of a people! He had a different vision (monotheism) that would disturb the status quo, it was contrary to his top executive, his father who was an idol worshiper, as was all around him. He stayed the course and is the founder of what is our lives today.

On the Midrash of Avraham seeing the fire in the castle (the legend where he said to himself while seeing the fire.. “could it be that this castle has no master? The owner of the castle looks out to him and says I am the owner of the castle….” then concluding that there must be an owner, a master of the world–G-d! The Sfas Emes takes the fire to be a symbol, a stimulus to keep the flame in our castle, in our travels…saying “ the human being is a walker, going from one rung to another. Habit makes things seem natural…and this sense of nature hides the inner light. This is true of Torah…when we do them out of habit…we forget their inward meaning. Therefore we need always to seek out some new counsel….this is the point of the burning castle”…he is saying the disruption of nature..not working the 4 hours that everyone else is, to get the ultimate reward…he is saying “go for yourself”….with what I have shown you.

David Ogilvy, a founder of the legendary Advertising Agency Ogilvy and Mather, preached that for a company to succeed, to prosper, to last, it had to continually cultivate and communicate a unique reason why to do business with them. He coined the term “Unique Selling Proposition” referred to today as the USP of your offering. What is different about what you offer, of what will be noticed by your customer. Have you listened to your customer and communicated through the clutter what is special about you? To get that prospect to notice, to make that sale.

A theme of Heschel’s is that in our prayers, in our day to day living, a major goal is not to petition G-d for things we want or even need, but to strive to have G-d just notice us. Of the billions and billions and billions and trillions of impressions available to Hashem, what will make me stand out so he just gives me a look, a nod. How do we fulfill our mission of being “A light upon nations” if we don’t do something different to break through the darkness…to make that sale.

Do we really want to wear a designer’s name on our body and tout that as that being me? Is ” everyone doing it” a reason to go along, the path to one language, one tower, a path to being invisible.

Heschel says that “No Religion is an Island”, we are not the only ones in our quest for G-d, nor are we to march in the same path as anyone, we are different, unique, from the other side. We are given creative abilities and should express ourselves to ourselves and the world with confidence and beauty. Rabbi Heschel always condemns the routine, rote and stresses the importance of individual expression, all within the context of Halacha. “The acceptance of what was unanimous throughout the ages, the endeavor to integrate the teachings of the past into our own thinking will enable us to be creative, to expand….Survival of Israel means that we carry on our independent dialogue with the past. But, our way of life must remain…intelligible to Isaiah and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, to Maimonides and the Baal Shem.”

This is The message of Lech Lecha and perhaps of our Torah, of being Chosen to be who we are. to be without inhibition, to smash our father’s idols and show the world what a Jew is. To cherish the difference and promote our USP so that all around us notice, carry it on with enthusiasm and then G-d will truly notice. Does that mean to wear our Kippa in public and be a Jew, a person of a different language, I think so. Like Ross Perot having something special to demonstrate, we must battle our inhibition to be what we are to be.

It also means not to be uniform in our practice and how we apply Halacha in our lives, our approach to davening. In his phenomenal book on Prayer, Heschel tells us if while Davening a prayer is talking to you, if you are not where the Chazan is (except for the required timed ones…Shma, Amidah..) stay on that prayer, “go for yourself” at that moment, don’t get distracted, get, give what it can do for you and for Hashem.

I always try my best to be at a Mincha (afternoon service) Minyan. Often, since some are conducted in the middle of the work day, all are rushed. This very week. a Man my age asked to lead the service. He told us he had Yahrzeit for his son. Then at the end it came time for Kaddish…. he said it so slow, with long, long pauses leading to a quiet ending. One can hear, could feel the soul rising in the pauses. He did it his way. No one complained, we all had somewhere else to go…but no..he had to go for himself and for his son..for all of us. We knew he had something special to offer. G-d Noticed.

I guess thinking about it in a fulfilling kind of way Ross Perot, Avraham and Me have something in common, it is quite different and that is the success in it all.