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Celebrating the annual “Start-Up Nation” day of the year

Kabbalah clues us in on what makes a successful tech entrepreneur
Illustrative: Torah calligraphy by Hanna Klebansky. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
Illustrative: Torah calligraphy by Hanna Klebansky. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

Many of you heard about the recent first annual Geek Awards Israel. What was not made public, however, was the deeper significance behind the date chosen for the event–January 6th or the night beginning the 6th of Shevat.

geek awards

According to the Book of Formation, the sense that corresponds to the month of Shevat is taste or eating. But as Avi Schneider writes in his GeekTime.com article “The end of Startup Nation,” while it is good to eat from the “fruits” of our efforts, it is also important not to be overly satiated with these “fruits.”

If you notice, the word “fruit” was put into parenthesis because Avi doesn’t overtly mentioned the Hebrew month of Shevat nor the Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of Trees. But once we conceptualize the impressions he took from the first Geek Awards conference, we can begin to appreciate the deeper significance.

An appropriate verse to have in mind during the entire month of Shevat, and specifically on Tu B’Shevat, is that “a tzadik (righteous person) eats to sate his soul; but the stomach of the wicked wants more.”[1] Unrefined spiritual taste buds cannot truly enjoy food, because they constantly desire to consume more. By contrast, a tzadik, who neither starves himself nor eats crudely, can take pleasure in good food, thankfully blessing God.

I ended a recent article on CES with a thought about the Tree of Knowledge. That while the primordial sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge entered the world into a state of exile of disconnection, we are now approaching the state where we will be able to both eat from the fruit, while still perceiving it as being connected to the tree of Divine consciousness.

But instead of the Internet of Things (now the Internet of Everything) as explained there, we are now relating the concept of “tasting knowledge” to the role of the start-up entrepreneur. In this article, we are specifically corresponding taste to technology, because more than any other industry, it symbolizes the search for both knowledge and connectivity. It is because of this that we also have translated Tu B’Shevat allegorically as “start-up nation” day.

Before we begin our meditation about technology entrepreneurs, we will first present them as two extremes. The one who tastes the most from the fruit of his efforts, we will call the “lifetime achiever,” and the one who tastes the least, the “serial entrepreneur.”

Two Approaches

Kabbalists explain that trapped within the foods we eat are holy sparks, tzadikfragments of a special life force that cannot be found elsewhere. Only our bodies are able to release these sparks from their prison, and this is the way the soul is nourished with Divine life force. The tzadik hunts down[2] the holy spark and elevates it. In this way, every time we consume food in the correct way, the bond between body and soul is reinforced. This union is illustrated in the form of the tzadik itself, where the yud (י) on top represents the soul, and the nun (נ) at the bottom represents the body.

tzadik reverseBut the depiction we have included above is only one of the two ways that scribes write the letter tzadik. Instead of the yud facing the nun, looking at it “from above,” the second approach is to write the yud backwards. Instead of gazing at the nun, the yud appears to be staring off in the distance.

While there is more to this meditation,* in an effort to be brief, let us simply concentrate on these two versions of the tzadik, and what lessons we can take from this contemplation as related to the world of technology.

Lifetime Achievement: This relates to the first version of the tzadik with the soul, represented by the yud, facing the body, nun. This person continuously seeks to bring down the insight and inspirations from his soul into the world. As his soul is “facing” his body or the physical, the emphasis is placed on grounding insights. The entrepreneur at this level may spend his entire lifetime developing one insight. An example of this is a CEO of a one company, who while expanding his companies’ product line and service offerings over the years, always relates back to that initial idea or inspiration that started it all.

Serial Entrepreneur

This level relates to the creative-minded soul that stares off to the “sky” as it were. Like the yud that has its back to the nun, the serial entrepreneur prefers to think about the next idea rather than to further develop the first. Whereas a lifetime achiever has an easier time running a solo-operation, performing whatever tasks are needed to see the idea through, a serial entrepreneur does best when delegating the manifestation of his creative dreams to others. Now with platforms such as Quirky.com, and business incubators in most major cities across the world, serial entrepreneurs have access to the infrastructures they need.

Lifetime Achievement Award

In his Geek Time article entitled “And the Geeky goes to…” written to announce the winners of the Geek Awards, Avi Schneider includes this comment about the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dov Maron:

“Serial entrepreneur and inventor of the Disk-On-Key [called the USB Flash Drive in the US]; Moran accepted his award remotely as he was attending the CES event in Las Vegas. Moran was honored but at the same time playfully offended making it clear that this award should in no way signify that his life achievements are over.”

As a result of our meditation from before, this is the thought that we would like to conclude with. The Jewish people are called “a nation of tzadikim (righteous people).” And while this is said of the future, our job is make bring more of this future state into present-day reality. A tzadik both continuously exerts himself maximally and enjoys the fruits of his efforts as in the verse, “may the tzadik bear fruit in his days.” Tzadikim enjoy the fruits of their efforts both in this world and the world to come.

This then is the blessing we should all give to Avi Schneider, Dov Maron, and all those involved in writing about and developing the Israel tech industry. That their efforts should bear fruit, be successful, both physically and spiritually, and we all go from one “fruit” to the next, from one achievement and award to the next, while keeping in mind the verse that we began with that, “a tzadik eats to sate his soul” (i.e., to elevate the holy sparks of this world with the proper intentions in mind).

It is Jewish custom to eat many different kinds of new fruit on Tu B’Shevat, and to say the blessing shehechiyanu. Just as our plates should be filled with fruits of the tree, so too should our technology “plates” always be full with new opportunities to offer thanks and blessings to the Source of all positively motivated endeavors.

* For the original version, please read “we are all tzadikim” (Hebrew) from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh and Gal Einai.

1. Proverbs 13:25. 2. Note that the letters of the word “hunt” (צָד) are the initial letters of the word “tzadik” (צַדִיק).

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About the Author
Yonatan Gordon is a student of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and co-founder of InwardNews.com.
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