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The Value of Family - August 4 2017

The Value of Family - August 4 2017

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There was once a famed Torah scholar in Europe who was known far and wide for his sharp mind and wide swath of knowledge. Once, a young, aspiring student approached the scholar and asked him how long it took him to attain such a high level of scholarship. 

'It took five minutes' said the scholar. 'Five minutes?' said the student, wondering if the scholar was trying to make a fool out of him. 'Yes, five minutes. I used to study just like my classmates in school, no more or better than they. What made me what I am today is that every time I had five spare minutes, I would take out a book and study. So yes, I became who I am today in 'five minutes'.

One of the most important lessons in life and keys to success is that nothing is ever 'big'. Amazon is not 'big'. Apple is not 'big'. Neither is Boeing, Microsoft or the NYSE. They are very small indeed. They are millions upon millions of hours of hard work by thousands of people. They are the attention to detail and a tremendous collection of many hard decisions, years of planning and of course some good luck. Combine all of that together, and take a step back, then you'll see something that looks 'big'.

One of the best examples of this idea - that 'big' things are in reality close attention to detail - is the family.

In Jewish life there are few things more important than family. When the Torah records a census of the Jewish people it always refers to the number of individuals, as well as to which family they belonged.

Even for people who are usually more critical of religion, and describe themselves as non-believers, connection with family is something which (correctly so) has a very prominent place in their life. I'll often hear someone say that although they might not practice much Judaism and can't remember the last time they were in a Synagogue, for them spending time with family is their Synagogue and religion.

Why is family so important? Because family is the perfect example of the ideal relationship between individual and community, between the 'small' and the 'big'. As has been demonstrated too often over the course of the twentieth century, only focusing on the 'big' and building a society based on the 'social' - whether it be the National Socialism of the Nazis, or the Communism of Stalin or Mao - can have devastating consequences.

The family is a social structure, yet one built on the irreplaceable value of each individual. In an office an individual can be replaced. In a family he or she cannot.

This past Tuesday we marked 'Tisha B'Av', the day when the Temple was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago by Titus. The Talmud says that G‑d let his holy house be burned down because the Jewish people of Jerusalem, a city whose very name connotes peace and harmony, were utterly intolerant of each other as individuals, in search of what was right for the 'community'. The antidote to this blind hatred, writes the Talmud, is unconditional love and acceptance of one another. To see each other not as a replaceable employee at the office, but as an irreplaceable member of the family.

That scholar's saying that he acquired all his knowledge in five minutes is so true, even beyond the world of rhetoric and catch-phrases. The way to infuse value into big things is by appreciating the individual small things. That scholar's years in school were able to hoist him up because he appreciated and maximized every spare minute too, not just those in class.

In the words of the designer and architect Charles Eames: 'The details are not the details. They make the design'.

Rabbi Avrohom

 

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