The Main Thing is “Everything”

We know that effective leaders possess many important qualities and characteristics. Perhaps more important among them is the ability to communicate clearly. In order for an organization to function at peak effectiveness, in order for a mission to be carried out properly, there has to be a clear communication that can be transmitted from speaker to listener. The dispatch has to be direct, with no ‘beating around the bush.’  If that does not exist, the message is muddled, and the entire enterprise does not reach its potential for impact.

In Parshat Chayai Sarah, the Torah begins the chapter of Avraham’s search for a wife for his son Yitzchak with a strange phrase: “Now Avraham was old, well on in years, and Hashem had blessed Avraham with everything” (Bereshit 24:1). Rashi notices that this phrase is seemingly incongruous with the following psukim that describe Avraham’s appointment of Eliezer to search for a mate for Yitzchak, and he therefore explains that the gematria, the numerical value of the word Bakol, with everything, is 52, which is the same as the word Ben, son. The message therefore is that once Avraham had been blessed with Bakol, i.e., a son, it was time to go find him a wife.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, notes that this explanation of Rashi really does not address the more fundamental question regarding the way in which the Torah writes this phrase. It is a nice idea that Bakol is code for ‘son,’ but why does the Torah have to speak in code here? Why could it not simply and directly state that now that Avraham had a son, it was time to find him a spouse?

Rav Moshe gives an answer that is both simple and incredibly profound, especially for those of us privileged to work in raising the next generation: Hashem was conveying to Avraham that unless he would be able to pass along the values of the Torah to future generations, the blessing of “everything” would be worthless. To truly have “everything,” Avraham had to find Yitzchak a wife so that he could begin his own family and transmit the values of the Torah to future generations.

We live in a time of incredible, historic abundance. While this is certainly true in material matters, it is equally accurate in the spiritual realm as well. There has never been a time period where we have had access to so much “everything” in Torah. From transformative online platforms and shiurim, to unprecedented access to sefarim, there is so much we can tap into. But, in the wise words of Stephen Covey, “the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” Truly having ‘bakol,’ ‘everything’ means that we are successful in transmitting our values to the next generation.

The upcoming holiday of Chanukah provides us with perhaps one way in which we can ensure that we are successfully accomplishing the vision of bakol. The Talmud in Masechet Shabbat states that the lighting of the Menorah, in order to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, should be done during “Prime Time” – meaning, when there are people walking around to see it. This is expressed as the halachic concept of  "ad shetichle regel min hashuk,” – we can light “until people no longer walk along the marketplace (streets)."

Rav Shimson Dovid Pincus makes a play on the words here, explaining that the word “regel,” which literally means a “leg” and refers to people walking, can be understood as the word “ragil,” regular, normal, or happenstance. The term “shuk,” which means marketplace, can be explained as how a person does their work. Using this understanding, the Gemara is then teaching us that we are to have the menorah lit “ad shetichle RAGIL min hashuk.” Meaning, we are to light the menorah, “until all the REGULAR way of doing things is removed from our work.”

The message is clear – Chanukah is not supposed to be about us going through the motions, with business as usual. Chanukah is about removing the regular – the everyday things we do by habit, without thinking, and replacing those activities with a quest for greatness.

Perhaps this is why we follow the opinion of Beit Hillel when he teaches that we start with one candle and add another to the Menorah each night: because the essence of Chanukah is to grow, to keep on adding additional components of greatness, to keep on removing the REGULAR from our lives, even if it's really hard to do.

In thinking about how to transmit our Jewish values to the next generation, we might benefit from using the lens of ragil in looking at our classrooms, institutions, and communities. Reflecting on where our communities operate on autopilot, and where there are opportunities to think creatively and add new excitement are wonderful places to start in ensuring that we live up to the example of Avraham.

Thankfully, within the Prizmah Network, we have one another - together, we are an incredible resource to spur us to continue thinking differently. I am so thankful for the relationships that I have with so many colleagues and friends within the Prizmah Network. Knowing that we each have an army of passionate michanchim behind us, encouraging us to collaborate, to take chances, and to let our passion emerge in our holy work, is extremely empowering. May we all succeed in truly giving over ‘everything’ to our children and students.

By Rabbi Dov Emerson
Director of Teaching and Learning at Yeshiva University High School for Boys

Photo by Robert Zunikoff; Unsplash