Photo Credit: merln.ndu.edu
By Yonatan Gordon
For those who are familiar with our articles, we often begin analyzing current events by looking at the Jewish calendar date that the event occurred.
For instance, the Facebook IPO last year began on the day most associated with communication in Kabbalah (the 41st day of the Omer, Yesod within Yesod). This year, Paul Miller’s climactic article, after he left the internet for a year, was published just prior to that same day this year. Instead of something coincidental, we took it a lesson that this year is more about finding ways to experience the internet without a computer.
From the perspective of Kabbalah and Chassidut, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether Jewish elements are consciousnessly added to events or not. What makes the greatest difference is the result; what actually happened, and what we can learn from it. That’s why for this article, we’re not going to assume that Seth Godin went to the calendar on Chabad.org to choose an appropriate day for his event (although it’s always possible). Instead, we’re going to proffer something a bit more profound. That for an event to be truly marketable, it needs to first coincide with Jewish dates and/or concepts.
This proposition is admittedly bold. Surely there must be some events in history that weren’t on a particularly interesting Jewish date, or approximated (whether in support of, or in opposition to) some Jewish teaching or principle? But if we abstract the saying that the Jewish people will become a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6), then this is the implication. That ultimately that which will light up the eyes of the world, are the instructions and guidance coming from the Jewish people. But in the meantime, the public is most familiar with buzzwords like “marketable” (related in Kabbalah to the word “Jew” יהודי itself).
On occasion, we have brought several writings from Seth Godin to show their contextual source within Jewish teachings. As he is one of the most listened to marketers today, it makes sense that his statements should closely approximate Jewish concepts (either in the affirmative or negative). So when we saw the news of the upcoming “Embracing the Possibility” day on June 20th, we went immediately to see what the Jewish date was.
Sometimes we come back with nothing obvious, then we go on to think about the concepts themselves. But Godin has a long history of choosing events on auspicious days of the Jewish calendar. For instance, on October 22, 2008 he presented his then new book “Tribes” to a group of fans in NYC. That day was also Simchat Torah, the day of rejoicing around the Torah for all the tribes of Israel. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when we discovered that June 20th this year corresponds to the Chassidic festival of 12 Tammuz.
Before we continue, it’s important to first clarify our motivation for writing this article. In the instance of that October 22nd event, it would have been to steer people away in favor of the Synagogue. After all, Godin was encouraging people to videotape and take notes during the event (both activities prohibited for the Jewish people on Simchat Torah). But this year, we are not speaking about a day when work is prohibited. Instead, our intention is not to call people away so that they refrain from prohibited work, but in order to steer the public toward appreciating the contextual landscape behind the event.
The first thing that Godin mentions as the reason for holding his event, is that it is the 10th anniversary since his book “Purple Cow” hit the shelves. In the Chassidic community, the celebration on this day also centers around the birthday of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch. It is also interesting to note, that in some ways, Rabbi Schneersohn was the greatest storyteller of all the Chabad rabbis. So in addition to this being a day for a birthday celebration, we are also celebrating the treasure trove of stories penned by Rabbi Schneersohn.
Festival of Liberation
In addition to being his birthday, on the 12th of Tammuz in 1927, Rabbi Schneersohn was also officially released from the charges leveled against him on this day. Twenty-seven days earlier, the Rebbe was arrested by agents of the GPU for his activities to preserve Judaism throughout the Soviet empire and sentenced to death (God forbid). Because of the miraculous exoneration and release, the Chassidic community began celebrating this and the following day as a “Festival of Liberation.”
If the “Embracing the Possibility” title is to be meaningful in our context then, it should connote something related to education. This was what Rabbi Schneersohn, to the point to self-sacrifice, devoted his life for; and this is what the Chassidic events or gatherings (called “farbrengens”) on this day discuss more than any other topic. Here is how Godin begins the write-up for his event:
“The revolution is here, and yet many are missing it.
Embrace the possibility of connection, of standing up and standing out. Embrace the opportunity to build something significant, something that matters. Changing our internal narrative is as important as understanding the tools and tactics that are available to us.”
Tools and Tactics
The fact that education is central to any revolution is clear. But if Godin’s post is to approximate our Chassidic festival more closely, we would expect to find an explanation for his “tools and tactics” comment. After all, any successful revolution needs a toolbox of resources within easy grasp. But what does this really mean?
In the final discourse delivered by Rabbi Schneersohn, he describes the concept of using all the “tools and tactics” available to us. But instead of the wording used to promote this event, he explains it as “wasting or squandering one’s treasures.”
A king in the midst of a decisive battle, will waste all his treasures to win. He will bring everything out to his foot soldiers, giving it through his officers, all so that they may be victorious. But the victory itself depends solely on the king.
While each soldier has vast hidden treasures within, the one who can reveal these treasures is the one worthy to be called the king. The power to be victorious in one’s battles, also relates to the ability to properly orchestrate an army of foot soldiers. The one who can do this, who can create a community that does not perish against the opposing forces, is also the one that can most reveal the hidden treasures within the individuals of his community. With this introduction, we can now provide more concise commentary to Godin’s statements:
“The revolution is here, and yet many are missing it.”
The first task is that a true leader should involve everyone in the battle. This can be compared to the famous saying (also by Rabbi Schneersohn), that “there is no lost case” (nita kein farfallen).
The question could be asked, who wouldn’t want to join the revolution? But the true leader or educator realizes that it’s not for lack of interest that people aren’t joining in. Instead, its because they haven’t been shown to their weapon, or storehouse of talents and abilities. This is why many times, the Chassidic gatherings of 12 Tammuz, begin with the question: How do we involve everyone is the pursuits that Rabbi Schneersohn devoted his life for?
“Embrace the possibility of connection, of standing up and standing out.”
Once the soldier is properly armed with their weapon, then they have the ability to stand at attention to their superior. As mentioned, the prerequisite for this stage is that everyone be enlisted in the army. In the battle of education, this means that every student is actively listening and participating in the class, with their pen and paper in hand. The “connection” is to see oneself as part of the army, classroom, or community.
“Embrace the opportunity to build something significant, something that matters.”
This is another reference to education. It’s hard to say that any other pursuit is as lasting and enduring as those messages that will be transmitted from one generation to the next. When people speak of “something that matters,” the implication is that these moments will be remembered for generations to come.
“Changing our internal narrative is as important as understanding the tools and tactics that are available to us.”
Since it was mentioned, let’s start this section by first explaining what our “internal narrative” is.
While the entire Torah is a story, neither Moses nor the Almighty are its narrator, because they too are referred to in the third person (e.g. “God said to Moses,” “Moses spoke,” etc…). Instead, the Narrator sees everything from above and transmits the picture to us. The Narrator then is God’s very essence, “I am who I am.” He is the Torah’s source which is higher and superior to the Torah itself.
It makes sense then that a discussion about “embracing the possibility” should also focus on changing (or aligning) our “internal narrative.” What this really means is connecting the essence of who we are, with God’s very essence. In this merit, we will be able to reveal our vast treasure trove inside.
Now on to the “tools and tactics” that we started with. The lesson here is that the leader that we choose, should be entirely selfless. Similar to the king who is willing to squander all his treasures in order to win a decisive battle, the educator should be willing to give everything he has over in order to properly outfit his regiment of students.
Root of Attraction
While we can’t say how closely the event will follow the material we just provided, we can propose something more profound. That to the extent that the event approximates this outline, that will directly affect its marketability afterwards. We began by saying that the Jewish people are a “light unto the nations.” The question then becomes, how to share this light to the world?
As we’ve discussed in the past, the challenge for an “out of the box” thinker is to first find that box to think out of. While many creatives would like to do away with any form of limitation, it is these limitations that provide the context for our explorations. We call this approach “sourcing the ideas,” but colloquially, marketers today are calling this “contextual” or “native” marketing.
The reason it is important to have this discussion in the first place, is because otherwise, we may think that the 12 Tammuz celebration is antiquated.
Sometimes, in order to promote classical Judaism, a writer first needs to have an arsenal of terms at their disposal. Instead of “festival of liberation,” maybe the event should also be marketed as a chance to “embrace the possibility”?
It’s not that we didn’t know what 12 Tammuz was all about before this discussion. Just that now, we have become familiar with the present-day terminology that people expect to hear. Sometimes, the use of the right words makes all the difference between attracting someone to your event or not.
For those interested, we encourage you to read write-ups of Godin’s event after it occurs. If it is to be marketable, the first lesson that should make headlines is that he “armed the soldiers” with the tools they needed to get their message heard. The articles will also likely focus on the vast latent potential that these “soldiers” have within to be victorious. Lastly, the message of “win at all cost” should imply that once the soldier (or student) is properly armed, there is no turning back until the mission is accomplished, and the victory is at hand.
Naturally, this is something that a Chassidic gathering at your local Chabad House could have also told you