0 Posted by - May 18, 2016 - Parsha, Vayikra

S.T.U.P.I.D.

Parashat Behar

רבי לויטס איש יבנה אומר מאד מאד הוי שפל רוח שתקות אנוש רמה Rabbi Levitas, from Yavneh, says, “Be very, very, humble, for the Tikva, hope, of humans is the worm (Avot 4 ;4). On a simplistic level, this means that if you make sure to be acutely aware of the fact that your end is the grave, a place of worms and maggots, your haughtiness dissipates. It seems that here, Rabbi Levitas is teaching a technique for humbling oneself. Think of death, think of worms, think of maggots, and you will become humble. This version does not use the usual translation of ‘tikva’, which is hope, but prefers an interpretive one: “end”. Your end is the grave. A humbling thought.

I have a problem with this choice of words. Why did the Sage use the word תקוה, which literally means hope? Just say סוף אנוש רמה, the end of Man is worms and maggots.

In this statement of R Levitas lies the universal secret to human success. This is a concept that changed my life. People who are successful in all their activities and human relationships possess the ability to do those simple things that assure their success. Being successful depends upon the degree of humility you are willing to assume to do simple things, and to be persistent in busying yourself with simple actions – actions which the unsuccessful perceive as “stupid”.

I use the word “stupid”, even though I shouldn’t, because that is the only word that I can use to properly explain this concept. It means not only that which is simple; it means the things that many of us feel are beneath our dignity to concern ourselves with, for we perceive them as stupid. Stupid really stands for Simple. Tangible. Underestimated. Persistent (planning). Imitating (success). Do-able.

To pray on time, to say every word as it is supposed to be said, you need to be waiting in Shul before everyone starts, something that busy people look at as Stupid. We, the internet generation, are too smart and too busy to wait a few minutes and meditate, before prayer. To say Birkat Hamazon from a “bencher”, to pray with your finger pointing to the words, are all things that people don’t do, because it looks to us “stupid”.

To be a good father for your children, you need to tell them stories they can relate to. You need to connect to what they connect to. Fathers that are not doing their job as fathers are too busy being busy; they can’t “lower themselves” to take out the time for plain and simple, quality family time. When they do try to connect to their family, it is not at the point of real connection, because for them, that is below their level or not suitable for their stature. The fathers who are successful at being fathers are those who do those things that the unsuccessful father perceives as Stupid.

When Rav Ovadiah Yosef was asked for his technique to remember word for word the longest Tosefot in Chullin, he said he learnt that Tosefot 500 times. We could venture to say that is what made Rav Ovadia who he was, it was his ability to learn the same Tosefot 500 times. I am sure he understood it the first or second time; so, if I were he, I would not learn the Tosefot again. Because I would look at that next review as something Stupid. I would opt to see the next page, or some commentaries… and that is the main reason why I did not become Rav Ovadia Yosef. Rav Ovadia Yosef was able to build the Shas party, and was able to connect to so many people by telling stories that ‘Rav Ovadiah Yosef wannabes’ would call Stupid. The best public speakers, the ones that are the most sought after, are willing to tell stories and elaborate on them, or polish up their jokes to get the audience to laugh, or talk about the simple things that everyone relates to – things that others would refer to as Stupid.

I have been coaching yeshiva students to help them improve their learning, taking their learning performance from average or below to the next level. 90 percent of the time, what holds back the student is that he is not willing to focus on understanding or grasping the basics, before getting to the second level. The yeshiva student wants to match up to the high level of his peers and understand the commentaries, or the challenging level class of his rabbi, without first knowing the simple and basic back-and-forth of the Talmud. In the beginning, they say to me, “Why are we spending time on knowing the basics? I did not hire you for that!” But the truth of the matter is that all great Torah luminaries were willing to master the basics, and from doing that, they became great. Rav Ovadia Yosef would learn the same Tosefot 500 times. Rav Elchanan Wasserman, before seeing any Tosefot in the Tractate, would make sure he had mastered the whole Tractate with Rashi, on the simple level, cold, before even seeing the first Tosefot. My Rebbi, a rabbi who is known for his genius in learning, told me that until I learn a section of Talmud 4 times, I have never learnt it once. Only the fifth time would be considered review. So, why don’t unsuccessful students review their learning so many times? Because they feel that reviewing what you already know, clarifying, is stupid.

One out of seven yeshiva boys that I sit with, ages 18- 22, among them proud yeshiva students, who come from respected rabbinical homes, cannot say the Hebrew Alef Bet from beginning to end. How could it be that a boy who went to yeshiva his whole life does not know Alef Bet from beginning to end by heart? I am not asking who is responsible for this, I am just supporting my ‘Stupid’ theory that people who grow first master those things that the unsuccessful perceive as Stupid. And unsuccessful students are usually missing a certain basic level, and that is why they cannot grasp the next level. Once the boy knows the basics, whether it is understanding the Alef Bet, or understanding basic Talmud, the next step is always less complicated. The reason the boy did not make an effort to learn Alef Bet until I helped him, the reason why the yeshiva student did not want to get the Talmud clear first, is because they regarded learning Alef Bet or mastering the basic Talmud as stupid. Below him. Beneath him.

Brian Tracy wrote the following, in Getting Rich Your Own Way. “Fully 99% of self-made millionaires in America come from these four categories: 1. self-owned businesses, 74 percent 2. senior executive positions, 10 percent 3. doctors, lawyers and other professionals,10 percent 4. salespeople and sales consultants, five percent. The final one percent of self-made millionaires includes all the people who have made their money in the stock market, with inventions, in show business, through the authorship of books and songs, as lottery winners, and all other sources.”

You have a better chance of becoming a millionaire if you have your own business, selling something, than if you are giving a service that it took you over 10 years of college to learn. And usually the distributer makes more money than the manufacturer. Who is smarter? Usually, not the one who is richer. Richard Branson, Edmond Safra, and so many other philanthropists were failures at school, but still were able to make a lot more money than the A students in their class. Maybe because they were willing to do what the A students looked at as stupid.

I asked my father, the rabbi of a Sephardic synagogue where many congregants are rich, “Abba, how many of the rich people in the shul are doctors, lawyers, or academic people?” He said, “None”. Of course there are doctors, lawyers, psychologists and smart people who made nice money on their services, but they comprise only 10 percent of the millionaires.

I have a student who became successful at commercial real estate in NYC on simple commissions that other real estate agents would not waste their time on. He said, “Rabbi, I see how true the studies are, that 80 percent of startup businesses fail, especially in the food business. I am also noticing that the restaurants that fail are usually the restaurants that have the complicated concepts. The restaurants who are making it are selling good and simple fast food basics. Hotdog and hamburger stands, pizza shops, ice cream stores, and coffee shops. I told him that the same is true in Israel. Cofix became Israel’s latest fast food craze, because they were the first to sell a good iced coffee for 5 shekel, and everything else in the store at a flat, low rate. It is amazing how you can build a whole franchise from a competitive cup of ice coffee. A simple solution to a simple problem. All Starbucks does is add some good customer service to a great coffee, charge you double the price, and they have become one of the most successful businesses.

So the Sage is teaching us that the only hope for success is to be lowly, like a worm. Do the things that you feel are the simple steps to the success that you really value, no matter how Stupid those things may seem.

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