80/ 20

2 Posted by - May 20, 2014 - Bamidbar, Parsha

80/ 20

Parashat Bamidbar
 The book 

of Bamidbar is referred to as the Book of Numbers, because that is how it begins: taking the census of the Jewish people in the desert from the age 20 and up, the age from which males were eligible for the army. Each tribe was counted separately –  from Reuven down to Binyamin, their numbers ranging from the greatest of the twelve tribes, Yehuda, 74, 600 to Binyamin with 35,400. The sum total of all tribes together was 603,550. All were included in this census, except for the Levite tribe. G-d specifically commanded Moshe to count them separately and in a different way.  Males from the tribe of Levi were to be counted from the age of one month. The sum total of the tribe of Levi was a mere 22,000, almost half the smallest of all the other tribes.

The book Shaarei Aharon quotes seven reasons for this large gap between Levi and the other tribes. One interesting approach is a reason offered by the Netziv in Ha’amek Davar.  It relates to the pregnancy of Sarah’s maidservant Hagar, from her first night with Avraham. And she saw that she became pregnant, and her mistress (Sarah) became of less importance in her eyes. Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabbah (Breishit Rabbah  45,4). “Hagar said to the people: Sarai, my mistress, is not the same on the inside as she appears on the outside. She looks righteous, but she is not. If she were righteous, why did she not get pregnant in the course of so many years, while I became pregnant in one night?”

The Yeffe To’ar offers an interesting interpretation to this Midrash. Hagar meant to imply that she was praiseworthy; however, the fact that Sarah did not have a child for so long while Hagar conceived immediately was not actually complimentary for Hagar. On the contrary. In order for a Yishmael to be created, no prayers needed to be offered, and no tears needed be shed. But for a Yitschak, who was one of the three Forefathers, tens of childless years, of heartfelt prayers and tears were a prerequisite.

The Midrash continues. No effort is needed to plow and plant thorns. Thorns sprout and grow on their own. But with wheat, one needs to expend  a considerable amount of effort before he witnesses the fruits of his labor. The Yeffe Toar explains that things of value are small in number and are achieved only through much toil. This is not so with lower quality and second-grade goods. Hagar, therefore, became pregnant immediately, while for Sarah, it took time and tears. Because good quality comes infrequently, after toil, tears, and prayers .

The Leviim, the cream of the crop, were a mere 22,000, because quality is always rare. “Precious”  implies small in number, few and far between.  22,000 reminds me of the 80–20 rule, also known as the law of the vital few. The Pareto Principle. In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Pareto developed this idea when he discovered that 20 percent of the pea pods in his garden contained 80 percent of the peas. Management consultant Joseph M Juran applied this principle to business:  80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers.  80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff.  80% of a company’s profits are a product of 20% of the time its staff spends working. 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products. Therefore, business consultants recommend focusing one’s attention on those 20% of customers, sales reps, and products that account for 80% of the income.

The Leviim were those 20% who could be relied upon to bring G-d’s Glory unto the nation. They did not sin in the incident of the Golden Calf and responded Moshe’s plea to eradicate the idolaters from amongst the nation. They were counted separately from the rest of the nation, because they were the 20 percent  who kept the Jewish people true to their steadfast faith in G-d.

Pareto’s Principle is equally applicable to spiritual perfection. It is not about how many mitzvoth one can perform. It is about  that one mitzvah that you can do with all of your heart. It is not how many students the Rabbi has that defines or measures his success as a Rabbi. Sometimes, it is just that one student. All the Arizal’s teachings were written by one student, R’ Chaim Vital. And of all R’ Akiva’s 24,000 students , only five transmitted the Torah to the next generation.

In learning and studying, I have found this to be true as well. When you are unable to understand something, it is wise to focus on the 20% of the learning that you do understand well. This will help you comprehend the other 80%. Try to memorize 20% of the information, the main points, and through associations you will be able to recall the other 80%. Focusing on the opening and closing of each Beracha (about 20% of the total prayer) can greatly enhance our concentration on the other 80 percent, as well.




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