Everyone Wanna Be Like Mike…Ki Tavo 5777
He’s 33 years old, makes a salary of $1 a year, yet he’s the fifth richest man in the world with a net financial worth north of $70 billion. He never graduated college, but he did get an honorary degree from Harvard University thirteen years after dropping out. Each month, two billion people use a service he co-created and now runs. He wears the same outfit almost every day, a simple gray t-shirt and blue jeans. He has been named part of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine every year since 2007, and rumors are strong that he will run for president in 2020, which would make him the youngest real contender for that coveted job. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, born on May 14, 1984, to two Jewish parents, a psychiatrist mother and dentist father, in White Plain, NY. His father started teaching him software coding in middle school, and when Mark learned all he had to teach, his father hired a tutor to continue his coding education. He blew right by his tutor, and started taking college level software development courses while still in high school. After high school, he went to Harvard University, where he and his friends developed what would become Facebook, the world’s largest social media company by a huge margin. Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, the third and fourth largest social media networks in the world.
He dropped out of college in his sophomore year to develop Facebook, and turned down a $1 billion dollar offer from Yahoo! In 2006. That was one of his better choices, today Facebook is worth close to $500 billion. Mark was the youngest ever self-made billionaire, when in 2008 Forbes listed his financial net worth at $1.5 billion dollars.
Clearly, running three of the world’s largest social media networks is not his end game, and money is not the primary driver in his life. In 2015, he took The Giving Pledge, becoming part of a growing list of billionaires who promise to give away the majority of their wealth to charity. The list currently includes 170 billionaires from 21 countries, and in Mark’s case, he pledges to give 99% of his Facebook shares to charity during his lifetime. He’s already started making good on that pledge, giving away over $1.6 billion so far to schools, hospitals, and a one-time gift of $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control to combat Ebola.
I don’t agree with all of Mark’s life choices, and like all of us, he is no saint. But there is one thing that Mark does that blows my mind. Every year, Mark sets an ambitious goal for himself, and then spends the year accomplishing that goal.
In 2010, Mark committed to learning a new language. There was no public announcement about it, and the world learned of his new skill when he went to a conference in China a few years later, and simply began addressing the crowd in their native Mandarin. The crowd went wild, visibly elated that one of the world’s most powerful men had taken the time to learn their language.
In 2012, Mark committed to spending at least fifteen minutes coding every day. As the CEO and chairman of the world’s largest social network, Mark has many of the top software developers in the world working for him. But he was concerned that with all the business development he was doing, he might lose touch with the basic coding skills that got him to where he was, and underpin his company. So every day, he carved out some time to get back to basics, and code.
In 2013, Mark committed to meeting one new person outside of the Facebook family every day. So often it is easy to get caught up in work, and forget about the greater world outside of it. So, Mark made the commitment to meet 365 people who were totally unrelated to his business over the course of the year.
In 2014, Mark challenged himself to develop his sense of gratitude. In our chaotic lives, we often forget to thank those that help us, or relegate our thanks to a hasty comment, note, email, or text message. Throughout 2014, every single day, Mark wrote out a thoughtful handwritten thank you note. I’m sure his family members and personal assistants got a bunch of them, but when you are forced to write 365 notes, some are bound to go to people that don’t normally get handwritten notes, like the person who cleans your office, the barista that serves you your coffee, or the UPS guy who drops off packages at your front door.
In 2015, Mark wanted to become better educated. To do that, he committed to read one new book every two weeks, recognizing that reading books gives you the opportunity to fully explore any topic in a more immersive and in-depth fashion than any other medium. To do that, he read twenty-six books.
In 2016, wanted to get his creative inventive juices flowing, so he challenged himself to create an artificial intelligence system to run his home. He then wrote a program for a personal artificial assistant he calls Jarvis. When he says, “Good morning Jarvis!,” Jarvis opens his drapes to let the sunlight stream into his bedroom. Jarvis controls the temperature all over the house, play any style of music Mark wants on demand, keeps track of the sleeping patterns of his daughter Max, makes his toast, and even throws Mark a fresh shirt when he asks for it. As of right now, Jarvis does not do the dishes, but I get the feeling that neither does Mark.
In 2017, Mark decided that he wants to understand the American people better, and has committed to visiting people in all fifty states over the course of the year. Some people see this as a precursor to a presidential bid. Some people see it as a response to criticism of Facebook’s activity during the 2016 presidential election, when it was discovered that people’s news feeds were being filled with Democrat leaning news, and that millions of fake Facebook accounts had proliferated fake news stories damaging to both sides. It’s possible that like me, Mark wants to see if North Dakota really exists. Whatever the reason, by the end of 2017, no one will be able to say, “But Mark never came to our state!”
What’s remarkable about Mark’s goals and resolutions is both how varied and diverse they are, as well as how clearly defined they are. I know many people who set sales goals for themselves, and can easily rattle off their sales numbers for the past ten years, but every year their goal was the same, make more money, sell more product. Not one of Mark’s goals has to do with making money, every one of them has to do with developing himself. More importantly, his goals are so specific that for the rest of his life, he can look back and say, “2014 was the year I wrote 365 handwritten thank you notes,” or “2015 is the year I read twenty-six books.”
I look back at my life, and sadly, I can’t tell you what my accomplishments for 5772 or 5773 were (using the Jewish years). Neither can I tell you what my accomplishments in 5769 or 5770 were. I can tell you the years my children were born (on a good day), or tell you when a particular child started elementary school or graduated elementary school, but those were things that happened around me, not to me. They had input from me, and I may have spent dozens or even hundreds of hours on particular events or jobs during those years, but I can’t look back and say how I developed myself into a better human being during those years.
With G-d’s help, the buck will stop here. I need to create specific goals with specific actions tied to them for each year of my life, and I need to track my progress in those areas, so that in ten years, I will be able to look back and tell you what value I added to my life in. Today, there are so many tools to help you track your goals. There are apps, documents, spreadsheets, and many of them can be accessible to you while at home, at work, at play, or all of the above. I’ve started a Word Doc that will track what overarching goal I have for each year. Thankfully, I have something for 5777, there is something I can look back at 5777 and say, “X was my accomplishment in 5777.” And I have a goal set for 5778 as well. I look forward to ten years from now, when I can look back and see my accomplishment lined up neatly. It will not only be a source of the right kind of pride, the joy you have in the hard work you put in, but it will also give me the fuel to keep setting goals for myself going forward.
I have one area in my life that allows me to see what this might feel like. I have a spreadsheet where I’ve been tracking all my tzedakah donations going back to late 2010. Using it, I can tell you almost any donation I’ve given that was $10 or more for the past seven years. I can also tell you the exact amount I’ve given cumulatively over this time (although I won’t!). Keeping this spreadsheet has been enormously helpful to me. It not only is the structure to make sure I’m giving the right amount, but it is also the source of enormous pride for my wife and me. At any time, we can look up and see the total amount given, which is a beautiful number to see. It also spurs us to give more charity, because when you feel good about something you’ve done, you want to do more of it.
Rosh Hashanah is coming up, the Head of the Year, the time when we decide what 5778 will look like. We have a week and a half before the New Year to think about how we want 5778 to look. Let’s not only think of a commitment to make, but also how we are going to track that goal and how we will record it. Let’s make sure that twenty years from now, we will be able to look back and say, “5778? That was the year we….!”
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this week’s Parsha, Moshe instructs the Jews on the actions they should take while entering Israel. One of the instructions seems quite difficult to understand. Moshe tells the people “When the day comes that you cross the Jordan to the land that Ad-noy, your G-d, is giving you, erect large stones and coat them with whitewash.You are to write on them all statements of this Torah while crossing; in order that you come to the land that Ad-noy, your G-d, is giving you, a land flowing milk and honey, as promised by Ad-noy, G-d of your forefathers, to you.”
It would be quite understandable if Moshe told them to write the Torah on special stones before crossing into Israel, or even directly afterwards, but here he instructs them to write the Torah on the stones while crossing into Israel in the middle of the Jordan River! (Malbim, Deut. 27:3) Furthermore, the Talmud tells us that a great miracle occurred while the Jews crossed the Jordan. The water stopped flowing, as if there were a dam, to allow the Jews passage on dry land. Normally, when there is a dam, the river water backs up creating a lake, but here the water stacked up higher and higher, until it reached towering heights! This surely did not create a serene writing environment, where scribes could sit quietly, etching the Torah into stone. Rather, there was a stressful and frightful environment, which would make it quite difficult for the people to do their task. Knowing this, why did Moshe command this action?
Because this was exactly the type of environment that Moshe wanted, in order to teach them an important lesson. The Jews had lived in the desert for forty years, existing in a protected environment, with all their needs met. Their food was delivered to their door daily in the form of manna, they had a miracle well that would emit streams of water which would pass by each tribe, and the Clouds of Glory protected them from enemies. Now, when they would get to Israel, their life would be radically different. They would have to toil diligently to draw food from the ground, go to war to protect themselves, and the idyllic life they had in the desert would be a thing of the distant pass.
However, this would not mean that they could stop studying the Torah. One of the greatest challenges of entering the land and living a normal life would be figuring out how to make Torah a prime aspect of their life even with a hectic stressful schedule. This was the message that Moshe was sending to the people. Your crossing into Israel represents the beginning of an era in which you will need to learn Torah even in taxing environments. What better way to obtain that skill, than by etching the Torah into stone while thousands of feet of water tower above you!
Today may be the time in history when this message is most relevant. Even though we create thousands of technological marvels that save us so much time (car, dishwasher, etc.), we seem to be busier now than ever before in history. Let us learn from this lesson, and discover ways to make the raging river of modern life stop, (even though it might pile up) so that we can have some dry land, some unhurried time to etch Torah knowledge into our hearts.
This week’s Parsha begins with the Mitzvah of Bikurim, the offering of the first fruit. When a farmer would notice the first of his crops begin to bloom (specifically the Seven Fruits with which Israel is Praised; wheat, barley, grape, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates), he would tie a string around it. When it would mature, he would bring it to Jerusalem and give it to the Kohen in the Temple. He would say a paragraph describing the Jewish people’s history of difficulties, and would then go on to enumerate his blessings – the fact that he is bringing his crops to the Temple, in his land, undisturbed by the world. This was meant to underscore the elation a Jew should feel at this juncture. At a time when we might be most tempted to take full credit for something (when our crops finally grow in after months of hard work), this mitzvah helps us recognize that our bounty is a gift from G-d.
The next portion deals with the Confession of the Tithes. We are not always so up to date on our required tithes, so, once every three years, there is a commandment to take any tithes that we were supposed to have distributed already, and GET THEM OUT! It is done on Erev Pesach, after the three years are over. After making sure that all our tithes are distributed to the proper destinations, (some go to the Levite, some to the poor, and some to yourself to be eaten in Jerusalem), you confess to G-d, saying that you have taken care of all your obligations, and asking G-d to He look down with favor onto His nation and bless us with continued largess and beneficiation.
It is at this point that Moshe tells the Jews that G-d has chosen us to be His treasured Chosen People, When we walk in the path G-d has set for us, that designation will be recognized by the whole world. (I think you can figure out the flip side of that coin. So, if you are wondering how to stem Anti-Semitism, or how to bolster the world opinion of Israel and the Jews, don’t go marching in Washington. March down the corridors of self-introspection, and see what you can do to help the world understand that we are the Chosen Nation!)
After that, Moshe tells the people that when they enter Israel, they should proceed directly to two mountains called Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival There, six tribes should ascend each of the mountains, leaving the elder Levites in the valley along with the Ark of G-d. The Levites should then face Mount Gerizim and proclaim a blessing (e.g. Blessed is he who judges the widow, orphan, and poor person with righteousness), to which all the Jews should answer with a thundering Amen! Then, the Levites should face Mount Eival, and give the inverse of the blessing in the form of a curse (e.g. Cursed is he who perverts the judgment of the widow, the orphan or the poor), and everyone should answer Amen! Most of the 12 blessings and curses dealt with matters that could be done secretly (moving a boundary in the middle of the night, giving someone bad advice, certain forbidden sexual relations, and so forth). This was the Jews’ way of saying, as they established their homeland, that they as a society abhor furtive and underhanded crimes.
The last portion of this Parsha contains the strongest admonition Moshe ever gave the Jews. In it, he detailed for them the incredible blessing that they can bring to themselves if they keep the Torah, but also the terrible destruction that will come as a result of us cutting ourselves from our Source. In it, we find something fascinating. Moshe says that all the hardships we encounter will be come upon us, “Since you did not serve Ad-noy, your G-d, with joy and goodheartedness” (Deut. 28:47). It is clear that G-d doesn’t want us to simply serve Him – this is not Wal-Mart – G-d wants us to serve Him with joy and goodheartedness! He wants us to be enthused by the practices we keep, He wants us to be corybantic in our prayers (yeah, that’s right, look it up!), and ecstatic to be in His service!
So, I’m going to sign off, because I am sure there is somewhere you have to ecstatically rush off to!
Quote of the Week: He who begins too much, accomplishes little. – German Proverb
Fact of the Week: Before being the first to summit Mt. Everest, Edmund Hillary was a New Zealand beekeeper.
Funny Line of the Week: If crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?
Have a Blithe Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham