Innovation in the Service of Hashem

At the October 2001, “Life After Teshuva” conference in Passaic, Rabbi Yaacov Haber pointed out that throughout history, mainstream Orthodoxy has often needed an influx of talent, creativity and excitement from an outside source for rejuvenation. Today’s growth oriented Baalei Teshuva community has proven this point by helping drive an increased energy and passion around the Jewish world.

A BT friend of ours recently illustrated this creativity and excitement. He wanted to lose some weight and raise money for Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, so he went around to people and asked them if they would be willing to pledge a certain amount. He signed me up for 50 cents per pound that he lost with a deadline of Rosh Chodesh Elul.

The other day at davening, he informed me that he had lost 52 pounds and the redemption of my pledge was $26. I happily gave him the money as he informed me that he had raised over $15,000 for the Yeshiva!!!

10 comments on “Innovation in the Service of Hashem

  1. If you read some of the current thinking in corporation innovation such as the Innovator’s Dilemma By Clayton M. Christensen, you’ll see that corporations have a similiar issue when it comes to balancing innovation and preserving the current corporate “mesorah”, and I am clearly using the term “mesorah” very loosely here.

    Of course Judaism is different than corporate America, but if you take a more nuanced look at the corporate world, instead of the somewhat simplistic “profit uber alles” view, I think there are many innovative lessons we can learn and apply in our service to Hashem, within the mesorah.

  2. It did inspire me. It even humbled me as I grapple with my own deficiencies in both decreasing my weight and increasing my material support for sacred causes. I wrote that it was great and possibly a path to becoming a spiritual powerhouse. I just think that innovation is a loaded word. It certainly does not preclude anyone from searching for a niche or unique contribution in Torah, Avodah or sevice to the community.

    All I’m saying is that Judaism is different than corporate America. In corpoarte America if someone thinks outside the box and in so doing destroys the competition or the box completely to create a new box/form we call it quality enhancement and progress. In Judaism outside the box thinking must be balanced with a love for and a dedication to preserving “the box.”

    Point taken on contacting Rabbi Haber for clarification.

  3. Chaim

    If you want you can email Rabbi Haber, but it’s possible he was thinking of people like Rabbi Akiva, who weren’t exactly products of mainstream orthodoxy.

    And I think many people would opine that R’Chaim, Chassidus and Mussar were somewhat outside the Mesorah of their times.

    In any case, I think setting the bar for innovation at the Mussar and Chasidic movements or R’ Chaim is ridiculously high and not helpful for us little people who innovate in much smaller ways.

    I’m sorry that the story didn’t inspire you and you didn’t think it was (semantically) innovative. I personally don’t know of many yidden who have combined there love of their Yeshiva with a personal weight loss goal to raise $15,000.

  4. “mainstream Orthodoxy has often needed an influx of talent, creativity and excitement from an outside source ”

    Please clarify. If it’s truly from the “outside” how is it plugged into the Mesorah?

    Also, if I might quibble on semantics; I think this is neither innovative nor Avodas Hashem. What this fellow did was great but I bet if you’d ask him he’d admit he’d heard or read about it being done by some other non-Jewish organization/cause. It is a riff on walk-a-thons and ten k runs that have been around for ages (see the recent Monster posting).

    When someone comes up with the FR idea of Chinese auctions or Purim Baskets and ten years later hundreds of Yeshivas are doing it as well, the first FR person who did it was (perhaps) an innovator. All subsequent ones are modifiers or tweakers. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being a modifier or a tweaker (Japan became an economic powerhouse that way, perhaps we can become spiritual powerhouses as well!)

    To me the term Avodas HaShem evokes something uniquely Jewish. FR efforts, strategies and tactics are not uniquely Jewish and the more “professional” and slick they are the further removed they often seem from Jewish heart and soul. IMO the Mussar and Chasidic movements and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik’s approach to Talmudic analysis and theoretics embody true innovation in Avodas HaShem while maintaining Mesorah-fidelity. Co-opting technology ideas and even gimmicks are useful and at times even sacred but neither rise to the level of innovation nor, because of the faddish nature of these things, are likely to stand the test of time.

  5. Love the story and the concept, Mr weight losing for Chofetz Chaim fund raising is brilliant and definitely creative . InnovatioN is definitely the perfect spiritual stimulant for (spiritual)growth &(weight) loss and proper focus.When you incorporate innovation into the lovingkindness / torah learning/people forgiving/generosity generating equation …….. the long and arduous process to spiritual success becomes easier to focus on and attain .Innovative ideas usually attract/generate positive traits/ facets, like the sparkle and glitter of excitement/ passion/ creativity and happiness – which are the fundamental building blocks of real long term focus/ success /change and function as antidotes for things like regression and jaded outlooks .Especially to the ever-increasing been there, done that 20’s crowd with fidgety attention spans , who may require more of the spiritual stimulants as opposed to spiritual non-stimulants (think adhd meds – Adderall versus Strattera) for proper focus maintaining.

    Another interesting example of “Innovation in the service of Hashem” i just came across, is NJOP’s innovative approach to People Forgiving – which does an awesome job of presenting / expounding/facilitating on the concept/need for forgiveness, in addition to providing an opportunity to actually ask for forgiveness in a blog format .

  6. Firstly, great posting, Mark. Secondly, I hope my wife doesn’t read it and get any ideas about me losing weight.

    The truth is that the idea is brilliant. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  7. Since you brought up the “Life After Teshuvah: symposium of 2001, does anyone know if there is a transcription of any or all of the program? I have the tapes; they’re wonderful. But, I’d like much of it (if not all of it) in writing. What can I say, I’m selfish. OK, OK, I’ll share.

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