Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

things to do
This is a guest post by Rabbi David Fredman of AISH MN. It was originally posted to the AISH MN website on Friday, December 6th, and has been reposted here with permission.
Ah priorities. Getting them straight is difficult. Living faithfully by them is even harder.
As Stephen Covey said: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. We all have personal priorities, priorities in our romantic relationships, with our families and our friends. And, I would imagine, I am not the only one who sometimes has trouble staying the charted course of what I know my priorities need to be. Indeed, as I write this, I think of my wife’s virtually daily refrain: Have I taken care of myself, have I been a good wife, have I been a good mother, have I taken care of my community? Priorities: Taking care of ones self and then of our nearest and dearest, expanding outward.
Perhaps our society’s #1 priority is the emphasis we place on “success.” This “success” is usually relegated to the realm of material success. Many of us want our children to be successful, which is another way of saying, we want our kids to be affluent. And yes, we also want them to have good relationships with others. I might speculate, given the choice between financial wealth VS. healthy relationships, there may be those among us that would waiver on which holds priority.
Chewing on this, we now introduce the values and priorities of Jews-age old. What things were prime in our ancestor’s minds? What things did they see as the first and foremost responsibility for their and their children’s “success.” If we may say it, how did they stem the tides of what the recent Pew study unearthed? What were their secrets to more than simply “maintaining” the numbers of Jews, but engaging them and guaranteeing the proud existence and excitement that they sought to instill in their progeny?
To this, we turn our attention to this week’s Torah portion (where else did you think this would end up?). Jacob is invited to join his son Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt to move down to a plush condo in Egypt’s version of St. Jewish Park, known as Goshen. As part of the preparation stages for Jacob and his family to transition to Egypt, many things needed tending. Let’s pause for a moment. What would be our top priorities under the circumstances? We’re moving to a new country…what do we “need” to have in place before we pack up and go? We might say we need a job, a decent place to live, friends for our children…and those of us who’ve been blindsided by uh-hum freezing weather and untold feet of snow, may also do a thorough inquiry of the weather conditions of the city.
Yet, we find one simple directive that Jacob requires in order to move to his new locale. There is but one thing that need be prepared for him and his family to transition into their new homeland. Jacob charges his son Judah, “go down and prepare the land for us,” to which the Midrash says, the preparation referred to is the preparation of a place of study…” Amazing! Jewish education was the lone component that Jacob sought to establish prior to his arrival. A place to engage the hearts and minds of young and old, child and scholar, in the meaning, depth and purpose of life. This is an age-old lesson in foresight into the Jewish psyche. No, the material world with its many perks, was not Jacob’s main priority. It was the inner reservoir of spiritual strength that he and his next of kin would need to draw off of in order to maintain their clarity as to who they were in relation to the culture around them.
Friends, I believe this to be a timeless message ever pertinent in this generation. What weight of importance do we give on our spiritual pursuits in contrast to the necessities we’ve create around our material needs? Each of us would be hard pressed, nay impossible, to live without our cell phones for 24 hours, but many of us are able to go week-to-week without enriching our hearts and minds in the depth of what the teachings of our glorious legacy share about relating to ourselves, our loved ones and all of those around us! Let us use this post-Chanukah time to reflect and delve into some of the deeper resources that can actually enrich our own lives and increase our appreciation of our heritage, its message and its impact.
Shabbat Shalom!
Being that this column is about Jewish Learning I need to make some plugs and point out some opportunities for Jewish learning: Be it for self-serve learning (like or THIS Website, including THIS or THIS or THIS very straightforward site), as well as encouraging you to use Aish Mn as a resource (creating a tailor-made at home learning group with you and your friends or joining one of our already ongoing sets of at-home study groups), as well as using the communities learning resource – the many opportunities offered by the Minneapolis Community Kollel.
(Photo: David Machiavello)