Hoshin Plan

At one point in my career I was working at a bank that took on a large initiative to formalize its processes. Everything done within the bank had to follow procedures, with the requisite paperwork completed, and every procedure had to conform to a standard called “Six Sigma“.

Part of Six Sigma is an idea called Hoshin Kanri, or in something a little closer to English, a Hoshin Plan. “Hoshin” is a Japanese word that means “shining metal”, “compass”, or “to show the direction”.

In a Hoshin Plan, upper management comes up with measurable goals for the firm. Each division head takes those goals that his division could help reach, and translates its items into smaller goals for his division. His group heads to the same to his goals, team heads… etc…

This way, the individual programmer can be shown how his program, which people much above him in the hierarchy may never hear of, fits the team’s goal, the group’s goal, and so on all the way up to the firm’s goals which must reflect its Mission Statement.

Also, Hoshin Planning is an iterative process, at the end of the year, one can review the firm’s goals against its accomplishments, and make more informed decisions about the goals to set for the next year.

Picture if one Elul we did this for our Avodas Hashem… Picture being able to tie why you’re going to the store to what it is you plan on accomplishing in your life’s avodah. I think it would be very powerful in making all of life, even recreation or side interests, holy.

A second advantage would be added a year later. Elul calls upon us to do a special cheshbon hanefesh (spiritual accounting) to see what areas require teshuvah. But against a Spiritual Hoshin Plan, one has a tool for taking that introspection and inspection of the past, and apply it towards how one lives in the future. Perhaps one mis-estimated their abilities in some area, or overestimated a challenge in their lives. They thought their avodas Hashem would require attention on the point, but now they can set goals that better reflect who they are and the life Hashem actually gives them.

Enough hand-waving theory. I think an example would be illustrative.

I personally would pick the following quote from Rav Shimon Shkop as my Mission Statement:

[O]ur greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were). For everything He created and formed was according to His Will (may it be blessed), [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways.

Subdividing this into three target ideals:

1. Torah – internalizing His Will
2. Avodah – connection to G-d
3. Gemillus Chassadim – being a conduit of Hashem’s Good into the lives of those I touch.

Subdividing again:

1. Internalizing His Will

1.1. Daily learning
1.2. Daily Mussar work
1.3. Regular in depth learning

Notice at this point I can start filling in actual tangible projects that I can meet by year’s end. What daily learning will I start the year with? Should I raise the bar by year end or aim my year’s growth elsewhere? And if so, what should the year-end goal be?

Hopefully, by month end when this “Spiritual Hoshin Plan” is done, I can pause in the middle of the workday and be able to say for myself that I’m putting up with this irate trader on the phone so that I can pay for tuition (goal or some-such), I can develop my personal creativity (as per 1.2… as being in the image of the Creator is something I view as a Mussar goal), etc.. And thereby give sanctity to an otherwise mundane (and stressfull) activity.

Don’t Forget Daf Alef!

A thought that I had amidst all the talk about the start of Daf Yomi Cycle #13…

But first: Mazal Tov to all the mesaymim!

There has been much talk lately about one of AishDas’s central themes: seeing the forest for the trees. Eg the Spring 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives, and R’ Dr Gidon Rothstein’s recently published seifer, “We’re Missing the Point.” We have universal education at a level that is rare in Jewish history, enabling new levels of halachic observance as well. But to quote [R Peli's notes of a shiur by] R’ JB Soloveitchik (On Repentance pp 97-98):

Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the “sanctity of Shabbat.” True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat… But it is not for Shabbat that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten “erev Shabbat” (eve of the Sabbath). There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no ‘erev Shabbat‘ Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths – but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!

The Vilna Shas famously starts each mesekhta on daf beis amud alef — page 2a. And there are many cute thoughts about it, such as learning modesty from the fact that even when you’re finished, you still haven’t even learned page 1. (However, the Vilna Yerushalmi does start on 1a.)

What is happening in the edition of the Bavli is what we find in many books — page numbering includes the front matter. So the Bavli does have a daf alef, it typically looks something like the picture to the right. And so, nearly every copy of the Vilna Shas begins with the picture of an ornate gate.

פִּתְחוּ לִי שַׁעֲרֵי צֶדֶק; אָבֹא בָם, אוֹדֶה קָהּ.
זֶה הַשַּׁעַר לַה’, צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ!

Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, I shall praise G-d!
This is the the gate to G-d — righteous ones go through them!

- Tehillim 118:19-20 (and Hallel)

Yes, we must learn gemara and understand it well, but it is possible to learn gemara and not once mention Hashem’s name. I would suggest that we need to remember daf alef, perhaps pause at it before and after learning. If our learning the trees is not not tied to developing our appreciation of the forest, if we learn without taking personal lessons about righteousness and approaching the Creator, what is its value?

PS: My proposal for the venue for next cycle’s siyum:

Today’s Daas Torah

Here’s a theory that I developed recently [when this was posted in its first, much shorter, version on 26-Nov-04]…

The gemara uses the term “da’as Torah” in a sense totally different than today’s usage. It appears once, in Chullin 90b, to ask whether a cited opinion on a halachic matter was from sources, which it calls “da’as Torah“, or whether it is the tanna‘s own conclusion, da’as atzmo. Orthodoxy requires giving rabbis authority on halachic questions. And it’s not overly novel to say that such authority doesn’t come from just formal knowledge, but also having a feel for the material and perspective caused by long exposure to Torah. Otherwise, someone with a good CD should be able to out-pasqen a learned rav who relies on his own memory. But it’s ironic that we call this feel “da’as Torah“, since it is an instance of what the gemara identified in contrast to da’as Torah.

It is also not overly controversial to extend this authority to Torah questions that aren’t halachic, such as questions of philosophy or identifying appropriate areas for going lifnim mishuras hadin (beyond the letter of the law).

Where da’as Torah as meant by the contemporary usage hits shakier ground is when it’s extended in the other direction: pragmatic questions where the unknowns revolve around the facts on the ground rather than the Torah issues. Such as most career or shidduch questions. After all, the gemara advises the rabbinate to leave military questions to the generals. Should we not leave medical ones to the doctors, career questions to career counselors — or at least people who work in the jobs in question?

The extension of da’as Torah from the Talmudic usage is first found in R’ Yisra’el Salanter’s Or Yisra’el. In Mussar, it’s about the role of Torah in personal development. Yes, his formulation justified approaching the rav on non-halachic issues by noting that every decision has impact on which life experiences one has, and in turn on one’s mussar growth. Someone who chooses to consult a rav who knows their personality and in which ways they’re trying to grow, could use the insight.

However, robbed of the connection to Mussar, the original motivation is gone and the term has a totally knew meaning. What’s called “da’as Torah” today often involves approaching a gadol who doesn’t know the asker well enough to give such mashgi’ach-style help. Or even if one’s own rosh yeshivah, it could be done even years after their daily contact. Not at all what Rav Yisra’el was describing.

Rav Yisra’el does ascribe importance to the effect of Torah on shaping the thought of the one who learns it. If I may add, the word da’as is not merely zikaron (memory), but knowledge that both comes from chokhmah and binah, but is also at times replaced by the sefirah of keser which is their cause. Knowledge that comes from thought, and shapes thought.

The current conceptualization of da’as Torah relies entirely on this notion, which Rav Yisra’el cited as buttress for why one should seek about Mussar advice. Without it being about Mussar advice, and fitting in one’s plan to shteig, to ascend the ladder, da’as Torah is a totally new invention.

Yes, da’as Torah should give the rav better ability to analyze questions than the asker, or anyone else whose mind lacks that Torah development. However, does that ability compensate for not having as many of the facts about which to reason — including the da’as (if I may use my own conceit) of the topic at hand? My personal opinion is, rarely. HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein makes this point far more scathingly in a talk to Yeshivat Har Etzion titled “אם דעת אין, מנהיגות מנין?”, available in Hebrew here, and in unauthorized translation by Joseph Faith titled “If There Is No ‘Da’at,’ How Can We Have Leadership?”, here.

So we’re discussing rabbinic authority in three different domains:

  • Pesaq halakhah, where (barring grievous errors discernible to all, mistakes in zil q’ri bei Rav) it is binding.
  • Spiritual guidance, as proposed by Rav Yisrael Salanter. The advice is certainly of value, (not being legal) is not binding.
  • Guidance where the primary question involves unknowns about the logistics of the situation. That if we understood what was involved better, the religious dictates would be obvious.

There is obvious gray area, in fact, I identified a minimum of two:

  1. The line between what is a bad idea in terms of values and what is halachically prohibited is complex. In his famous commentary on “you shall be holy“, the Ramban coins the phrase “menuval bireshus haTorah — disgusting but with the permission of the Torah”, and tells us it is prohibited. But if it’s prohibited, how is it “bireshus haTorah“? His point, following the Toras Kohanim before him, is that not everything that which is permitted by the Torah’s black-letter law is actually permissible in practice. For each person to know when and how to follow the obligation to go lifnim mishuras hadin, beyond the black-letter law, is in a way halachic, and in a way aggadic.
  2. When we do not know all the facts of a situation and have to work only with probabilities, we are doing risk assessment. Risk is a combination of both the odds, and the gains or costs if the situation comes to pass — probability and religious merit merged into one. Knowing which risks are halachicly acceptable, and which long-shot opportunities we are allowed to ignore is itself a religious assessment.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudath Israel of America’s spokesman, described the mechanism of da’as Torah in the terms I described above in an article in the the New York Jewish Week:

Da’at Torah is not some Jewish equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Not only can rabbis make mistakes of judgment, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud, Horiut, predicated on the assumption that they can, that even the Sanhedrin is capable of erring, even in halachic matters. What Da’at Torah means, simply put, is that those most imbued with Torah-knowledge and who have internalized a large degree of the perfection of values and refinement of character that the Torah idealizes are thereby rendered particularly, indeed extraordinarily, qualified to offer an authentic Jewish perspective on matters of import to Jews – just as expert doctors are those most qualified (though still fallible, to be sure) to offer medical advice.

I would have thought that this yeshivish conception is to be distinguished from the chassidic belief in the ru’ach haqodesh (holy inspiration) Hashem grants tzadiqim, so that their decisions even in non-Torah matters is of value. One is about the quality of mind, the other about Divine Aid given people who carry their kehillos‘ burdens. There it’s from Hashem, the rebbe‘s own knowledge is irrelevant so this objection wouldn’t apply. One either believes the help is granted freely, or less so. However, here is how Rabbi Bernard Weinberger describes da’as Torah back in the second issue of Jewish Observer (1963). To him, da’as Torah is:

a lot more than Torah weltanschauung or a Torah saturated perspective. It assumes a special endowment or capacity to penetrate objective reality, recognize the facts as they ‘really’ are, and apply pertinent Halachic principles. It is a form of ‘Ruach HaKodesh,’ as it were, which borders if not remotely on the periphery of prophecy.

(According to the Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed 3:36, one might be justified in identifying the two. Prophecy is a natural faculty of an intellect developed enough to receive it. But then, today’s da’as Torah has come out against learning the Guide… ☺)

But even among Chassidim, the near-prophetic version of trust in rabbeim was originally resisted. Here is the Tanya’s description, from Igeres haQodesh #22 (notice the contrast between the close of this quote to the last words I quoted from Rabbi Weinberger):

Has such a thing ever happened in days past? Where indeed have you found such a custom in any of the books of the early or latter sages of Israel, that it should be the custom and established norm to ask for advice in mundane matters, as to what one ought to do in matters of the physical world?

[Such questions were not asked] even of the greatest of the former sages of Israel, such as the tannaim and amoraim, the authors of the Mishnah and the Gemara, “from whom no secret was hidden,” and “for whom all the paths of heaven were clearly illuminated,” but only of actual prophets who used to live among the Jewish people, such as Samuel the Seer to whom Saul went to inquire of G-d through him about the donkeys that his father had lost.

Why, indeed, were sages of stature such as the tannaim and amoraim not asked about mundane matters? For in fact all matters pertaining to man, except for words of Torah and the fear of heaven, are apprehended only by prophecy.

The other issue that is different than R’ Yisra’el’s original formulation is a shift to an all-or-nothing. Something “the gedolim” have that the rest of us lack. Rather, it ought to be relative. Whomever learned more Torah should be more shaped by it; whomever less, less. This artificial division into have and have-not has returned back to affect the core of Torah questions, halakhah. The local shul rav lost most of his authority, both in his mispallelim‘s eyes and in his own, as he’s from the have-not class. Many local rabbanim are merely conduits, forwarding all but the most trivial questions to their rashei yeshiva.

By making such a class, “the gedolim“, as opposed to speaking of relative greatness, the community is subtly guided toward believing that da’as Torah is monolithic. And with a bit of unconscious circular reasoning, this is made true. The definition of da’as Torah is made to be the conclusion of the gedolim and the definition of who is a gadol is restricted by who agrees with the accepted answer.

This is so well accepted that authors and publishers can not put out histories that disprove such unity of thought. If it’s told that the Netziv read the newspaper on Shabbos, or allowed secular studied in Vilozhin, or that fellows in Salbodka argued issues like Communism, Freud, or the other hot topics of their time, the hoi polloi will question the rav‘s greatness, which raises problems of shemiras halashon. Even when from an unimpeachable source, like the Torah Temimah or R’ Noson Kamenetzky. It’s not a judgment of fiction, but of inappropriate truth.

There is another way in which absolutism is turning today’s da’as Torah into something new. Hyperbolic retoric has pronouncements of da’as Torah introduced as pesaq. For example, a poseiq told an audience of tens of thousands that he pasqened that non-business use of the internet was assur. But then days later spoke about the need for filters in the home. Relative authority between halachic pesaq and aggadic guidance is gone, and the masses increasingly think both are legally binding.

Without the core notion of having a Mussar plan, one can’t transplant the notions that depend upon it. Such drastic transvaluation of terms is inevitable. Having a moreh derekh, a mentor providing religious guidance in the areas beyond black-letter halakhah is one thing. Abdicating difficult decisions, perhaps to a gadol who can’t know you or the side-effects of his advice due to you life situation, and then saying the answer is a pesaq that must be followed, is something new entirely.