One act at a time. (Jonathan Sacks)

News of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ passing hit me pretty hard. I had met the man only once, yet through his teachings I felt so close to him. I’ve been reading his book, Lessons in Leadership, once a week for almost a year. I listened to many of his audio classes and interviews, especially enjoying his appearances in secular mediums, like his recent interview with Tim Ferriss.

It’s not difficult to describe why I am so attracted to Rabbi Sacks’ teachings. He was, in my opinion, a great rabbinic leader who made Torah accessible. His ability to dance between biblical sources, academic references, and business lessons was supremely attractive to my modes of thinking, learning, and perceiving the world around me. My worldview was and will continue to be heavily influenced by his work.


I hope that I can play some small part in contributing to Rabbi Sacks’ legacy, which I believe is to embody a fusion of both the Torah of the Jewish people and the wisdom of the world, in thought, speech and action.

The following is a powerful leadership quote from Rabbi Sacks’ essay on this week’s Torah portion, Ḥayei Sara, from his book, Lessons in Leadership:

“Perhaps….the most important point of [parashat Ḥayei Sara] is that large promises—a land, countless children—become real through small beginnings. Leaders begin with an envisioned future, but they also know that there is a long journey between here and there; we can only reach it one act at a time, one day at a time. There is no miraculous shortcut—and if there were, it would not help.”

This quote is apropos to so many current events in the world, as well as past and current events in my own life. And it resonates with me in an especially deep way as it connects to my current work with entrepreneurs on the theme of “growth”.

My name, Etan, in Hebrew is spelled איתן (spelled Alef – yud – tav – nun). Also, איתן was one of Abraham’s names. As I learned from Rabbi Moshe Schlass years ago on the streets of Jerusalem’s old city, the letters of my name represent the beginnings of future tense conjugations of Hebrew words:

  • א (Alef) = I will be…
  • י (Yud) = He/She will be…
  • ת (Tav) = You will be…
  • ן (Nun) = We will be…

Back to the Sacks’ quote and the theme of growth—we don’t know where tomorrow’s blessing will come from. Predictive data models based on past performance can take us only so far when it comes to estimating new revenue, customers, or other metrics we are tracking (and working to get more of) in a business.

The smartest data scientists, economists, and analysts will tell you the sameprediction isn’t perfect. With the current rise of AI, better prediction is becoming cheaper, but it’s still prediction, which is and will always be imperfect. I’m bringing up prediction here because I often see businesses fall into the trap of putting the “prediction work” (aka business intelligence, forecasting, etc.) in the category of “execution”. I believe that “prediction work” should be bucketed as “vision” (and not “execution”).

Great entrepreneurs and investors know that even the best ideas are free, and without execution they are worthless. You don’t know; you can’t know what will happen tomorrow, next month, next year, next decade, etc.

What Sacks is teaching us through the story of Abraham, is that we need both vision and day-to-day action, and further, we need to understand which is which, and which is real at any given moment. We can emphasize maintaining a strong and clear vision, putting the actual work in, embracing uncertainty and obstacles, and be ready to receive blessing whenever it comes.

What is intuition? (Josh Waitzkin)

This Josh Waitzkin quote is from his book, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence. I love how Josh defines intuition, calling it “our most valuable compass in this world”.

“In my opinion, intuition is our most valuable compass is this world. It is the bridge between the unconscious and the conscious mind, and it is hugely important to keep in touch with what makes it tick.”

Power works by division, influence by multiplication. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

The following excerpt is from Lessons In Leadership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

Imagine you have total power. Whatever you say goes. Then one day you decide to share your power with nine others. You now have at best one-tenth of the power you had before. Now imagine that you have a certain measure of influence. Then you decide to share that influence with with nine others whom you make your partners. You now have ten times the influence you had before, because instead of just you there are now ten people delivering the same message.

Power works by division, influence by multiplication. Power, in other words, is a zero-sum-game: the more you share, the less you have. Influence is a non-zero-sum-game: the more you share, the more you have.

Two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes)

The following verse is from the book of Ecclesiastes:

Two are better than one, for they get a greater return on their labor. For should they fall, one can lift the other; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and there is no one to lift him! Also, if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? Where one can be overpowered, two can resist attack: A three-ply cord is not easily severed!

Ecclesiastes 4: 9 – 12

טובים השנים מן האחד אשר יש להם שכר טוב בעמלם. כי אם יפלו האחד יקים את חברו ואילו האחד שיפול ואין שני להקימו.גם אם ישכבו שנים וחם להם ולאחד איך יחם.ואם יתקפו האחד השנים יעמדו נגדו והחוט המשלש לא במהרה ינתק.

קהלת ד ט – יב

This verse carries personal significance to me as applied to the debate (both my own internal debate and in the business world at large) of whether to go at a business venture solo or together with partners. I have found merits to both sides of the argument, and both paths surely contain many potential pitfalls. That said, I found the certitude of these verses in Kohelet to be quite convincing in the face of my own wavering: two are better than one.

See people as people.

“[People should be seen as more than just instruments or obstacles.]”

Stewart Butterfield, Cofounder and CEO of Slack

“The real fundamental challenge of leadership is the same as the fundamental challenge of just being a human being, and that’s just living with an open heart… and not seeing people as just instruments on one hand, that can be used to your advantage, or obstacles that are in the way of what you’re trying to do.”