In the past two months I have been taking part in the Rabbis Without Borders fellowship. It’s a program of the National Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership, otherwise known as CLAL. Despite the name, the group does not
go to far-flung places to offer rabbinic care! Instead, the assumption of the program is that we can use Judaism to help people flourish. The assumption is that Judaism has something unique to offer even beyond the boundaries of the Jewish community. 20 Reportajes are chosen each year to be on the program. The Rabbis come from all walks of life, from all Jewish denominations, and work in different settings, not just in synagogues.
On the most recent retreat we learned a particular idea which I wanted to share with you, which I mentioned at High Holy Days. It’s the concept of the job to be done. It comes
from the business world. There’s a guy called Clayton Christensen who works at the Harvard Business School and McDonald’s asked him to try and sell more of their milkshakes. He stood in the parking lot of McDonald’s for 18 hours and watched all the customers who bought milkshakes carefully.
And it turned out that about half of the milkshakes were sold before 8:30 in the morning. It was the only thing they bought, they were always alone, and they always got in the car and drove off with it. So the next morning he asked a bunch of them why they bought
milkshakes and after long conversations he worked out that they all had the same job to do. That is, they had a long and boring drive to work and they just needed something to have while they were driving to stay engaged with life and not fall asleep. One hand had to be on the wheel, but geez, somebody gave me another hand, and there’s nothing in it. And I just needed something to do while I’m driving. In other words, they hired the milkshake to do the job of keeping them company and occupied on their drive to work. So Christensen helped McDonald’s work out that as long as the milkshake was the correct thickness and lasted the whole journey, they would sell more milkshakes, and he was right!
When we hire a contractor on our house we are hiring them to do the job of fixing or building our house. When we hire a gardener we are hiring them to do the job of landscaping or maintaining our garden. So what are we hiring religion to do? Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, suggests the following five things are the things we need to flourish as human beings and Rabbi Irwin Kula suggests the same five things are what we hire religion to do: Positive emotions, engagement (being in the moment and feeling on your game), relationships, meaning (in life) and a sense of achievement. Any of the stuff we do at Temple Sinai should include some of these outcomes. If it doesn’t, then Temple Sinai is not helping people flourish and not doing the job we were hired to do.
So, if you see me glassy eyed over the next few months and it seems like my brain is
working overtime, then it probably means I’m thinking about whether our congregation is
truly helping people flourish and truly doing the job that people hired it to do.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen