By Yochanan Gordon
People have been asking me why I don’t write more often. I explain that while my role here at the 5TJT extends to the editorial realm, until I negotiate similar payment terms to Dickens, who was said to have been paid per word, my chief responsibility is to produce advertising sales. So while I try to balance both ends as best I can, my main focus is in sales. Although I must admit that I much prefer being asked why I don’t write than why I write at all.
As a salesperson there is a question that I am asked in a number of versions. How many papers do you distribute? How many readers do you have? And it seems to be a valid question for someone considering investing money towards advertising their business or organizational event. However, I felt it appropriate to use this space to explain why the question is inaccurate.
In the broader world of media, numbers are important. If you have a news website, the question potential advertisers are focused on is traffic. The more traffic a site attracts, the more people will want to advertise and the more the site can fetch for advertising on it. That seems pretty cogent and straightforward. So the question remains why it would be any different in the world of Jewish marketing.
Avraham and Sarah were barren into their old age. However, it was at the covenant between the parts where Avraham expressed his concern of barrenness to G-d, at which point G-d promised him that he would father children with his wife Sarah and that his offspring would be as the stars of the heaven, which are innumerable. In other places, the Torah also compares the Jewish people to the sand on the banks of the oceans.
The Jewish people are anything but numerous. As a wise person once put it, the Jewish people are smaller than a Chinese statistical error. We have everything, but we don’t have strength in numbers relative to the other nations of the world. Perhaps the allusion to the stars and the sand means that, judging based on accomplishments, it would seem as if the Jewish people are the most multitudinous of all the nations. A cursory glance throughout history and the great accomplishments of mankind from time immemorial would confirm the accuracy of that observation.
So you see, the strength of the Jewish people throughout history defies conventional wisdom. The Navi states: “G-d does not desire your numerousness, for you are the smallest of all the nations.” Chazal interpret this exegetically to mean “Ki atem ha’me’at m’kol ha’amim”—not that we are the smallest of all the nations but the humblest of all the nations. In their exact verbiage: “Ki atem me’ma’atin es atzmechem.” So while it is true that we are the smallest of all the nations, the key to our success and the great accomplishments of Jews throughout world history is not due to numbers; it defies the numbers, as it defies all conventional wisdom.
With the completion of the Sefer HaTanya for publication, its author, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, sent it to his colleague, the Kedushas Levi, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, in order to gain his approbation. After perusing the sefer, the Kedushas Levi exclaimed, “I am exasperated by the ability of Zalmanyu (as the Baal HaTanya was affectionately known as among his colleagues) to fit such an infinite G-d in such a small book.” Obviously, the Berditchiver wasn’t remarking about the physical smallness of the book. The book has 53 chapters and possesses four additional volumes. Regardless of whether it was one book or the Library of Congress, it would still seem small in relation to the infinitude of G-d. But for the purposes of this discussion, the Berditchiver would never have commented about the physical smallness of the book because quantity is not noteworthy from the Jewish perspective. Having recently celebrated Chanukah, it did not matter how much physical oil they had to put into the menorah—one drop alone would have sufficed. This is the paradox of Jewish existence.
Therefore, when I’m asked how many readers we reach or how many newspapers we distribute, I point out that the question is not in order. You shouldn’t be inquiring into the numbers of newspapers distributed or the numbers of readers, but rather who is reading the newspaper.
If you’re a home-furnishings boutique looking to sell high-end furniture, you’re not looking to reach recipients of the penny saver or the various coupon booklets that they say are distributed to upwards of 100,000 homes. Similarly, the Daily News has far more advertisers than the New York Times does, yet the Times, despite its ugly editorial positions and one-sided coverage of issues pertaining to Israel, attracts a more refined and fashion-forward advertiser base than does the Daily News or the New York Post and the like. That is largely because of the quality in the buying power that exists amongst readers of the Times versus many of the other daily newspapers that people throughout the U.S. or the world peruse regularly.
I don’t like to write just for the sake of writing. Whenever I write, I seek to unearth the profundities that lie within the daily, almost mundane, occurrences within life. So when this idea occurred to me, it struck me as odd that I would seem to be answering questions that I receive from people in my personal encounters in a public forum. But then it hit me that this is precisely how the Tanya, which I cited before, initially came into being. The Baal HaTanya, like all Rebbes, would receive people seeking to gain answers for things that irked them both spiritually and physically until the point that the Rebbe could no longer balance the needs of the Chassidim with his duties as a Rebbe and all the other responsibilities that come along with that.
In his introduction to the Sefer HaTanya, the Baal HaTanya notes that this book contained all the answers to all the questions that people who came before him would have. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers to all the questions, it occurred to me that this idea was important to share with you, our readers, because it highlights how even in the mundane, day-to-day business aspects of our lives as Jews, we ought to live by a different yardstick than the rest of society since our existence is on a whole other level.
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