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Smart and Simple    

Smart and Simple

Imagine a law firm that operates according to the principles of emuna and is named after one of Rebbe Nachman's famous tales...


A little while ago, my husband handed in his notice. He'd been thinking about doing it for a while, and his trip to Uman on Shabbat Chanuka crystallised the idea in his mind. The week after he came back from the Ukraine, he resigned.
My husband is a lawyer. He's been doing UK law from Israel for an English legal firm based here. Before that, he was unemployed for a year, and studying in a kollel (his first ever 'taste' of formal torah learning.) Before that, he was the boss of his own firm that went broke when his biggest client went bankrupt without paying his last, massive, legal bill.
As I've written about elsewhere, that precipitated a whole lot of things, not least: having to sell our house; having to move community; having to rethink the whole point of being down here; and having to learn emuna.
These were all 'good things'.
BUT - it was a very hard process to go through, particularly as we started off not knowing the first thing about prayer, G-d and emuna. It was such a hard couple of years', that both of us decided we didn't really want to do the 'working for ourselves' thing again.
Which is why we know it's 100% from Hashem that my husband is about to set up his own law firm, doing exactly the same thing he was doing before (when he went bust) with almost exactly the same clients.
But while a lot of it is almost exactly 'the same' as it was six years' ago, a few key things are very different.
First of all, my husband has gone into partnership. He's actually got a 'flesh and blood' partner; but he also wrote out a shareholders agreement between him and his real Boss, Hashem, giving Him full controlling interest in the business.
Second of all, he's not calling it 'Levy and Co', or anything lawyerly sounding. He thought long and hard, trying to come up with a name that would express what he, and his new law firm, are really about, that had an obvious connection to Rebbe Nachman and his teachings.
In the end, Hashem sent him the idea to call it 'Smart & Simple' - a reminder of the Chacham ('clever' person) and the Tam (simple person) in one of Rebbe Nachman's 13 tales.
Rav Arush wrote a whole commentary on that particular tale in the Garden of Wisdom, which I understand is coming out in English soon. I've been reading the Hebrew version for more than two years now - and it feels like my whole life is explained in that book.
But let's get back to our particular 'Smart & Simple' story. I didn't love the name, but after a couple of days' it grew on me. As my husband's (free…) marketing manager, I decided to canvas a few business people for their opinions, and the feedback was overwhelmingly negative.
Ditch the name! It's not a name for lawyers! It's a dumb name, because it makes it sound like one of you is 'smart' and the other one is stupid! There's a cheap brand of hotels in the UK with the same name!
Uhoh. It didn't sound very good. So my husband and his (flesh and blood) partner scratched their heads, trying to find a different, more lawyerly name, that was bland and boring and meaningless.
In the meantime, I had a massive attack of the evil inclination, and started doing a whole bunch of 'market research' conversations with 'professionals' we know, trying to find out what would 'sell' our business.
Again, the feedback was horrendous: Work 24/7! Work Fridays! (in Israel, we have Friday off, and work on Sunday instead). Answer you emails immediately! If I call a lawyer, he needs to be available straight away! I can't work with a lawyer that doesn't answer their mobile! Woe betide you ever make a mistake!
You know, I bought and sold four houses in five years, and I didn't get mouth ulcers. We went bankrupt, and I didn't get mouth ulcers.
I spent a week talking to a lot of very 'wise' business people - a lot of whom are 'religious' - about what it takes to 'make it' in today's challenging business climate - and I got two mouth ulcers.
At the end of that very long, very difficult, week, I was feeling like I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere, and fallen into a place about as far away from emuna and G-d as I could get.
We were stuffed. We didn't have a budget to market my husband's firm properly. Even if we could market it properly, most people are so overwhelmed by 'marketing' these days, that they just ignore it anyway. Even if they didn't ignore it anyway, we'd get a bunch of egotistical, stressed, anti-emuna clients that would be making my husband feel bad for keeping Shabbat and not working 18 hour days.
A few days' ago, my husband and I sat down and had a long chat about it all. We realized a lot of things:
Number One: this was a massive test of emuna. We had to believe that G-d ran the world, and that He would send my husband the appropriate clients, without me phoning up half the world or spending half a million on a pointless 'marketing' campaign.
Number Two: we forgot who we were really working for: G-d.
The whole point of my husband going into business for himself is so that he'd have more time to learn in the morning. The real Boss would be extremely upset with us if we ditched the torah learning just to chase after elusive 'business contacts' and pointless 'coffees'.
Number Three: We were going back to 'Smart & Simple', even though all the 'clever' people hated the name. This particular issue was really hard for my husband, but once we realized Who we really had to impress, it was a no-brainer.
Number Four: As my husband's marketing manager, I decided to draw up a different marketing campaign, one that had a much greater chance of working than any of the nonsense I'd been sucked into thinking about previously: I was going to go and do six hours of prayer, once a week, somewhere holy, until my husband's business launched.
Instead of driving to meet bigwigs in Tel Aviv, I was going to arrange a series of meetings with major league movers and shakers like Mr Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron; Mr Baba Sali in Netivot; and Mr Meir Baal HaNess, in Tiberius.
I was going to go to the places where things really happen, and just concentrate on asking the real Boss to send us the right clients, and the right help.
Two days' ago, I had my first six hour meeting at the Kotel. It was pretty uneventful as meetings go: I didn't have a lot to say, and until the last 10 minutes, when I just started to feel inexplicably happy, it didn't feel like anything much got accomplished.
Until I got home and talked to my husband.
He'd been expecting an insurance quote to come in for five figures, which would be a lot of money for us to find upfront. When it finally materialized, it was less than a third of what he thought it was going to be.
Thanks, Boss!
But that's not all. In one of my chats with my husband, I suddenly realized he had an 'image' problem, which was preventing a lot of people from taking him seriously as the talented, creative, commercial lawyer he really is.
He wasn't dressing the part.
I don't mean he wasn't dressing like a lawyer. He was, albeit a casual Israeli slacks and shirt version. But he wasn't dressing as an employee of the Boss.
I hate all the labels that people fling around in the Jewish world; I hate all the 'black and white' clothes; all the conformity. But I had a little epiphany a couple of days' ago, that if my husband was serious about working for the Boss, he had to wear the clothes the Boss wanted.
He had to dress smart. He had to remember that he was a servant of the King, and ditch the chinos from now on, even on his day off from being a lawyer.
My husband went out to buy his new 'work clothes' - and the change was instantaneous and unbelievable. Even my kids noticed, and both of them kept saying how smart he looked.
Which is when it struck me: Smart & Simple really was the Divinely-inspired name for the business, after all.
Now, all that's left to do is a lot of praying, and a lot of polishing of the 'marketing strategy'. But I know G-d is going to help us. I know he wouldn't create a world where a believing Jew had no choice but to work 18 hour days and sleep his Shabbat away in an exhausted haze.
We've checked our terms of employment; we've bought the uniform; we're trying to unclog the necessary pipes of abundance, and to decipher what the Boss really wants from us.
That's our job, our real job, down here. And if the Boss wants us to continue doing it, He's going to send us the clients and the wherewithal.
Amen, and may it be so!

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  1 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  it's a good thing when an idea is universially panned!
David Fink5/2/2012 3:20:50 PM

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