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Stephen Covey & the Jewish 7 Habits

Stephen Covey & the Jewish 7 Habits

How the fundamental principles of his groundbreaking book can be found in Judaic sources.

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When I read Stephen Covey’s legendary work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I was taken aback as I began to list off Torah sources in my head for the principles Covey was so eloquently describing.

Then it dawned on me that it should come as no surprise that Covey’s habits can be found in Torah sources. After all, the Hebrew phrase “Torat Chaim” means teachings for life – wisdom for living, and if these principles contain truth, they should be found in the Torah.

Upon hearing the sad news of the passing of Stephen Covey, I felt compelled to write about his principles and where we can find them in Judaic sources.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

The first thing the Jew is told to do in the morning, according to the Code of Jewish Law, is to “wake up like a lion.” By waking up with vigor and not hitting the snooze button, I make the statement that just as God is beyond the limits of time, I, too, can stretch those limits and not allow myself to be “pushed around” by time. Rather, I will act with ferocious strength and seize the day.

This is true power – to realize what you are and who you could be, and then proactively take your life into your hands.

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

In Lecha Dodi, the song that welcomes the Shabbat on Friday night, we sing “that which is last in action is first in thought”. The fact that Shabbat was created last testifies to its being the ultimate purpose and goal of all of creation. In a sense we can say that God “began with the end in mind” – and Shabbat is the day the lends purpose to everything we do during the week since Shabbat is the day that is set aside for experiencing all that has been built up during the week.

One way to look at the weekday/Shabbat relationship is Quantity versus Quality. The weekdays are about building and multiplicity – that which is quantifiable. And Shabbat is about experiencing and oneness – that which is qualitative. Therefore, the weekdays have more of an affiliation with the physical whereas Shabbat is the day of the soul.

Shabbat is the day in which we move away from the building of this physical world to experience the spiritual inherent in every aspect of it. It is the day that embodies wholeness and contentment; experiencing the glass totally full instead of half empty. It’s when we stop doing and just experiencing being, tasting the fruits of our labors.

Habit 3: Put First Things First

There is an idea in Kabbalah that many things in the world and body consist of a “main” and a “subsidiary.” The subsidiary always comes to serve the purpose of the main and, in turn, assumes the identity of the main through its association with it. For example, eyelids are a subsidiary to the eye. They serve the purpose of the eye though their protection of it, and gain their identity through that role. Hence, we call them eyelids. The same principle can be applied to fingernails, orange peels, and many other things.

In each of these examples, what gives the subsidiary its identity is not the object itself, but its designated purpose. Similarly, if we focus on our priorities in life as our “main” and our means to support ourselves as we strive to get there as our “subsidiary,” we can infuse all our secondary activities with the meaningfulness of the main. If we put first things first and stay conscious of what we are shooting for and how the means will help us get there, the means themselves take on the meaningfulness of the ends, and we live a happier, more fulfilled life.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

One foundational teaching in Kabbalah is that God looked into the Torah and created the world. Just as a builder looks into a blueprint and builds a building, so too, God “looked” into the spiritual concept of the Torah and created the world; the Torah is the “blueprint” of creation.

In a building everything has its place and its purpose. If something is out of place or not strong enough to fulfill the task allotted for it, the building as a whole is affected.

The same idea can be applied to the world. Even though each of us is a unique individual, our distinct actions do not affect only our individual selves. Rather, we are all interlocked, interdependent, and parts of the same whole with the same destiny. The fabric of existence is “unified multiplicity,” multiplicity that is unified at its core. This results in a reality in which the effects of our actions are maximized; a reality in which what we do as individuals has universal consequences; a world in which win/win is the only way to truly win.

Habit 5: Seek to First to Understand, Then to be Understood

The Torah teaches is to judge others favorably. If we look the Hebrew words of this teaching, dan likaf zechut, we find the literal translation to be “Judge in accordance with meritoriousness”. That is to say, we all do good and not-so-good from time to time. We all have our positive traits and out not-as-positive traits. Judging in accordance with meritoriousness means identifying the positive of a person as the true reflection of who they are. When you view and approach the people in your life from this perspective and vantage point, they feel heard, validated, and understood. They feel truly related to.

When you do this for another, that person will, in turn, commit to do the same for you. This is because that other will feel that you “get” him. You see what he is “about”. You see the value in him. You see his uniqueness and you view that as a good thing. He is an asset that is celebrated, not a liability that is tolerated – and then he is more than happy to do the same for you.

Habit 6: Synergize

Just as each part of the body has its own unique and individualistic function that serves the purpose of the whole, so too, the Kabbalists teach that each member of society has his unique and individualistic function that serves the purpose of the whole.

In deeper Jewish thought, this is really the societal ideal and vision – to set up a society of people who are strong in their individuality and willing to share that for the benefit of other; a society of givers. A society made up of individuals that leave the “smallness” of being receiving-minded for the “bigness” of being giving-minded, synergizing to function as one whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

A classic rabbinical teaching is to “designate times for Torah” – to set aside a specific time in our day for what life is really all about. Even though most of our day may be taken up with the means (job, errands, etc.), let’s not lose sight of the ends (our goals, aspirations, and grander purpose). We need to make sure we have an untouchable time in every day to be directly involved with what really counts – a meaningful conversation with our spouse, quality time with each child, and time for introspection and God.

Sharpening the Saw is all about reconnecting with your roots and the “bigger picture,” and drawing renewed strength and inspiration. It’s about returning to yourself to get a handle on where you’re going in order to sustain balance, constant motivation and vigor, and a passion for life, the world, and your place in it all.

Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov is a sought after cutting edge international speaker on Kabbalah, relationships, parenting, and life. He is the author of the bestselling books Human by Choice: A Kabbalistic Path to Self Help and Jewish By Choice: A Kabbalistic Take on Life & Judaism.

Published: July 21, 2012


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Visitor Comments: 8

(6) david_gr@msn.com, July 29, 2012 7:46 PM

A strange coincidence

Stephen Covey passed away this past Monday, 7/23 of complications from a bicycle accident. He was 79. This article is a nice tribute to him.

(5) Denise Rootenberg, July 29, 2012 2:55 PM

I recently came upon an excellent one page summary of the 7 Habits

Covey underlined that you should spend as little time as possible in the quadrant of distraction i.e. escapism, which dovetails perfectly with Jewish thought. (There is no new thing under the sun...)

(4) Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton Florida, July 26, 2012 4:14 PM

We are a Jr.k-12th grade Community Jewish Day School which is a Stephen Covey 7 Habits, Leader in Me School.There are a few Jewish Day Schools in the world which have embraced the 7 Habits through a Jewish lens. Contact me, Karen Feller, Head of School, if you would like to know more about our great success in developing the "leader within" our students, teachers, administrators.

(3) MSZG, July 23, 2012 6:50 PM

Chochma Bagoyim Taamin!!

As I began reading the book, I was unaware of the author's religiousity. When I got into the first habit I was sure he was someone who believed in God. How can one write about success and effectiveness without understanding God's role in our lives. Sure enough, I skipped to the end (319) where Covey explains his belief that "correct principles are natural laws, and that God, the creator and father of us all, is the source of them." " There are parts to human nature that require the power of God to deal with." " To the degree to which we align ourselves with correct principles, divine endowments will be released within our nature enabling us to fulfill the measure of our creation." " We are spiritual beings having a human experience." Throughout the book, which I have read many times, I shared your thoughts exactly! Almost every page brought to mind a statement of our Chazal or the great words of the baalei mussar both then and now. If only we as Jews would focus more on our dvekus bahashem and truly be a light unto the nations. Unfortunately we get so caught up in the distractions of this world we forget about what's important. I make parts of the Book required reading for the parents of my students. This Is a must read for anyone who wants to be mashpiya on themselves and thereby be mashpiya and help others!! Great job.

(2) Marshall Nolan, July 22, 2012 10:58 PM

Most Excellent and profound

Rabbi, Truly one of the better article I have read looking at life. Thanks so much.

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