ראובן קולטון

Reuven Kolton
Former Shaliach in Memphis


What Makes a Successful Merger?

If you’ve recently flown within the United States, you’ve probably noticed that the Delta/NWA merger is gradually leading us into a “new age in flying” (so they say) and offers more ways to use your miles (as my own experience has shown). Meanwhile, the financial world has been introduced to a “new” name: Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which is harder to pronounce but has high hopes for a brighter future.

This week’s parsha also focuses on several types of mergers, which I’d like to discuss with y’all. (Remember, I’m writing from Memphis, TN.) For instance, we learn about the partnership formed by Midian and Moav, two archrivals willing to join forces to defeat a looming threat (the Jews). Like the contemporary examples cited above, the Midian-Moav coalition is predicated on the recognition that – for the long term benefit of all players involved – joining forces is the optimal way for each party to achieve its goals.

The popular saying, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” represents a somewhat different approach to perhaps a different form of merger. In this case, the two sides are former enemies or opponents, who elect to collaborate with respect to a specific issue (as opposed to Moav and Midian, who had an external, common goal). One could claim that this definition applies to erstwhile business rivals. However, I prefer to cite a one-time Memphian hero: a tall, hairy Hispanic named Pau Gasol, who – after repeated failures as a Memphis Grizzly – simply changed teams and joined the recently crowned NBA champions. Similarly, a soldier, who realizes that his army’s defeat is inevitable, might decide to save his own life by betraying his people. How could such a thing occur? Apparently, most athletes are not driven by their loyalty to their fans…

At first glance, Bilaam’s indifference regarding his success or failure in aiding Balak seems to stem from his lack of interest in the result. That’s why he doesn’t care that he ends up blessing Israel instead of cursing them. Perhaps, had he really cared, he would not have agreed to all those attempts. Then again, as he himself suggests, he’s only in it for the money. In this type of merger of former opponents, failure induces one side to adopt the other’s goals.

Finally, we have sabotage – a sophisticated tactic, which employs “joining them” as a means to “beat them”. For example, poisoning aqueducts or funding rebels can be effective ways of gradually damaging an enemy’s backbone from within and thus leading to their ultimate defeat. Likewise, Bilaam, who recognizes that Israel’s morality is its backbone, brazenly suggests to Balak that this morality could potentially be used against them. Thus, the Midianites deliberately forsake their own women and meticulously execute Bilaam’s wicked plan of demoralizing the Jewish camp. A horrendous plague is the tragic result. Later in history, the Greeks also realized that the Jews’ strength was their tradition, and they, too, tried to “do kiruv” – sharing the beauty of Hellenism in an attempt to break the Jewish spirit. (On a side note, it has been said that the secret to solving the Palestinian problem is getting them some real cable TV – with MTV, reality shows, and a Mickey Mouse who doesn’t have dynamite in his tool kit…)

We are defined by hyphens – Religious-Zionist, Dati-Leumi, Modern-Orthodox, American-Jewish (or Jewish-American). We combine Heaven and Earth; old and new; and, of course, the sacred and the secular. Our lives revolve around many sorts of mergers. The fact that we are on both sides of the table works to our advantage, because we are protected from another party’s malicious intentions. Yet, at the same time, forming mergers with ourselves can be inherently risky. We often let our guards down, minimize dangers, and try to reconcile polar opposites.

I’ve spent the past three years in America with my family, and these have been very good years for us. In fact, when I look around, I see how America has been very good for the Jews as a whole, and hopefully, this situation will continue. Moreover, I’d rather spend my time outside of Israel here than in many other places in the world. That being said, however, it is vital that I – and each and every other Jew – examine the merger between the American and the Jewish cultures. This merger comes so naturally to us and our children, but we must ask ourselves several questions: Are we on both sides of the table when our children sit blankly in front of their monitors and screens, taking in all that Uncle Sam has to offer? Do we carefully scrutinize all our children’s influences in this society which tends to idolize the bigger and the faster?

This week, Shabbat – a day which symbolizes our eternal bond with Hashem – also “hosts” the Fourth of July, a day when the United States celebrates its independence. Independence doesn’t mean separation from all other entities. Rather, it’s the ability to control the relationships which are formed with those entities. As “mergers”, we must also seek our independence. In other words, we must ensure that – in spite of our connections and ties with many different ideas and surrounding cultures – we remain in full control. In addition, we must carefully examine the productivity and success of each and every combination we make in light of our eternal bond with Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom.