Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lessons from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts


Sacred Jewish texts such as the Torah and the Kabbalah have long been con­sid­ered repositories of some of the greatest wisdom ever assembled. Yet only the smartest and most successful business professionals take advantage of these powerful collections of advice. Using real-world business situations as illustrative examples, this book reveals a four-thousand-year-old blueprint for success.

Readers will find practical insights on:

conquering ...

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Sacred Jewish texts such as the Torah and the Kabbalah have long been con­sid­ered repositories of some of the greatest wisdom ever assembled. Yet only the smartest and most successful business professionals take advantage of these powerful collections of advice. Using real-world business situations as illustrative examples, this book reveals a four-thousand-year-old blueprint for success.

Readers will find practical insights on:

conquering fear • harnessing will power • removing ego from the equation • mas­tering negotiation techniques • dealing with failure • utilizing spiritual entre­preneurship • harvesting the power of positivity • and finding the right balance of character traits to succeed in any career or business venture

The ancient Jewish writings contain a breadth of knowledge anyone can use, in business and in life. This enlightening and practical guide gives readers the direction they need to make it work for them.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The corporate examples are relevant and timely (right down to the implosion of Countrywide Financial) and the proposed practices contain pearls of wisdom such as a weekly 'audit of the soul' where strengths and weaknesses are assessed in terms of recent actions and are examined for mistakes, correctable by a four-step process. The authors outline sound principles and provide ample strong examples in this solid business primer." --Publishers Weekly

"This is an enlightening, inspiring guide that will help you climb the rungs of success using the same principles that have worked since the days of the Bible." --Jewish Ledger

"Those seeking a spiritual dimension to their commercial enterprises might find this book useful." -- Book News, Inc.

"This book may not turn you into a millionaire, but it could certainly help save--or wisely invest--the money you have." -- Jewish Exponent (Philadelphia, PA)

Publishers Weekly
With an eye to gleaning savvy business tips from the Torah, Rabbi Brackman and columnist Jaffe cover a span of topics-"Conquering Fear," management styles (referred to as "Patriarchal Business Models"), negotiation and "Dealing with Failure." Each chapter includes an illustrative story from the Torah, a real-life corporate example, insight for business and personal life and a meditation-evoking both The Art of War for Executives and The Secret (a chapter addresses the power of positive thinking, albeit divinely guided). The corporate examples are relevant and timely (right down to the implosion of Countrywide Financial) and the proposed practices contain pearls of wisdom such as a weekly "audit of the soul" where strengths and weaknesses are assessed in terms of recent actions and are examined for mistakes, correctable by a four-step process. The authors outline sound principles and provide ample strong examples in this solid business primer.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814412749
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2008
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rabbi Levi Brackman (Evergreen, Colorado) is a columnist for, the English website of the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Acharonot. He is the founder and director of several Jewish outreach organizations.

Sam Jaffe (Evergreen, Colorado) is a business consultant and former financial columnist whose articles appeared in the Wall Street Journal , Popular Science, The New Republic, and Scientific American .

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Read an Excerpt


Why have Jews been so successful at making money? There are plenty of theories: genetics, cultural sensibilities, the herring. We don’t agree with any of them. But before we present our answer to the question, here’s the story on which the herring theory is based:

A Jewish peddler was taking a train from Minsk to Pinsk. Stuffed with his wares into a tiny cabin with several other people, goats, and chickens, he was surprised to see an officer of the Czar’s army enter through the door. “The first class cabins are full,” said the officer, a look of disgust spreading across his face as he realized who his traveling companions would be for the long ride.

The Jewish fellow, paying respect to one of his country’s warriors, stood up from his seat and motioned for the officer to sit down in his place. The officer, pleased, took the seat and eyed his benefactor curiously. “Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“Last time I checked I was,” the peddler said, nervously fingering the knots of his prayer garment.

“Tell me,” said the officer, a light growing in his eyes, “why are you Jews so good at business? You seem like a nice chap. Tell me what your people’s secret is.”

The peddler narrowed his eyes, as if thinking hard. “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” he said. “I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”

“I’ll give you ten rubles,” the officer said excitedly. “I’ve got to know.”

“Ten rubles? What secret is worth 10 rubles? I’ve sold shmattes for more than ten rubles, but I’ve given an oath! Ten rubles is not worth my sworn oath.”

“Okay. I’ll give you 100 rubles.” The officer pulled out a crisp 100 ruble note and held it in front of the peddler. The man leaned over the seated officer and whispered something into his ear while deftly relieving his hand of the 100 ruble note at the same time. He stood straight up and looked out the window, ignoring the officer’s puzzled expression.

“Schmaltz herring?” The officer asked.

“That’s what we eat. We love the stuff. Start eating a lot of it, all the time. Pretty soon, you’ll notice that your business acumen is improving. Over time, you’ll find yourself raking in the rubles.” The train pulled into the station and the peddler tipped his hat and made his way out of the cabin. “Ah, here’s Pinsk. Good luck with the schmaltz herring, sir, and please don’t tell anyone that it was me that let out the secret.”

A few months later, the peddler was manning his clothing stand near the Pinsk railway station when he heard the din of galloping hoofbeats behind him. He turned around to see the officer, fury in his eyes, reining in his horse. “I finally found you, you scoundrel,” bellowed the officer. “I want my money back!” He dismounted. In his hand was a glass jar of schmaltz herring.

“I’ve been eating this stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s awful! It tastes like grease mixed with dirt. You fooled me once, but you won’t again fool me again…”

“I don’t understand, sir,” the peddler said. “What is wrong?”

“What’s wrong? I gave you a hundred rubles and you told me to eat schmaltz herring and it would make me a smart businessman. Now I realize that you’ve tricked me…” The officer stopped in mid-breath, amazed that instead of cowering in fear, the peddler was smiling and nodding his head knowingly.

“Good,” said the peddler, smiling. “I see the schmaltz herring is working.”

But for those of you—like us—that are not convinced of the herring theory, let’s ask the question again. Why have Jews been so successful at making money? The truth is that it’s a question which many people mull silently, but few dare to express verbally. Fears of being labeled an anti-semite—or worse, causing others to indulge in anti-semitism—are the main reasons for the collective avoidance of this topic.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a legitimate question. After all, Jews make up less than two-tenths of a percentage point of the world’s population, yet they represent more than ten percent of the Forbes 400 list of the world’s wealthiest people, more than ten percent of the Fortune list of the Chief Executive Officers of the 500 largest corporations in the world, and almost thirty percent of all the Nobel Prize winners. Jews are disproportionately represented in many high-income fields, such as medicine, law, finance, and science. Jews do seem to have some sort of advantage when it comes to financial success.

In the early part of the last century—the first extended period of time when Jews were allowed to participate in the social, financial, and cultural realms of the larger society in Europe and America—many people struggled with trying to answer this question. Unfortunately, they too often made the error of assuming that Jews were so successful because they cheated. In the United States, Henry Ford self-published a book about “the Jewish problem,” entitled The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem which urged his fellow citizens to stand in the way of this foreign race that was becoming too successful too quickly. Ford’s writings turned out to be the rants of a doddering old fool. But in Germany, Adolf Hitler published a similar book, Mein Kampf, and the world burned for more than a decade as a result.

So the puzzle over the question of Jewish success in business has stayed in a box in the corner of intellectual discussion, unopened out of fear of repeating historical mistakes.

As the authors of this book, we strongly disagree with the argument that the box should remain closed. We feel that we know the answer to the original question. And our hypothesis might be even more controversial than the act of raising the topic. It’s not the schmaltz herring, an international cabal, or genetics. We believe that the root cause of Jewish success in business lays in the book Jews hold most dear and sacred—the Torah.

“Being Jewish” can mean a lot of things to different people. To some, it’s about a political movement—Zionism. To others, it’s about a specific culture, complete with its own accent, ethics, and even sense of humor. To yet others, it simply means a type of cuisine. But the one thing that everyone agrees about “being Jewish” is that it’s a religion. And the religion of Judaism is guided by a book called the Torah, also known as the Hebrew Bible (and to Christians as the Old Testament).

The last two centuries have seen a tremendous decrease in the religiosity of most Jews for a variety of reasons. But what is difficult for outsiders to comprehend is the fact that even non-religious Jews still carry a four-thousand year-old religious tradition within their souls. Some claim it’s a genetic inheritance. Others might call it a form of a Jungian collective Id. We call it osmosis. For millennia, the Torah, its stories and its values were taught intensively to every Jew from childhood to old age. As Jews abandoned the active study of Judaism in the last two centuries, they still grew up in a society permeated with a knowledge of Torah and its unique view of the world. Even a Jew born in the baby boom after World War II, who can’t remember any relatives who studied Torah every day and lived by its commandments, still has something very real in common with all other Jews. It’s a particular sense of right and wrong, a unique ordering of priorities, and a way of doing things that hearkens back to founding fathers like Moses and Abraham and founding mothers like Leah and Rachel.

At this point, we’ve probably left some of our non-Jewish readers mystified. Religion, they stammer, is about divinity and heaven and hell. How can you propose a theory which says that sacred religious writings are the source of business success?

People who are familiar with the Jewish religion and its impact on a person’s daily life will be much more understanding of our suggestion. Judaism, after all, is a religion of the here and now, not the hereafter. The observant Jew follows rules that originated from the Torah which govern, among other things, how to get out of bed, how to dress, how to wash your hands, how to eat, how to pray, how to parent your children, how to respect your elders, how to observe a lightning storm…The list could go on for pages. And we’re not talking about customs. All these activities have rules. Rules that were formulated over three and a half thousand years ago. Rules that are still being fastidiously observed by adherents of the religion.

For such an all-encompassing religion, we consider it preposterous to claim that Judaism and the Torah says nothing about how to make money. That is, after all, what human beings have spent the majority of their waking hours doing for at least the last five thousand years. To somehow say that the Torah just ignores that facet of our lives would be a hard bone to swallow.

But our hypothesis is even bolder than some might expect. We aren’t just saying that the Torah speaks about business ethics (it does that also). But it goes much deeper. The Torah offers a blueprint for the businessperson to create, maintain, and grow a profitable and successful enterprise. That blueprint isn’t in PowerPoint format or sketched on a whiteboard in some synagogue office. It’s hidden deep within the Hebrew Bible and its auxiliary texts known together as the Torah. The etymology of word Torah is hora-ah, which means “to teach” thus this book takes the teachings and lessons of the Torah and shows how they relate to business success.

A word about how we define the texts of the Torah. Jews have always seen the Torah as having two texts that depend on each other and are thus inseparable. The two components of the Torah are the written law and the oral law. The written law, which the rest of the world refers to as the Old Testament, comprises the five books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Scriptures. The oral law is comprised of the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Kabbalah. The “oral law” is termed as such because, like many other bodies of work in the ancient world before the invention of the printing press, it was originally transmitted orally. It was eventually written down by the rabbis who worried that it would be lost and the oral law is now written texts. According to tradition, both the written and the oral law were handed to Moses from God on Mount Sinai thirty-five hundred years ago.

Interwoven within Torah writings about other aspects of life and religious principles are hints that a business person can use to become successful. But nowhere is this business advice compiled and summarized—until now.

This book is an attempt at just such a compendium. We have taken ideas from Torah texts and woven them around the theme of success in business. But we aren’t the original authors of this text. Our only feat is in compiling and commenting upon the Torah works of the scholars who have come before us.

Many of our chapters are built around a story from the Torah that has been expanded and interpreted in the Talmud and the midrash. We also delve into the Zohar and other mystical texts of the Kabbalah (the Torah’s mystical writings). We write about the teachings of some of the Hassidic masters as well, some of whom had plenty to say about business practices. And we haven’t forgotten to add insights from modern day rabbinical giants, chief among them the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who found time amidst his Torah studies and writings to counsel many successful businessmen before he passed away in 1994.

While we view this book as an extension of those who have come before us, we have done something unique that is not a tradition in Torah literature: we’ve woven in modern-day examples of real events and anecdotes which echo the themes about which we write. Some of these anecdotes are based on interviews we’ve done with successful businesspeople. Others are based on press reports and autobiographies. They all illustrate the concept being discussed in that section of the book, but they do so from the real world of business, not from the writing table of a rabbi. The purpose of the real-life anecdotes is to show that the Torah writings, however old they may be, still resonate today.

We also close each chapter subsection with two summations of the message in that subsection. The first compiles the specific insight for business practices which that section has discussed. The second insight sheds light on how the concept may be applied to our personal lives.

Finally, we end each chapter with a meditation exercise which you can use if you’re so inclined. Meditation (in Hebrew, it’s called hitbonenut) is an important, if recently-ignored, part of the Jewish religion. In the Appendix in the back of the book we include a guide to Jewish meditation which one should read before trying any of the meditation exercises.

We hope that the wisdom and insights of Torah and its tradition of many generations shine through this book. We are certain that all readers, of all religions and backgrounds, can learn something about elevating the world of business (yes, even the act of making money) into the realm of the sacred. Above all, we wish you much success in all your business endeavors and with the help of this book you will surely be able to achieve real and sustained financial success.

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Table of Contents


Introduction xi

Acknowledgments xix

1. Journey Forth! Conquering Fear 1

The Four Faces of Fear 3

Journey Forth! 23

Meditation 24

2. Nothing Stands Before the Will: Harnessing

Willpower to Succeed in Business 27

Two Divine Desires: An Inner Will and an

Outer Will 28

Two Desires in Creating a Business: An Inner Will and an

Outer Will 33

Discovering Your Inner Will 36

Combining Passion and Pleasure to Succeed in

Business 39

Follow Your Authentic Will and Overcome

Procrastination 40

Nothing Stands in the Way of Your Authentic Will 46

Meditation 47

3. The Humble Path: Taking Ego Out of

the Entrepreneur 49

Pharaoh the Gas Ruach 51

Korah the Ba’al Ga’ava 57

Moses: The Most Successful Entrepreneur of

All Time 63

Meditation 70

4. Patriarchal Business Models: Creating a

Blueprint for Success 73

Smashing the Competition 74

Grassroots in the Desert: From the Bottom to the Top 78

A New Paradigm Appears: From the Top to

the Bottom 82

Jacob Gets It Just Right 86

Knowing the Business Better Than Your Competition 88

Jacob’s True Legacy 91

Meditation 93

5. Making the Sale: Negotiation Techniques from

the Torah 95

Abraham Negotiates with God 97

Jacob Negotiates with His Brother 102

Moses Understands God’s Position 104

Using Questions and Creating Trust in Negotiations 113

Verifying the Terms of an Agreement 115

Meditation 117

6. Dealing with Failure: Handling Failure to

Ensure Future Success 119

Avoiding the Path to Massive Failure 120

Fixing Our Failures 121

Daily Failures Lead to Daily Success 125

Failure, Like Success, Is Deeply Personal 129

The Man Who Refused to See Failure 131

Seeing Failure as Freedom: The Second Set of Tablets 136

Meditation 142

7. Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Finding the Holy

in Your Work 143

Three Models of Entrepreneurship 145

The Benefits of Spiritual Entrepreneurship 160

Turning Your Business into Your Own Personal Place

of Worship 163

Meditation 165

8. Think Good: Harnessing the Power of Positivity

to Realize Your Goals 167

Success Begins with Optimism 170

Success Doesn’t End with Positive Thinking 173

How Positive Thinking Attracts Positive

Consequences 174

The Negative Power of Doubt 182

Is Your Inside in Sync with Your Outside? 187

Meditation 192

9. The Way of the Wise: Finding the Right Balance of

Character Traits to Succeed in Business 193

Learning How to Balance by Emulating God 194

The Middle Path Between Extremes 202

Don’t Stop the Carnival—the Rest of the Story 204

The Quantum Leap 207

Meditation 211

Appendix: A Brief Guide to Jewish Meditation 213

Index 219

About the Authors 231

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