Become an entrepreneur by studying the Torah

If you want to find the secret of Jewish business success, go back to the Bible, argues a new book.


Author Rabbi Brackman

Author Rabbi Brackman

Moses has been hailed as many things: leader, liberator, lawgiver and, above all, teacher. But he was also “the most successful entrepreneur of all time”, according to a new book.

Jewish Wisdom for Business Success argues that the Torah and ancient rabbinic texts are not simply guides for holy living, they can provide helpful career advice, too. The book is a collaboration between Lubavitch-trained Rabbi Levi Brackman, the former rabbi of Enfield and Winchmore Hill United Synagogue — who moved to the United States in 2005 to set up a Jewish outreach centre in the foothills outside Denver, Colorado — and Sam Jaffe, a financial journalist who now runs a consultancy for renewable energy companies.

Unafraid to acknowledge that “Jews do seem to have some sort of advantage when it comes to financial success”, they suggest that the “root cause lies in the book Jews hold most dear and sacred — the Torah”.

Their book combines tips on good business practice gleaned from the Bible, Midrash and Kabbalah with examples of success stories such as Andy Klein, who quit corporate law to start a brewery and ended up with an investment bank, or Sheryl Sandberg, who rose to become vice president for global sales for Google. And while there are role models to emulate, there also ones to avoid: Pharaoh the gas ruach (man of coarse spirit) or Korah, the ba’al ga’avah, the arrogant egotist.

In an email interview, Rabbi Brackman (pictured below) explains the book’s genesis.

Have you had any business experience yourself?
Although I have dabbled in business since I was a teenager, the main business experience that contributed to the book came from Sam Jaffe, my co-author, who has been covering the business world for the past 15 years as a journalist and financial columnist for The Wall Street Journal and major financial publications. We also draw on the experience and expertise of senior business people that we interviewed. 

How do you know Sam, and what made you think the idea was viable?
Sam is a member of our community and he attends classes I give at our centre. He found the ideas taught in the class to be inspiring and helpful as he launched a new business venture and therefore suggested I write a book on the topic. Judaism and the Torah has a tremendous amount of practical wisdom to offer people striving to succeed in any area and it has been my goal to make that wisdom available to everyone so that all people can benefit from it.

How did you put the book together?
Sam and I had two distinct roles. It was my job to come up with the wisdom ideas from Judaic sources and it was his job to find business stories from both interviews with senior business people and from famous stories that were in the media that matched the particular wisdom teaching.

It is unusual to suggest meditation as a business aid. How did you get the idea?
Judaism has a rich tradition of meditation. Jewish mystics use meditation to assimilate an esoteric idea so that they are able to live in accordance with it. It occurred to me that the same technique can be used to integrate into one’s life ideas that lead to successful practices. I started to write a yet-to-be published, step-by-step guide to how this can be done in practice. I incorporated some of those same ideas into the present book in the form of meditations at the end of each chapter. This allows the reader to totally incorporate the wisdom teachings enumerated in the chapter into their business and life.

Some people might find the idea of exploiting the Torah for business tips inappropriate, if not sacrilegious. How would you respond?
I take issue with the term “exploiting”. I do not see it that way at all. If one studies the Torah carefully, one notices wisdom teachings spilling out of each page. Judaism does not see the pursuit of making money as sacrilegious. As we point out in the book, with the right perspective, it can even be transformed into a holy activity. It would therefore seem natural to show how some of the Torah’s immense wisdom feeds directly into successful money making and career advancing practices.

People often think of rabbis as more concerned with spiritual rather than commercial matters. Where did your interest arise?
From a very young age, I always took an interest in economic issues and I wanted to become a business person before I became inspired to pursue a career as a rabbi. The fact that I founded and now run my own organisation is in a sense the fusing of these two callings.

The uniqueness of Judaism is that it is not just a spiritual religion, the Torah deals primarily with the here and now and how to elevate the mundane. It is, therefore, wrong to see a rabbi as simply a spiritual person. A rabbi should rather be seen as a person who works with the physical plane to infuse it with spirituality. But to do that properly, a full understanding of the material is necessary. 

Are there any insights from the book that you have applied in your own life and if so, how?
Yes, I apply all the insights in the book to my own life. I make sure only to talk and think in the positive. So I try to only use expressions in the affirmative. For example, I will say what I want to happen rather than what I don’t want to happen. In addition, while trying to be realistic, I always look for the positive opportunities inherent in any given situation.

However, the most prominent insight from the book which has become a cornerstone of how in my life is that I follow my inner will, calling and authentic passion — that which I feel I was born to do. Everything I do is seen as a means to fulfilling that passion and calling. Making money is not my main motivator, rather I am motivated by an inner passion. This prompted me to leave a career as a congregational rabbi in the UK and move to the USA to follow my inner calling in Jewish creativity. The book is a result.

The economic world has gone topsy-turvy since you wrote the book. What advice would you offer about surviving the credit crunch?
Even in the midst of this financial crisis there are many opportunities. The positive-thinking person sees this. There is a silver lining to everything. There is little doubt that with time we will get out of this recession and the winners will be those who sowed their seeds now. One must have a positive outlook and see the brighter future and prepare for it now. Do not allow fear to take over. Make rational decisions now that will allow you to reap the benefits in the coming upturn.

Jewish Wisdom for Business Success, Rabbi Levi Brackman and Sam Jaffe, is published by Amacom, £13.99. Rabbi Brackman’s website is at www.levibrackman.com

    Last updated: 11:38am, December 10 2008