Torah Economics II

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Torah Economics By Hillel ben David (Greg Killian) The following study is based on a lecture given by Rabbi Daniel Lapin1[1] at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Lou Church memorial lecture in religion and Economics. Rabbi Lapin’s lecture was titled: What is Morally Right About Economic Freedom Making money is a Torah virtue, it is inherently moral. Prospering is a virtue. Why is it that Jews are disproportionately successful with money? Mark Twain made this same observation in his essay, Concerni
  Torah Economics By Hillel ben David (Greg Killian) The following study is based on a lecture given by Rabbi Daniel Lapin 1[1] at the Ludwigvon Mises Institute, Lou Church memorial lecture in religion and Economics. RabbiLapin’s lecture was titled: What is Morally Right About Economic Freedom  Making money is a Torah virtue, it is inherently moral. Prospering is a virtue. Why is it thatJewsare disproportionately successful with money?Mark Twain made this same observation in his essay, Concerning Jews:  If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It  suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance isextravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk…”  The reason Jews have excelled in the area of economics is because they have believedthat making money is a good thing in and of itself. When you are making money you aredoing something good. Philanthropy and tzedaka (charity – righteousness) do not have to be the goal. Making money is, in the end, good. Not doing tzedaka is reprehensible, butthat does not detract from the fact that making money is good. For Jews especially,making money is a perfectly natural thing to do. How can this be? Consider a man who knocks of people’s doors and offers to take away their unwanteditems, their junk. If he pays a pittance for the goods, so much the better. In fact, businesses have sprouted up for the sole purpose of taking unwanted items from people.These businesses charge people good money to take unwanted items. Whether the business is the city trash collector, or a junk hauler, they both charge money to remove aman’s junk. Now if one could purchase one man’s junk and fix it up and sell it to another man for a good price, then all are extremely satisfied with this arrangement. The one hashis junk removed without cost or for a small profit, and the other has obtained a neededitem for a good price. The end result is two happy customers and a junk dealer who hasmade a profit. 2[2] The whole world is better off because of this transaction. By engaging inthis sort of commerce we are doing something good for people. People welcome such junk dealers. When we do these types of transactions everyone is happy with theoutcome. The ability to make multiple people happy is at the root of the Torah. Thusmaking money is a good thing in, and of, itself! 1[1] “Thou shalt Prosper” is Rabbi Lapin’s book. 2[2] New businesses have sprung up just to bring those with junk together with those who want such junk.Can you say ‘EBay’?  1   In Hebrew, and in English, we use the same word to characterize good business dealings and our worship of HaShem. We call it avodah , or service. Those who get good serviceare glad. Whether they are HaShem or men. Providing good service is what the Torah isall about. When we please the men whom HaShem made, then we are also pleasingHaShem! When are children treat their siblings well, then the parents are extremelyhappy. In the same way, when HaShem sees his children treating each other well, then Heis extremely happy. To make HaShem happy, all we have to do is make people happywhen we make money. Does it matter whether we are serving HaShem’s children with a profit motive?Absolutely not! In fact, in both the Torah and in common wisdom we find that actions aremore important than intentions. Obeying HaShem for the wrong reason is certainly better than not obeying Him at all. In the same way, if we serve people with a profit motive westill serve people. Now clearly kavanah, or intent, is important. Never the less, obedienceis more important. Consider a child who obeys his parents with a bad attitude. While the parents would prefer a good attitude, they are never the less glad that the child obeyed.Since onlyHaShemunderstands the motives of our hearts, it is impossible for us to judgethis aspect. In fact, a Jewish court looks for the actions and words, to discern intent.Actions speak louder than words and actions trump intention. The fact that a waiter  provides good service to his customers is appreciated, despite the fact that he is lookingfor a good tip. The process of building good economic relationships is integral to building goodrelationships between human beings. The world was created for the purpose of building bonds and relationships. Consider the elements on the periodic chart. As important asthose elements are, the compounds that are produced from those elements are infinitelymore important. The air we breathe is a mixture. Water is a mixture. As nice as iron is,steel is ever so much more useful. Salt, for example, is composed of sodium (toxic) and chlorine (toxic). Yet the resultgraces nearly every dinner table in the world. With the alchemy of relationships, eventoxic substances become tov, beneficial. In the same way, we take a toxic maleand marry him to a toxicfemaleand the relationship is called love, and the whole world is better off  because of this relationship. In fact, Bereshit (Genesis) describes thecreationas goodexcept for one exception. The Torah tells us that it is not good for man to be alone. Manneeds a relationship with a woman.Bondingand connectivity are what make the worldgo around. Does HaShem want us to be rich? While His desire in inscrutable, it is quite clear that Hewants us to be obsessively preoccupied with the need and desires of other people.Whether they are your clients or your customers; whether they are your boss or your employees. No matter what the relationship, HaShem warns us to be concerned with theneeds of others. When we do this, prosperity and wealth are the natural outcome. To putit another way, if we want to become wealthy, all we have to do is become obsessively preoccupied with the needs of others. If we build buggy whips whilst the world is driving2  automobiles, then we will never meet the desires of others and we will never make a profit. We make profit when we sell what others want. The more we understand the needsand desires of the world and obsess with how to meet those needs and desires, the morewe will become wealthy. It is interesting that the more we do what we want to do, themore poverty stricken we become. It is only when we turn outward to the desires of others that we can become wealthy. Many have said that the most important occupation is the occupation that you enjoy. Thisis not the Torah perspective. The Torah perspective is to choose an occupation that meetsthe needs of others. This is the only way to have success in life because we will beserving HaShem in the process. Prosperity is the result of building relationships bymeeting the needs of others.The Torah is full of contracts (covenants) because contracts allow relationships toflower .The contract thatYaaqovmade with Esavregarding the birthright was a contract that allowed the Jewish people to become a nation of  priests.   Bereshit (Genesis) 25:30-33 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, withthat same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And  Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said,Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.    Shemot (Exodus) 19:6  And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holynation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.  A profit motive is what allowedJosephto survive his encounter with his brothers atShechem.  Bereshit (Genesis) 37:26-27  And Judah said unto his brethren: ‘What  profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh.’  And his brethren hearkened unto him.  Yehuda asked, “what profit do we get by killing the boy? Come let us sell him instead”.ThusJosephwill succinctly state that their intention to do evil was used byHaShemto do good.  Bereshit (Genesis) 50:19-20 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.  This good came about only because of a motive for profit. Consider the alternative:Joseph is dead and the Jewish people all starve to death. Where is the good in that? Even3  Joseph greatly benefited from this transaction. Thus the whole world benefited from the profit motive of Joseph’stenbrothers. When Joseph’s ten brothers encountered Joseph in Egypt he accused them of spying.  Bereshit (Genesis) 42:9 And Joseph remembered thedreamswhich he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye arecome.  Additionally, he had their money returned to them in the top of their sacks of grain.  Bereshit (Genesis) 42:35 And it came to pass as they emptied their sacks, that,behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack: and when both they and their  father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.  When they saw the money they were terrified because they imagined that they would beaccused of theft. Yet Joseph’s intention was to teach them that relationships were moreimportant than money. The brothers thought that squandering their relationship withJoseph to produce a profit was a good thing. Joseph’s message was just the opposite. Hismessage was that profit comes from good relationships, not the other way around. It isnot about money, it is about relationships. Relationships and profit go hand in hand with the uniqueness of each individual. If wewere all clones we would find it very hard to meet the needs of others. What we have iswhat they have. There is no profit in have each individual being a clone. Having differentdesires allows commerce. If no one wants to get rid of his junk, then there can be no saleof that junk. If everyone desires the same junk, then there is no opportunity for commerce. Being created in the image of God makes us unique.While most economists would tend to call us consumers, in reality we are actually producers. If everything were consumed there would be no museums, buildings, roads, or  parks. We produce! When we create wealth we acknowledge the uniqueness of theindividual. When a government attempts to equalize its citizens, then they willnecessarily produce poverty. The more we are alike the more commerce fails. It is our uniqueness that allows commerce to thrive. Thus the more freedom (uniqueness) thatexists in the world, the greater the prosperity of the world. The more we are free to pursue our own desires, the more we allow the world to prosper.Socialism destroys uniqueness. Consider government housing, public transportation, andconfiscatory taxation. These socialist tools are all designed to destroy our uniqueness andin the process doom us to poverty. We must produce wealth, not merely move it around. At the tower of Babel the goal was to make bricks, not to make a tower. Notice that bricks come first followed by what was to be done with the bricks: 4
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