ECONOMICS AND WEALTH: A TORAH PERSPECTIVE
It is clear that in order to better the world economic situation a most serious campaign to re-tune basic attitudes and images of self-interest is required.
People must come to understand and appreciate that your best interest is my best interest: your success is my success (and so, your failure is my failure). This consciousness can only be achieved if the whole of world economics is envisioned as a means to share with all mankind the gifts which our Creator has bestowed upon us, and to bring all mankind to its true and complete redemption. All of us must see ourselves as partners in this mission and the realization of this end.
It is the young people of the generation that are especially adept and ready to recognize this truth and to proceed toward this end with inspiration and enthusiasm.
With regard to the accumulation of great wealth by a single individual, we find examples of this in the Torah both for the good and for the bad. Joseph, in accumulating all the wealth of ancient Egypt for the sake of establishing constructive social reforms, is the example for the good. Korach, whose vast accumulation of wealth motivated him to rebel against Moses and Aaron, attempting to usurp their power (the classic case of power lust), is the example for the bad.
The most general problem and dilemma of our generation revolve around the lack of leadership. In order to instill the generation with a new ideal, a new sense of values, a true, inspired leader is required. In the above example of Joseph, he was a true leader of his people and all of mankind.
According to Kabbalah, the topic of economics corresponds to the sefirah of hod, associated with the left leg of the body and the body’s immune system in general. “Hod” means “to give thanks” as well as “to experience the aura of glory.” If one genuinely gives thanks to G-d for his wealth, he will merit experiencing the holy aura of glory that comes with wealth and the power to do good for the world. If one misuses his wealth, gains it in a dishonest way, and takes pride in his own wealth and power, his “hod”-energy will be transformed into a self-destructive force, as is said in the book of Daniel: “my glory [hod] has been transformed into a destructive force.”
We are further taught in Kabbalah that the power of binah (“understanding”) is intended to descend from the left lobe of the brain and permeate the power of hod. As a discipline of knowledge and human endeavor, binah corresponds to the natural sciences in general and biology in particular.
World economics must be structured and pulsate like a living organism. Each limb of the organism must recognize its dependence upon every other limb. Each limb and cell of the collective body must know that its genetic code is identical with that of every other cell. We will live if we unite; we will progress toward our common goal only when sensing our innate togetherness and caring for one another’s best interests.
Educating the public with the aid of all media now available to mankind is the key to making a step forward. Public opinion must be such that it totally rejects economic “monsters.” Dragons are often projected images of the human psyche; they cease to exist when the mind rejects them. Even real dragons are sustained by human psychological trends; they die when the mind negates them.
Capitalism is a classic example of kelipat nogah, the mixture of good and evil. The Torah generally views competition, which comes to a height in the competitive market, as a negative human drive, based on selfishness and lack of concern for the other. We are taught that one of the characteristics of the world to come is that it will have no competition.
Nonetheless, paradoxically, the word for “competition” in Hebrew (tacharut) is cognate to the word for “freedom” (cherut). This reflects the ideal of a “free market.” The true ideal of capitalism is to be free, to experience freedom in all of one’s life’s endeavors. But economic “monsters” cause civilization to regress to a state of slavery and bondage.
The holiday of Pesach is called “the time of our freedom” (zeman cheiruteinu). In Hassidut it is explained that this is the holiday in which the basic drive for wealth is rectified. In our exodus from Egypt, we took with us all the wealth of the Egyptian empire, as promised by G-d to Abraham. This freed us of the evil lust for wealth.
The word for “money” in Hebrew, kesef, literally “silver,” is the metal that corresponds in Kabbalah to the sefirah of chesed (“loving-kindness”), which in turn corresponds to the holiday of Pesach. The root “kesef” means “desire” and “longing.” The basic human desire and longing for wealth is rectified on Pesach.
Freedom implies rectified competition, a competition that is not aimed at quashing one’s competitor but rather serves to inspire and encourage each of the competitors to reach higher and higher heights of achievement, quality of product, and consumer service. Such positive competition advances the overall well-being of mankind, bringing us closer to our ultimate goal of worldwide redemption.
To give a vivid example of this, in-depth Torah study bearing new insights and dimensions of understanding the Torah text is achieved primarily through the positive “competition” and “battle” of Torah scholars one with the other. This is a “sweet” battle, which ends in augmented love and respect of one scholar for the other.
The Torah defines negative or unfair competition (hasagat gevul) as infringing on another’s domain or stealing his market. This is absolutely forbidden according to the Torah.
In Kabbalah, we are taught that in the primordial world of Chaos (“Tohu”) each individual was fearful to the extent of paranoia of each other individual entering his domain and stealing his livelihood (hasagat gevul). This world of existential fear and paranoia was doomed to collapse. Then came the world of Rectification (“Tikun”), a world of love and concern for the other, a world where all eyes focus on the truth of G-d’s perfect unity and His desire to dwell amongst us. The positive competition in the world of Rectification is a growth-process, a process that brings each individual to higher and higher degrees of maturation and prowess in efficient contribution to the common goal.
A good company or business corporation is one whose objective is not only to make money for its own sake but to make enough profit to be able to allocate a significant percentage to charitable causes. The more charity, the more moral justification for accumulating wealth. Every corporation should possess a division explicitly assigned to allocate charity. Charity should become the common concern of the company, an inherent need of the whole, not only an act of the benevolent individual. Corporations are families and social communities; the family must learn to express its common altruistic “genes.” Here, we see the positive spirit of socialism linking itself with the positive manifestation of capitalism.
The Torah teaches that the two tribes of Israel, the two sons of Jacob, Isaachar and Zevulun, made a bond that Zevulun would work hard and support Isaachar in his dedicated study of the Torah. They became eternal partners to enjoy the blessings of this world and the world to come, a partnership that bore fruit the enlightenment of the Jewish people. The heads of the Sanhedrin came from the tribe of Isaachar who instructed the Jewish people how to walk in the ways of G-d in general, and in particular, how to calculate and adjust the Jewish calendar. Isaachar, in addition to his expertise in all traditional realms of Torah-knowledge was an expert in astronomy and science in general.
From this we may learn that, in addition to the responsibility of the rich to support the poor, there is a special responsibility of the rich to support educational institutions. In our times, this altruistic cause is widely recognized. How many billions of dollars are contributed each year to universities and the like! Once more, at issue is whether all of this money is being allocated for the best purpose. Is the explicit proof of these educational institutions to broaden the horizons of human knowledge for the sake of bringing the creation closer to its Creator and preparing the world for the ushering in of the Messianic era?
Our matriarch Leah had six sons and one daughter. In Kabbalah, they correspond to the six emotions of the heart and the power of speech. The two brothers Isaachar and Zevulun, the two partners in business and Torah study, correspond to the two sefirot (emotions) of netzach and hod (which correspond to the two legs of the body that function together in perfect coordination, as two partners, in the process of walking, or progressing toward the common goal). As we said above, economics corresponds to the sefirah of hod, the left leg, the power of Zevulun. Netzach, the right leg, corresponds to the discipline of education (the spiritual link between generations and the growth and maturation of each generation from the preceding one).
Our sages teach us that possession of wealth is “a wheel that turns.” Today a person may be on the top of the wheel and tomorrow on the bottom. This consciousness should always be in the forefront of a businessman’s mind. This consciousness itself is no reason to despair or fall in spirit, but is actually the key to success in business! One must remember that all success in business is merely temporal; one does not take his money to the grave (if he still possesses it at that time!). This motivates a person to invest his money in eternal causes, to support his brother Isaachar (whose name means “there is [eternal] reward [for himself and his brother Zevulun]”). This then becomes the vessel to receive great blessing in all of one’s financial endeavors, to succeed in business with lasting success.
We are taught in Kabbalah that the time to intend and ask G-d for success in one’s financial endeavors is while reciting in the daily prayers the verse from Psalms: “You open Your hand and satisfy the needs of every living thing.” The final letters of the three words “You open Your hand” (poteiach et yadecha: chet, tav, chaf) combine to form a Divine Name whose specific power is to draw down the blessing of “parnasah.” We are further taught that in one’s intention on this holy Name one should transform the three letters in the reflective transformation system of atbash, thereby forming another Divine Name (samech-alef-lamed), which stands for the initial letters of the idiom of our sages, “the end of man is to die” (sof adam lamut). The recognition of the truth embodied in this holy Name becomes the vessel to draw down the light of the Name of parnasah as explained above regarding the “wheel that turns.”
From this we may conclude that hod is the consciousness of temporality whereas its partner, netzach, is the consciousness of eternity (the word “netzach” itself means “eternity”). In the union of netzach and hod, Isaachar and Zevulun, eternity unites with temporality, eternal values enliven temporal values, and temporal values become the means to manifest eternal values.
In conclusion, healing world economics from its ailments depends on the integration of the avowed goals of economics and education. The beginning, as taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov, is the dissemination of the values and ethics intrinsic to the Torah way and the teachings of the Torah’s inner dimension, Kabbalah and Chassidut, as they deal explicitly with the problems of economics at hand.