Throughout my young adulthood, I have had the privilege to be apart of the Magen David of West Deal community, while at the same time to attend Hillel Yeshiva throughout my elementary and high school years. Fortunately, I was able to continue my Torah education at the esteemed Yeshiva University—where collectively the ideas of Torah Umadda, Torah Im Derech Eretz, and simply “study and work” were the basis of my upbringing and everyday thought.
From the times of the Talmud to contemporary scholarship today, our rabbis have discussed in great lengths the synthesis of Torah and secular study, each offering his own unique input. Most notably, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, deeply influenced by his teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, coined this synthesis into what he called Torah Umadda, that one’s Torah experience can actually be strengthened from secular worldly study. Interestingly enough, Rabbi Lamm focused his ideas towards Madda to mean science, philosophy, and the arts, and less as to what we would refer to as traditional “business studies” such as marketing, economics, finance, and management.
Nevertheless, perhaps there is reason to think that even our Torah learning can be enhanced from traditional business study. In his famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, award-winning author Steven Covey writes about the importance of business leaders and managers to “begin with the end in mind.” He contends that just as organizations have mission statements defining the essence of their respective companies, effective people create their own mission statements on how they should live their lives. He argues that once one “begins with the end in mind” and recognizes his purpose in the world, he will then be able to effectively live his life within that context. Such context that Covey implicitly creates, is that of what he refers to as natural God given principles. Covey concludes that our life’s goals should be to align our own subjective values with these objective principles of God.
Similarly, our beloved teacher Rabbi Ezra Labaton A”H, enjoyed speaking about our role as Jewish people in the world—in other words, through what context should we look to live our lives. On countless occasions he would venture into the ideas of Tzedaka Umishpat never failing to quote from Bereshit 18:19 and Micha 6:8. He would teach that the ultimate goal of the Torah, and certainly the prophets, was to teach these ideals—that our lives should be lived through the context of justice and righteousness. On a grander scale, he would quote the ideas of Tikkun Olam, that one must recognize that he is part of a greater picture of life, part of the world at large, and must go out of his way to make it a better place. One can reason from here that the ideas of Covey and Rabbi Labaton almost mimic each other in their philosophies.
The first concept we learned in our Principles of Finance course at Yeshiva University was that of “the time value of money”. Anyone connected to the world of finance can attest that the value of one dollar today is worth more than the value of one dollar tomorrow. This basic premise, of which all of finance stems from, is that one can invest that dollar today to then receive an amount greater than that dollar, a year from now. On a holistic level, one can understand that the fundamental concept that the time value of money teaches is that we recognize that we are putting off a short-term pleasure—spending that dollar now, for a greater benefit of receiving more at some future date.
Similarly, our rabbis teach that this very idea is one of the most essential notions that Judaism has to offer. The very process of accepting upon ourselves the yoke of heaven and the misvot at large, certainly take away many short-term pleasures that we would otherwise be able to engage in. However, as Jews, we recognize that we often push off these short-term pleasures for growing in our relationships with God, and ultimately living more meaningful lives—certainly what we would consider a long-term benefit.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow speaks of what he calls the hierarchy of human needs. Although not in the direct context of business, many of the ideas in psychology today have been incorporated into the field of marketing, particularly in consumer behavior research. Maslow’s hierarchy begins with the basic human physiological needs of food and water, continuing on with the need for safety, belonging, and concluding with the most important and greatest human need of what he calls “self-actualization,” which can be defined as achieving one’s true potential. Similarly, Rabbi Abraham the son of Rambam speaks about the idea of Tzelem Elokim, that one of our goals, as “Godly creatures,” is to achieve this highest form of “self -actualization” in our knowledge of the Oneness of God. We can work to achieve this form by constantly engaging in study and self-perfection. Likewise, in the famous Mishna in Avot 4:1, we learn: “Who is wealthy? He who is happy with what he has.” Perhaps the Mishna is hinting to the fact, that one who is truly wealthy, is he who realizes that he has everything he needs, that he achieved his upmost potential—his “self actualization.”
Moreover, we often hear as children in the context of sports that “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just if you give your best.” As young kids growing up, we often scoffed at this saying and disregarded it. However, after looking at this idea now a little more deeply, we can begin to recognize that true success is knowing that you gave it your all—you achieved your self actualization to the highest degree. That is almost always more meaningful, and a greater show of success—than when winning from luck or chance.
These are only a few examples of the direct relationship between the ideas of the world of Torah and the world of business, on a fundamental level. However, if analyzed more carefully, one can discover many profound connections between the two fields of study, simply by going through any ordinary story in Tanach. We can learn much about the interpersonal relations of man throughout the stories of Bereshit, and connect them with present day styles of business management. How relatable are the stories of the survival of Ya’akob, in his constant negotiations with Laban and Esav. And how relevant are the stories of Yosef’s rise to success in Egypt.
Seemingly, the two worlds of Torah and business are much more linked than we think. We haven’t even touched upon the study of Gemarah, and the analytical skills that can be gained to use in our business lives. Conceivably the concept of “Torah and Business” as a whole, can be thought of as the concept of Torah Umadda in the way Rabbi Lamm spoke so proudly about—that traditional business studies like finance, economics, marketing, and management will actually enhance our Torah study. Throughout our community Yeshivot, perhaps explaining Torah lessons in the framework of business concepts, will shed light onto deeper understanding of the texts, and ultimately help us in our pursuit of knowledge.