Talmudic Risk-Diversification

Talmudic Risk-Diversification

Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible. -Cadet Maxim

The Torah is filled with stories of people who risked it all, put their faith in God and beat the odds. Perhaps the most famous is Moses, the humble shepherd with a speech impediment, who listened to God and challenged mighty Pharaoh and the Egyptian empire. Moses went on to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, leaving Egypt decimated and in ruins.

However, for those that haven’t heard the voice of God, our sages suggest a more nuanced approach to risk.

Our patriarch Jacob faced the possibility of war against his brother Esau; therefore, he spread out his risk in preparation for the potential battle, splitting his forces into two. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 32:9 (Vayishlach) connects the strategy of spreading or diversifying risk to an important Talmudic teaching related to financial risk management:

“A person should always split his capital into three: one third should go into land, one third should go into business and one third should be readily available.”

The logic behind the Talmudic dictum is both reasonable and fiscally sound. To have one third of one’s capital in land (back then it wasn’t as volatile as today) was a stable long-term investment. One third in business was where one could earn a greater return on investment, with its accompanying level of risk. To keep one third liquid allowed the possibility for fast reaction to opportunities in the market, emergencies, or as became common in later centuries, rapid escape. Included in this mix is the other financial command of setting aside one tenth of one’s income to charity.

A modern-day portfolio according to Talmudic financial advice would then consist of the following:

  • 30% in stable, long-term investments,
  • 30% in higher risk, higher reward entities,
  • 30% in cash or highly liquid instruments, and
  • 10% for charity.

The Torah tells us of the fantastic financial success that the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob enjoyed and attributes it to divine intervention. However, it is likely that once they had their wealth they knew how to protect it and grow it intelligently, with continued divine assistance.

May both our risky and our more mundane endeavors be blessed with divine success.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the city of Scottsdale, Arizona. A wonderful place to conduct business.

Dangerous Jealousy

Dangerous Jealousy

The disease of jealously is so malignant that is converts all it takes into its own nourishment. -Joseph Addison

In Judaism there’s a concept of an “evil eye.” An evil eye is when someone looks upon another in some negative fashion. This is most commonly the result of jealousy.

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Genesis 30:38 (Vayetze) discusses the destructive power of such jealousy, how people can unwittingly bring it upon themselves, and how it can attack and damage even the most miraculous interventions.

The first example is Jacob’s wife Leah, who upon giving birth to Judah, her fourth child, thanks God (Judah’s name is actually based on the Hebrew word Thanks). Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that because of Leah’s gratitude for a greater portion of children of what she knew was prophesized for Jacob, the evil eye immediately fell upon her, and she was stopped (temporarily) from having further children.

The second example was the descendants of Joseph, who declared proudly their blessing of being a numerous people. After that statement Joshua directs them to go to the forest. The sages interpret the passage to mean a command for them to go to the forest to hide from the evil eye.

The most glaring example was the actual Revelation at Mount Sinai and the delivery of the Ten Commandments upon the Tablets of the Law. It was given with incredible fanfare, lightning, thunder and Shofar blasts. Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the evil eye immediately fell upon the event, which led in turn to the breaking of the Tablets shortly thereafter. When the second set of Tablets was given quietly, inconspicuously, no evil eye fell upon the event. The second set of Tablets was never destroyed.

Finally, Jacob, who was attuned to the concept of the evil eye, in his efforts to increase his herd, utilized strategies that would be perceived as natural, to hide what he understood was the miraculous intervention he knew was taking place. His low-key understated work efforts hid what was truly going on from onlookers and protected him from the evil eye.

Rabbeinu Bechaye warns that “the power of the evil eye is so great that it can affect even things that miracles touch.”

May we beware of jealousy in all its forms and reduce our chances of attracting it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Krieger and Silverman families for their blessed hospitality. May the evil eye never enter their homes.

Party Sacrifice of Peace

Party Sacrifice of Peace 

Joys divided are increased. -Josiah Gilbert Holland

banquet

Up until the time of Jacob, the animal sacrifices that our ancestors brought to God were completely consumed by fire. The entire beast was burnt in a ceremony known in Hebrew as a Korban Olah. This act demonstrated a total submission and entreaty to God. It all went to God. Jacob does something different.

Jacob is informed that his beloved long-lost son Joseph was alive and not dead as he was lead to believe for twenty-two long years. As he rushes down to Egypt to reunite with Joseph, Jacob offers a different type of sacrifice, which is called Zevachim and also Shelamim (peace offerings). In this sacrifice, part of the animal is burnt upon the altar, but here man also partakes of the meat of the sacrifice.

In the words of Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 46:1:

“[The peace offerings] express a loftier concept, that of “God coming into our midst.” They are therefore offered in the happy awareness that wherever a family lives in harmony, is faithful to its duty and feels that it is being upheld by God, there God is present. That is why the spirit of the Shelamim, the “peace offerings” of a family life blessed by God, is so typically Jewish. The concept of surrendering to God and permitting oneself to be absorbed by Him has begun to dawn also upon non-Jewish minds. But the thought that everyday life can become so thoroughly pervaded by the spirit of God that “one eats and drinks and while doing so, beholds God,” that all our family rooms become temples, our table altars, and our young men and young women priests and priestesses – this spiritualization of everyday personal life represents the unique contribution of Judaism.”

“The reason why Jacob-Israel at this point did not offer a Korban Olah, but Zevachim, is that now, for the first time, Jacob felt happy, joyous and “complete” (“Shalem” in Hebrew also means “complete” or “whole”) within the circle of his family. It was under the impact of this awareness and this emotion that he made a “family offering” to God.”

Part of the point of the Shelamim sacrifice was to share it with family and friends in a festive celebratory spirit: to consecrate the meal, to make the meal itself holy and have God as part of the celebration.

May we have many causes of celebration and holy festivities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the engagement of our son Eitan to Rebecca Charytan who complete each other. We are filled with joy that we look forward to sharing.

 

The Darkness Will Pass

The Darkness Will Pass

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. -Carl Gustav Jung

pre-sunrise

After twenty years, Jacob escapes from his treacherous father-in-law, Laban, only to approach his deadly brother, Esau. The night before his fateful meeting he is accosted by an angel. They wrestle the entire night, and only with the approach of dawn does Jacob get the upper hand on his otherworldly opponent. It is at that momentous encounter that Jacob is named Israel, the name we carry to this day.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 32:27 explains that throughout the night, the adversary appears to be stronger. With daybreak, suddenly Jacob sets the terms to end the conflict. The single request is the recognition that Jacob is deserving of a blessing and not of persecution. Rabbi Hirsch elaborates: “…only by paying him such recognition will the nations bring blessings also upon themselves, and only thus will the promise, “and through you will all the families on earth be blessed, and through your seed” [Genesis 28:14] be fulfilled.”

The enemy fights ceaselessly throughout the night to destroy Israel. When morning approaches the enemy is ready to give up, but Jacob will not cease his struggle until he is accorded recognition by being blessed.

Rabbi Hirsch continues:

“The goal of history is not that Jacob should be forced to merge into the mass of nations, but the reverse. The nations must come to understand that precisely those principles which Jacob has championed and held aloft amidst all these struggles hold also the happiness of those nations which adopt them as their own.”

The night will pass, daybreak shall come. We will emerge stronger and victorious and will both receive and bestow blessings. It is already coming to fruition.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication 

To Bob Dylan on his Nobel Prize

God Starts At Home

God Starts At Home

The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest. -Thomas Moore

home

Jacob departs from his parents. He travels to Haran to establish a family, a home. He travels empty-handed. He stops for the night and has a divine revelation in the midst of his dream. He sees a staircase with its feet in the ground yet reaching the heavens. Angels ascend and descend. God speaks to him, giving him encouragement and making promises.

Jacob wakes up, startled and amazed by the revelation and the realization that he is in a holy place. He takes a rock, anoints it with oil and declares it the House of God (Bet El).

Rabbi Hirsch on this scene in Genesis 28 states the following:

“Jacob goes forth in order to establish a Jewish home, and to this end he takes with him nothing except his own person, the qualities inherent in his personality. This fact is introduced at this point in the narrative, for everything that follows is concerned solely with the establishment of that home. For Jacob was the first to declare that God must be sought, above all, within the home. He was the first to articulate the lofty concept, “the house of God,” which simply means that the place within which the souls of man grow and flourish, and to which in turn brings all that he has accomplished and transforms into life-building activity, is the greatest and nearest place where God may be found and revealed.”

May we have and build homes with God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Yehuda and Hadar of Krakow on their marriage.

 

The Lie of our Selves

 Think not I am what I appear.  -Lord Byron

jacob-dying

Life is filled with secrets and mysteries. Fantasies and illusions. Facades and deceptions. One of the greatest deceptions may be our corporal selves. Though our bodies appear solid, take up space, have mass, are capable of movement, of feeling, of action, there is something intrinsically deceptive about them.

We are so used to thinking of ourselves as the composite of the molecules enclosed by our skin that it may difficult to think of our physical embodiment as a lie – and a short-lived one at that.

When talking about the Patriarch Jacob and his death, the Sfat Emet in 5633 (1872) explains that our superficial, corporal, material selves is not our true self. Our true self is the inner, intangible, spiritual entity. Because our bodies are limited and do not last, then they do not reflect the truth. They are lies, and lies are eventually revealed to be ephemeral, of limited effect and duration. The surface merely hides the truth within. Often, the greater the superficiality, the deeper the truth that is hidden inside.

The Sfat Emet states that there is one surefire way to access that truth, to connect to the real part of ourselves – and that is by seeking the will of God. God is the ultimate truth, and by latching on to Him we reinforce the true part of ourselves.

May we see past all the lies and understand what is real.

Shabbat  Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To FC Barcelona for winning the Club World Cup Final. Suarez made Uruguayans very proud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Idolatry Allergy

Baal Haturim Genesis: Vayishlach

Idolatry Allergy

Whatever a man seeks, honors, or exalts more than God, this is the god of his idolatry. -William B. Ullathorne

I grew up with a variety of allergies. There were foods, substances and smells that would make me sick and specifically trigger respiratory difficulties. In my youth, during visits to a specific person’s home, I would unexpectedly start to sneeze uncontrollably. I was informed afterwards that every time I would have a sneezing attack it coincided with someone smoking marijuana in a nearby room.

But perhaps the most surprising allergy of all was not to any particular molecule that made its way into my respiratory system. In the course of my teenage travels, I had opportunity to be exposed to real live examples of idol worship: people praying, chanting, bowing down and performing religious service in front of statues. Just the sight, the approach, just to be in the same physical space or structure as the good old-fashioned idolaters made me physically uncomfortable. At the time I was not yet aware of the prohibition by Jewish law of entering a Temple of idols. Nonetheless, my body, apparently of its own volition, reacted negatively to any encounter with these structures and activities, typically with feelings of nausea.

In the Torah we see a similar but broader national effect. Jacob’s wayward brother Esau, together with his growing clan, leaves their ancestral land of Canaan. The Baal Haturim on Genesis 36:7 explains that because of the divine presence in Canaan, Esau could not stay there with his brother Jacob. He says that a similar effect occurred in the separation between the children of Israel and the Egyptians who needed to live in different areas. We cannot be in the same place as idolaters, and vice versa.

May we identify the idolatry in our lives and separate ourselves from it and from within us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my Tikvah Fund friends. It was thrilling to explore the Bible and discover excellence.