Book Review: Business Secrets from the Bible

Over the recent holidays, I read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Business Secrets from the Bible, a compendium of guidelines for conducting one’s work life distilled from the author’s knowledge of traditional Jewish wisdom.

The guidelines are somewhat abstract; the book does not recommend specific business ventures or investment products, but rather focuses on development of character traits and general ways of thinking. Divided into forty short chapters, several themes stood out to me included:

  • Perhaps counter-intuitively, the goal of business is not to make money. The goal is — or should be — to help other people. This doesn’t mean you must resolve to spend all of your time volunteering for non-profit organizations; you can help other people by mowing their lawn, helping them find and close on real estate, preparing their taxes, building computer software, catching and distributing fish, or any other honest business activity, and accepting payment for a job well done. The idea here is not to eschew making money, but to make serving your customer the goal rather than making money; excel at that, and the money will follow.
  • Being that business is about helping other people, it is helpful to build and maintain connections with other people. If I need someone to install a new roof on my house, I can look first to my circle of trusted friends and acquaintances to see if any of them are in the business of helping others with roof work. And likewise, if any of them need custom computer software developed, they can look to me.
  • Wouldn’t, though, my finances be better off if I repaired my own roof instead of hiring someone else to do it? Not necessarily. Another major theme of the book is that specialization is good, going so far as to deliberately seek ways to pay other people to do things for you that you could in theory do yourself, so that you have more time to focus on your own specialization. This is better for you, furthering your own business, and good for them, furthering theirs. Everyone wins.
  • You need not manage your own independent company to be “in business”. If you are an employee at a company, then your customers are the managers and owners of the company. Rather than viewing your 9-5 job as a drudgery endured only to take home a paycheck, look at your role there being to serve and help your customers.
  • Contrary to much popular advice, your business won’t necessarily be in line with “following your passion”. Not everything you enjoy doing is necessarily something that people will pay you for. If you have the talent and skill and opportunity to work at a job that you are thoroughly passionate about, then wonderful, but relegating your favorite activities to unpaid hobbies while you work professionally in another field need not be viewed with contempt. Become passionate about serving other people, in whatever capacity you are able to.
  • Never stop helping people! The author explains that there is no word in biblical Hebrew for “retirement”, which suggests it is something we ought not to do. Retiring from a particular job is one thing, but retiring from serving others altogether is something else completely. Plan to continue help other people, even for pay, for as long as you are able to.

Available in print and for Amazon Kindle, this is a great book to start the year thinking positively about your work and how it relates to making the world a better place. If you’ve already read Rabbi Lapin’s earlier book Thou Shall Prosper, much of the material will look familiar, but alternate presentations of the same ideas can help reinforce learning, and I find both books worth reading.