I recently finished a powerful book written by Rabbi Daniel Lapin called Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. Lapin is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who has spent many years studying the qualities that have made Jewish people excel in business, and he has written this book to make these principles available to everyone regardless of their faith tradition. As a Christian minister I found his insights into some of the Old Testament texts illuminating, and as a business person I found his application of those texts inspiring.
Thanks to recent events business owners and successful people have often been painted as greedy, dishonest people who cheat and lie to rob poor people of their possessions. Watch almost any program on television, any movie that depicts business owners, or watch the national news and see how many times business people are portrayed in that light. The idea of an honorable wealthy business person is foreign to most people’s thinking. This false mindset of business people has even made some successful people feel guilty for their success.
Lapin writes that every dollar that is earned is a “certificate of appreciation” from one’s customers. This is true whether one works on a factory assembly line, owns a small mom-and-pop business on main street in a small town, or is a CEO of a large multi-national organization. Everyone who earns a living has a customer, and the money that is earned is the result of satisfying that customer. Lapin writes, “If you did not rob or steal from anyone to obtain that dollar, if you neither defrauded anyone nor persuaded your government to seize it from a fellow citizen and give it to you, then you could only have obtained that dollar in one other way – you must have pleased someone else.” There is nothing shameful about that nor is there any reason to feel guilty because you have become successful.
This is the mindset we need to instill in people, not the negative ones that attempt to demean business leaders and other wealthy individuals. You need to understand this blog is not written by a wealthy person. I am the typical middle-class American who has worked hard all his life to join the middle class, but I appreciate wealthy business people. No poor person ever gave me a job that allowed me to provide for my family. When we seek gifts for charities and other worthwhile endeavors do we ask the poor or the wealthy for those funds? Studies find that the wealthy give vast sums of money to charities, their churches, and other worthwhile needs. Business owners give to their communities, to their churches, to other endeavors. They provide employment that allows people to earn an honest living and support their families. They provide goods and services that people need. Lapin assures us there is dignity in business for all these reasons and more.
The book provides 10 commandments for making money, but it is not a “get rich quick” book. It explores centuries of the Jewish mindset regarding money and business based upon teachings from the Bible and the “Oral Torah.” Lapin writes, “Deep within traditional Jewish culture lies the conviction that the only real way to achieve wealth is to attend diligently to the needs of others and to conduct oneself in an honorable and trustworthy fashion.” The 10 commandments found in the book help flesh out aspects of that conviction.
I appreciated the book and recommend it for several reasons. One, it reminds the reader that honest businesspeople should be honored and respected for their contributions to our society. Secondly, it gives interesting insights into Jewish beliefs and customs, and, thirdly, it presents some foundational concepts that one needs to believe in if he or she is to enjoy financial success.