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The Kabbalah of Making Money

The Kabbalah of Making Money

Why doing business with money is the ultimate spiritual endeavor


There are people who believe that making money—along with anything else that engages human passion—falls into the category of “permissible sins.” Meaning: really, you should be living as an angel in meditation and prayer. But since, nebach,1 you have to live, better you keep busy with something productive than run around committing more serious sins.

It’s not true. There are no permissible sins. All of life is beautiful and intended for beauty. You just need to know when, how and for what.

The universe is a violin. Is a violin good or bad? A violin is the most soulful and expressive of all instruments. But if you’re not a trained violinist, draw the bow across its strings and you’ll produce the most nerve-racking sounds you’ll never want to hear.

The world is a violin. You just need to know how to play it right.

Everything the Creator designed is like that violin. “Everything G‑d created in His world,” says the Mishnah, “He created only for His glory.” Including those things that humankind only later discovered hiding in wait for them. And even those things that so many have hijacked for selfish purposes.

Even money. Money is good, making money is good—you just have to play the game the way it was meant to be played.

In Take Wall Street, Please, I described how capitalism benefits society, and how a capitalist can contribute value to society. Major value—at least on par with a medical professional or a social activist, if not much greater. If you are providing value—sustainable, honest, shared value—you are already playing the music the way it’s meant to sound.

What I want to discuss here is how doing business with money, when played properly, can be a spiritual endeavor. And I’m not exaggerating if I say, “the ultimate spiritual endeavor.” Because it is the most transformative of all endeavors.2

But to explain that, we need to start at the very beginning.

In the Beginning . . .

One time, just out of nowhere, G‑d created time. With time in place, He also created . . .

  • Space,
  • Matter,
  • Energy,
  • Life,
  • Mathematics,
  • Human egos
  • and nutty writers who write crazy things like this

–all out of nowhere.

G‑d thought that was pretty neat, and He looked at all He had done, and He called it “very good.”

“Very good,” but kind of dull. I mean, He’s G‑d, right? He’s supposed to be able to do anything.

So, G‑d awaited the ultimate kick. The most amazing entertainment He could get out of His creation. Something totally wild, radical and unexpected. Something that would make His own act of something-out-of-nothing look like child’s play.

He awaited the advent of nothing-out-of-something. And that would take a human being.

And That Means You

“Hello, dear breath of my breath, one with my oneness,” G‑d whispers gently to a sublime soul, only recently emanated from His essence into a numinous, barely-existing existence. “How are you enjoying this experience of eternal bliss?”

“Oh, this is totally cool and awesome,” she replies. “Just being here, one with Your absolute oneness, totally bonded with You. I could stay here forever.”

“That’s wonderful. Now, I’ve got somewhere I need to send you, somewhere quite distant from me—at least in your perception once you’re down there. I’ve got a mission for you in the material realm.”

“Well, uhh, are you sure I’m the right non-being for the job? I mean, there’s all sorts of more being-like beings out there that would seem far more adept at dealing with a lowly, distant place. Take Joe Angel, for instance . . .”

“A job like this,” says G‑d, “only you could do.”

And so, you are here.

You came to this world to do something amazing, wild and radical.

When your G‑dly soul came to this world and invested itself within this human form, it did not come for its own sake. It came to transform that chunk of very somethingy meat with which you struggle daily, along with its very somethingy world, into a very G‑dly nothingness.

“Nothingness,” not in the sense that it will no longer exist. What would be the big deal of a simple creation reversal? Rather, “nothingness” in the sense that it will remain very human, very material, very down-there-on-earth—and at the same time experience total oneness with its source.

The human experience, in all its visceral, everyday, quotidian, hey-I’m-just-here-doin’-my-thing-ness—that will all remain. But the beauty of that experience will be revealed. Because everything is G‑dly. Everything just needs to be played the right way.


When does that transformation occur? In meditation? In prayer? In eating scrambled eggs?

Sort of. But none of those is the ultimate.

Meditation is good. Meditation is vital. It’s a time for the G‑dly soul to engage the two-and-a-half pounds of gray matter within the human skull in contemplation of things a tad higher than itself. That can be very transformative.

But it’s not meeting the human animal on its own ground. True, humans think, but that’s not really what they are about.

Prayer is good. Very good. It’s a time to channel your most human emotions towards a sense of wonder and love for G‑d. Your soul cries out to G‑d, not just because she so much misses that awesome place from which she came, but because of very human concerns as well. About kids and health and love and making a living and turkeys who get you down and clueless editors who don’t get what you’re writing about . . .

Prayer, much more than meditation, gives the human, emotional and verbal experience a G‑dly twist. Yet, even then, you have not yet met your humanness on its own ground. You’re still meeting it on the ground of a G‑dly soul.

After your meditation and prayer, you eat your breakfast. Well, some people still eat breakfast. It’s a good idea. Not just for your physical health, but for spiritual health as well. Because, after that experience of meditation and prayer, while you’re still a step above the world, you can eat like a human being is meant to eat—a step higher than the food you consume, raising it up rather than letting it pull you down.

Meditation, prayer, mindful eating—those are good. But nothing beats the spiritual transformation of doing business like a mentch.

Then, yes, you have met your own humanness on its own ground. The transformation is yet deeper, yet more genuine.

But it’s still not the ultimate. You have climbed above your humanness. You haven’t worked within it.

So now you go out into the world of other human beings. You work hard to provide them goods and services of value, and you keep every promise you make, delivering only the best you can—because if it’s not the best you can do, then that’s not honest business, because that’s what they’re paying you for . . .

. . . so you can’t say, “Hey, I’m not really involved in this. I’m not really here”—because that would be cheating your clientele. But neither can you say, “This is me. This is what life is about. This is where I am”—because then there’s no reason for you to be honest, nothing G‑dly about what you are doing . . .

. . . then you are there, within the human world, yet acting G‑dly. Then you have effected transformation from within.

You’ve connected something with nothing, and made it both at once.

Which is why the very first question asked of the soul when it returns from its mission in this world is not about its meditation, or its prayer, or the scrambled eggs, but, “Did you buy and sell with integrity?”

Because when you’ve done that, you’ve done the ultimate. You’ve made human somethingness into G‑dly nothingness.

The Creator of all Stuff sits back and delights in the magnificent music of the ultimate violin.

That’s Jewish for “you poor little thing.” Well, something like that. In Spanish, “pobrecito.” If I could say it in English, I certainly would.
This statement and what follows is based on the Rebbe’s maamar (chassidic discourse), Padah B’Shalom, 5739.
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Discussion (29)
May 31, 2016
To Ilana-

Your comment is excellent. If one buys and sells, it has to be with integrity. But buying and selling is not equal to learning Torah, which is why the world was created. I don't think that anyone would say that the world was created for buying and selling.

G-d says, "If it weren't for My Torah that is studied day and night, I would turn the world back to tohu and vohu. "
Shoshana Finkfelstein
May 30, 2016
You guys make it sound like every one trying to make money is doing it to get rich or simply as a hobby. Do you not realize there are people working two jobs just to make ends meet out are you unaware of these people altogether? Are those people still committing a permissable sin?

I am so sick of hearing this don't work too much garbage when most of us are fighting just to brash even and keep a roof over our heads. There's a stereotype that people who work a lot are just greedy. No we are trying to keep a roof over our heads. We have to have money to stay alive. No I get it. We should have all got on welfare. Than we could be a government state. With only what the government allows for what the government dictates. Oh wait. It's a blessing some of its have anything at all. I better keep my mouth shut before they get that too.
October 7, 2013
buying and selling
We are asked if we bought and sold with integrity because IF we are buying and selling, it has to be with integrity.

But please tell me where it says you have to buy and sell?

Are you, Rabbi Freeman, buying and selling? I am not. I am a housewife, and the most I've ever bought was food at the supermarket, and clothing, etc. at the local store. Of course it was with integrity. But just because that this is one of the questions asked does not mean that one has to develop an entire theory that buying and selling is the most importance thing in the life of Jew.
October 1, 2013
The reign of desirs,
'Everything needs to be played the right way’ that’s true at condition that we interpret it the right way as well. Most of the contemporary financial institutions give free reign to their desires and put material gains as their main concern with no regards to the destructive effect on other people of the practices that generates those gains. Human been is driven fast by a busy distracting life guided by selfishness and greed causing much greater harm to themselves and those around them. Instead of trying to correct those destructive patterns they claim:'We are doing business with money, we are playing properly and this is 'the ultimate spiritual endeavor.'
Their whole life is reduced to a blind spot that need to be brought to light. The consequences of associating with Satan are blinding them and encourage them to feel entitled after having dulled their feeling of apprehension about the dangers of dealing with interests.
February 18, 2012
Dear Tzvi,
I think we must have a balance in everything, I mean, we must be spiritual, mystics, but as human we must accomplish those things that we need to do in the time we need to do, with the right way or the right intention. So we may keep everything in its own place and not became slaves of only one thing.

We need the money, we need to work for it. And do our job well. So we need to be honest and faithful to G-d in everything.
David, Panamá
February 17, 2012
Re: Please stop misusing the term
Yes, this is Kabbalah. Kabbalah of the Arizal. It's easy to get caught in the symbolism, the metaphor, the poetry of Kabbalah and not get what it's talking about. This is what it is talking about: Tikun.

Chassidus brings out that essence from beneath the garb of Kabbalah-lingo. But Chassidus begins with the Arizal, and is all about the revelations of the Arizal.

And this piece owes everything to the Arizal.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
February 16, 2012
Making something out of nothing?
Making chicken soup.
David Flinkstein
London, UK
February 16, 2012
The Kabbala of Making Money
When I was young my ambition was to be one of the vulgar rich who passed by my parents shack in their shiney new cars. In my later years unfortunately I did not reach my goal to be rich and I am still as poor as ever, but I take comfort and pride in knowing that I am an outstanding success in at least one of my childhood ambitions.
David Flinkstein
London, UK
February 16, 2012
The Kabballah of making money
Rabbi Tzvi,
Shalom i love your article because i have found out that meditation is vital and that it is a time which G-d uses to touch the human skull.
victor fatherheart consoler
234, Nigeria
February 15, 2012
Im a violinist so I enjoyed your reference to violins.
Oakham, MA