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, 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.
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 . . .
- 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.