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A Sound Business Plan

A Sound Business Plan

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Our world is reeling from the effects of excessive greed and corruption on the part of certain people in the financial sector. The irresponsible and money-hungry behavior of some has caused tremendous financial losses to others.

While in no way diminishing their culpability, I wonder whether these insatiable fortune-seekers, a.k.a. economic terrorists, began their careers with an ignoble set of ethics.

I believe that most did not. Crime is a process that can evolve.

In the words of one of the more famous fraudsters: "I thought I would do the [Ponzi scheme] for just a short time and then extricate myself and my clients from it."

Many of us can relate to pure and idealistic beginnings lapsed or gone wrongIn our own small way, many of us can relate to pure and idealistic beginnings lapsed or gone wrong, somehow and somewhere along the way.

Full of passion and zeal, and fueled by the will to make a positive difference, we had set off ablaze on our mission to change the world. And then one day, hopefully sooner than later, we realize that we are barely trudging along the ambitious route we had set out to travel. Worse yet, sometimes we find that we have veered sharply off course.

Upon honest reckoning some may even discern that everything they had once believed in and stood for, now they do not. Everything they had once promised themselves to never become, sadly they had grown to be, and then some.

Excuse me for the dreary picture. The point here is not to mourn the past or present, but to effectively plan the future.

For, you see, in all our undertakings-turned-sterile, it wasn't that we had planned to fail; we simply hadn't properly prepared for success.

The following is an essential tip for life's travels, business or otherwise, which can be learned from Jacob's successful and focused journey to Haran, outlined in the Book of Genesis.

Crossing the Border

"And Jacob departed from Beersheba and went to Haran."1

His point of departure and destination could not have been more diverse. This trek didn't just cross geographical boundaries; they traversed spiritual ones as well.

Beersheba is a part of Israel, "a land that desires to do its Creator's bidding"2; a region about which the verse states, "The eyes of G‑d are upon it from the beginning of the year until its end."3 It's the place on earth where G‑d's presence is most manifest.

Conversely, Haran was a land "that angered the Omnipresent."4

We can only imagine the fear and trepidation that took hold of Jacob as he prepared to make this journeyThus, Jacob would now pass from the holiest of holy to the lowest of lowly. He would cross over from the familiar hills and valleys of Zion, saturated with warmth and piety, conducive to the worship of G‑d—into a cold and mundane, even profane, atmosphere, where hostility to all things sacred permeated the air.5

Jacob was the first Jew in exile. His was no pit stop in Egypt like his grandfather's; his was an extended stay of over two decades. Eleven of his twelve sons were born and bred expatriates.

His journey paved the way for the Diaspora Jew.

We can only imagine the fear and trepidation that took hold of Jacob as he prepared to make this journey. An apprehension further magnified by the little he knew about Uncle Laban and the crooked company he kept.6 The deceitful ways standard in that region were infamous; the tolerance of the Haranians for deception and trickery bordered dangerously close to admiration.

With this in mind we can better understand G‑d's reassuring words to Jacob: "I am with you," which were said "…because Jacob was afraid of Laban."7

This is the same courageous Jacob who was willing to stand up to murderous Esau and claim the blessings that were rightfully his. Even he was afraid to venture into uncharted grounds of immorality and sin; he hesitated at the thought of raising a family in a religious and ethical danger zone.8

How would he keep his balance in the spiritual darkness he was about to encounter, how would he retain his religious and moral integrity?

How would he affect and not be affected?

Set in Stone

The sun had set while Jacob was journeying to Haran. He wished to lie down and rest. But first he got busy:

"He took from the stones of the place and he put [them] around his head."9

"He made them like a gutter-pipe because he was afraid of dangerous animals."10

Future concessions at the expense of his principles – his "head" – would never be madeA puzzling deed.

If he was truly afraid of wild animals why secure his head alone?11 Additionally, ask the commentaries,12 of what avail was the stone gutter-pipe? Why, Jacob's makeshift security system could be cleared with an effortless hop and a skip by any able-bodied beast!

The Rebbe explains the symbolism behind Jacob's act:

On that fateful night, Jacob thought long and hard. He reflected on the things most important to him—the beliefs, values and standards that made him who he was and would allow him to grow into the person he wanted to become; his nonnegotiable religious, moral, and behavioral constitution.

These he set in stone and locked away in a cast-iron safe, following which, he discarded the key.

He carved his priorities and mission-statement into the depths of his soul.

Future concessions at the expense of his principles – his "head" – would never be made; not because the arguments for compromise were weak, but because there was no one listening on the other side of the negotiating table.13 His head was surrounded and protected by a wall of stone. Ever tried talking to a stone wall?

Jacob would only engage in one-sided discussions; he would give but never take.

I remember sitting at a restaurant one day with a friend who was engaged to be married. At one point his eyes began to wander to where, let's just say, they ought never to.

A look from me elicited his defensive reply: "I was once told that one can look at the menu so long as he doesn't order."

"And I was once taught that every time one looks at the menu, they're one step closer to ordering," I countered.

For some reason I suddenly recall Israel's "peace talk" policy: "Under no circumstance do we negotiate with terrorists."

How appropriate from the great-grandchildren of the creator of that policy.

The Epilogue

Jacob carried with him the message of the stones wherever he went. Indeed, this helped him not only survive the fraudulence and corruption he faced each day in his dealings with his shady father-in-law, but allowed him to thrive both in business and family life.14

Leave your "head" at home in a vaulted safe, and come to the office with a set of untouchables and non-negotiablesHe retained his own religious and moral integrity, as he later proudly relayed to Esau: "I sojourned15 with Laban, the evil one, yet I kept the six hundred and thirteen commandments and did not learn from his evil actions."16 His entire family, as well, was raised to be completely righteous: "Unlike Abraham who produced Ishmael, or Isaac who fathered Esau, all of Jacob's children were unblemished."17

What's in It for Me?

"If the labor of your hands you shall eat..." says the Psalmist.18 "You bless the fruit of the labor of his hands," echoes Job.19

What's with the hands? Perhaps an apropos statement back when manual labor was the norm, but not today when the biggest money is made by thinking heads!

But that's precisely the point.

Working and labor is a G‑d-given command—but only when it is by the exclusive use of the hand.

Leave your "head" at home in a vaulted safe, and come to the office with a set of untouchables and non-negotiables. You will then see that all you are trying to retain – your religious convictions, ethics, dignity, focus on family, humanity and goodwill (oh, and sanity too) – will be there when you come from work exactly as you left them: sparkling and set in stone.

"...fortunate and praiseworthy is that man," concludes the Psalmist.

If alive today he might have said: "Do this, and your life will rock."

Footnotes
2.

Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 5:8.

4.

Rashi on Genesis 11:32, based on the Sifri.

5.

The mystics (see Ohr Hachaim on Genesis 28:14, He'arot l'Tanya pg. 52) see in this trip of Jacob an allusion to the one each soul makes upon descending into this world. The parallels are striking.

6.

See Rashi on Genesis 29:12.

7.

See Genesis 28:15 and Rashi ad loc.

8.

This sheds new light on the Torah's elaborate description of Jacob's first night on the road: "He encountered the place and spent there the night, because the sun had set" (Genesis 28:11). But don't people everywhere spend the night because the sun sets?
On that mountain, on that night, a different sun had set. The G‑dly ball of fire that illuminated and warmed all of the Holy Land had dipped softly and gone into hiding behind Mt. Moriah, where Jacob slept.
"This is the gate of the heavens!" Jacob exclaimed upon awakening. "And he became frightened." Jacob's uncharacteristic fear was born of the knowledge that at that moment he stood on the threshold between heaven and earth.

10.

Rashi ad loc.

11.

See Divrei Dovid and Maskil L'Dovid to Rashi, among others.

12.

See Maor V'shemesh.

13.

The Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1860-1920), once found himself unable to hear out of one of his ears. Alarmed, he wondered about the cause, until he remembered that recently while delivering a chassidic discourse he had been disturbed by noise coming from a particular direction. So he "turned off" that ear, forgetting later to "turn" it back on...

14.

On a similar vein, the famous chassidic master Rabbi Meir of Premishlan (1783-1850) was a noted miracle worker. His chassidim would like to tell of his daily trek down a steep incline to the river below in order to purify himself in its waters. Rain, snow and even ice did not deter him. One day a few skeptics decided to do the walk themselves, to demonstrate that there was nothing miraculous about it. Unfortunately for them, the descent did require a miracle, and, not possessing any special powers themselves, they ended up rolling down the slope...
All bruised-up, they became chassidim overnight and went to beg forgiveness for their ill intentions. While conversing, they asked the Rebbe how he did it.
"When one is connected above, he doesn't fall below," was his reply.

15.

Note that Jacob used the word "sojourned" which connotes a visit, instead of using a word that implies that he "lived" there. Not only was he telling Esau that he hadn't become a dweller or local, he was informing him how he withstood his challenges: by viewing and defining himself as a temporary guest who wasn't there to stay. Though he lived in Haran for twenty years, his place was back in Israel, where he'd "left" his head.

16.

Genesis 32:5 and Rashi ad loc.

17.

Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 36:5.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is the rabbi of Beit Baruch and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London, where he lives with his wife, Chana, and children.
Mendel was an editor at the Judaism Website—Chabad.org, and is also the author of the popular books Seeds of Wisdom and A Time to Heal.
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