B'reshit: The Jewish Guide to Investing

“Now is the time for turning.” “Let us declare the power of this day; it is filled with dread and awe.” “Who shall live and who shall die.” “Man is like a breath, his days are as a passing shadow.” “For the sins we have committed.” “The gates are closing.” “Prayer, Charity, and Good Deeds lessen the severity of the decree.” “I have forgiven you as you have requested.”

These and other familiar High Holiday phrases, together with solemn reflection, fasting, and then rejoicing, were intended to prompt us to improve our behavior.  Did they work?  Now that we have spent weeks “taking ‘stock’” of ourselves, it seems worthwhile asking whether our effort produced dividends.  Did we derive any return on our investments of time and emotion, or just go through the motions?  Was there a net personal gain? 

This Shabbat (actually, on Simchat Torah) we begin anew the annual Torah reading cycle.  B’reshit affords a propitious opportunity to study Torah with an eye toward fulfilling our High Holiday resolutions; that is, to boost our personal “stock portfolio” R.O.I. (return on investment). The first Torah portion is rich with verses (and interpretations thereof) that can help us gain inspiration and strength toward this end.  

Just for example:

1:26  And G-d said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.  This verse pointedly “excludes the dominion of men over other men, who are equally endowed with divine qualities.  Any act which disregards the rights of other people constitutes an unlawful exercise of dominion.” (Abraham Block, A Book of Jewish Ethical Concepts).  We can boost our R.O.I. by recognizing and honoring the divinity in and worth of others.  

2:7 And the Lord G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  Man became a “speaking spirit.”  The Torah regards the sins of speech as more grave than those of action. (Talmud, Arachin 16a). Man’s superiority over other living creatures lies in his having been granted the power of speech.  This advantage was granted man so that he use it for good.  If he uses it for evil, he lowers himself to the level that is beneath that of the animals, for an animal does no harm by the sound which he emits from his mouth, whereas man does.  He is therefore subject to harsher punishment for these sins than for his other sins.  [Eitan Kitov] We can increase our value by using our power of speech for good. 

2:18 And the Lord G-d said, It is not good that the man should be alone.  “[This verse] speaks about man’s greatest need.  … man is able to fulfill his destiny completely only as a social being.  Aloneness, in turn, is man’s primary helplessness.” [R. Gunther Plaut, Reform Torah Commentary]  We can pay out dividends by lessening the loneliness of others, including helping them to meet potential friends, companions, and spouses.   
3:21 The Lord G-d made coats of skin for Adam and for his wife and clothed them.  The Torah begins and ends (G-d’s burial of Moses) with divine acts of kindness.  Increasing our acts of kindness for others will undoubtedly result in increased kindness received from others.  

4:7  If you do well, will it not be lifted up?  If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door.  It’s desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.  Doing evil produces negative personal “stock” growth.  We become baser, less caring, less worthy people.

Gen. 6:5  The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every imagining of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  Evil begins in thought, and if not restrained, leads to action.  “When confronted with a situation where you are uncertain if what you are intending to do is right, ask yourself the question: ‘What is motivating me to act in this way, my yetzer hatov [inclination for good] or my yetzer hara [inclination for evil]?’ Just answering this one question will usually determine the appropriate course of action.” [R. Joseph Telushkin] Understand the motivations for our behavior, and then acting in accordance with ethical motivation, is akin to hiring a professional stock analyst and portfolio manager. 

This is just a tiny sampling.  Generations upon generations of our sages have teased out from Torah ethical lessons for us and our children.  

When I was younger, I used to hear the expression, “Moses invests.” While used in another context, why not take it to heart ... and to the "bank?"  According to our tradition, we received G-d’s Torah through the hand of Moses.  You might say, therefore, that Moses not only "invests" but gave to  us the Jewish Guide to Successful Investing.  Not of money, of course, but of something far more important: our human value!  

Studying this guide, that is, Torah and accompanying commentaries -- with particular attention to their ethical teachings (while not ignoring the rest!) – is the Jewish way of learning to become a better person.  According to our tradition, Torah is also the medium through which G-d communicates with us. 

This kind of “investing” is not only permitted but especially appropriate on Shabbat.  This week, why not begin, or resolve to continue, actualizing and reinforcing the lessons of the High Holidays through Torah study?  It’s certainly an investment worth making. 

Shabbat shalom from beautiful Haifa, Israel. 

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3