Lapin, Rabbi Daniel (2010) Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, Second Edition, Hoboken, John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Thou Shall Prosper is a fascinating exploration into wealth creation among Jews and the values within Jewish communities that encourage financial success. It is organized into 10 separate chapters, titled commandments in imitation of the Laws given to Moses. Written by Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi motivated by a desire to research and catalog the cultural traits that have contributed to this, making them available to all people. The book promotes what Rabbi Lapin calls Ethical Capitalism.
I have always been fascinated by the subject of Jewish success. It only takes a little attention to notice that Jews are disproportionately successful in business and finance than any other ethnic group in the United States, if not the world. As Rabbi Lapin explains, this is not to suggest that there are no poor Jews. But as the most consistently oppressed people throughout 3,000 years of history, the Jewish people could easily have been expected to cease existing altogether. But they haven’t, and wherever Jews are afforded the slightest opportunity they tend to thrive.
Rabbi Lapin points out that Jews represent less than 2% of the American population, but in any given year may represent as much as 25% of the names on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans. Jewish households are also twice as likely to be wealthy as those of non-Jews. This is a remarkable phenomenon that deserves to be explored and hopefully explained.
Anti-Semitic conspiracy enthusiasts might see all this as evidence of Jewish misdeed in acquiring wealth.* However, genuine social scientists understand that a better explanation lays in some set of cultural values being perpetuated within Jewish communities. Personally, I have always seen this as admirable, like a mystery to be unraveled. That’s why, when I found this book on the shelf, I didn’t have to think very long before I happily handed the clerk $24.95 (plus tax) and walked out the door with the book under my arm, ready to read.
Foreseeing the anti-Semitic arguments, early in the introduction Rabbi Lapin debunks the idea of Jews operating jointly as some sort of cabal, plotting their dominance over society. In fact, Rabbi Lapin explains that Jewish communities are typically just as dysfunctional and full of conflict as most others.
Rabbi Lapin makes many points along the way regarding wealth, Jews, and the world, all of which are worth some serious consideration.
Education is Key
Lapin illustrates early on that education is very important to being successful in business and finance. Jews, though not necessarily any “smarter” naturally than non-Jews tend to place a lot of value on literacy and a love of books. Conversely however, Rabbi Lapin suggests that people holding advanced degrees are not necessarily more likely to achieve wealth. They tend to do poorly with money, and often seek employment at universities rather than focusing on financial independence.
Popular Culture Promotes Poverty
Rabbi Lapin tackles the fallacy embraced by so many in society that business, business people, and money are somehow bad. He illustrates how “movies and television conspire to make you poor,” showing that since the 1970s, business people are portrayed as villains twice as often as any other demographic. The constant pushing of this message has effectively brainwashed the viewing public into accepting the narrative. He confronts this fallacy by explaining that most wealthy business professionals have actually made their wealth by enhancing the lives of consumers.
Lapin also explains that popular culture vilifies wealth, but admires immoral behavior. He illustrates this last point by showing that many of People magazine’s “Greatest Love Stories of the Century” were in fact cases of marital infidelity.
You Are Already in Business
Perhaps the most valuable lesson in Thou Shall Prosper, is one that is also asserted by many other successful people: the importance of understanding that we are already in business. By virtue of being alive and independent, our lives are our businesses, whether we realize it or not. We may even have a board of directors, such as our friends or family whom we ask for advice or guidance in financial matters. Moving forward with this logic, I suppose we can count our spouses, children, or other dependants as our shareholders so to speak. By illustrating this, Rabbi Lapin further explains the importance of not being a wage slave.
Make Friends and Contribute to Charity
Wealth is created through human interaction. In order to be successful in business it is imperative that one have a large network of friends that can help encourage you on your path to prosperity. Rabbi Lapin does not suggest you should attend business oriented breakfasts and luncheons to make these acquaintances. Such gatherings, he says are too full of self interest, yours as well as the other attendants. Instead he recommends joining civic service organizations like the Rotary club. He also recommends donating heavily to charity. This sort of contribution raises your consciousness, and may contribute to a karmic increase in our own wealth.
Value the Wisdom of the Ancestors and Ancients
It is important to value ancient literature and history. This helps you to see patterns in time and human nature, and to gauge the future in order to set goals. This is not just a Jewish trait. Many Asian businessmen also apply lessons learned from ancient Taoist, and Buddhist literature to their financial plans and aspirations.
Meditation and Reflection
Regularly disconnecting yourself from daily distractions like television, radio, and other external influences is imperative. This allows you to clear your head and take notice of things that you might have otherwise overlooked or ignored. These may be useful thoughts and fully formed ideas. These are all things that can help you more accurately foretell and plan for the future. Set aside a regular time and day for such activities during which you can be alone, away from distractions in order to do nothing but reflect on trends, ideas, and set goals.
These are only a few examples of the remarkable lessons that can be found in this profound book, but it only scratches the surface.
Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin is not a typical book on business. It’s much more than that. This is a book of finance, philosophy, religion, history, sociology, and self-improvement. Much like any classic work of philosophy, and like the Torah by which much of this book is inspired, Thou Shall Prosper is not just a one time read. It’s the type of book that needs to be read, reread, thumbed through, and meditated upon multiple times over in order to get the fullest use out of it. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to improve their life financially and spiritually.
* It is unfortunate that I or Rabbi Lapin would even feel a need to mention this, but due to the nature of the real world (and anyone who has spent any time on the internet will know), it must be addressed.