The Culture

by Morris Ruddick on March 26, 2016


(c) Morris E. Ruddick


Before we start digging into the dynamics of entrepreneurship, I want to cover some background about Jewish culture. This background will provide keen insights into the uniqueness of CanaanCapital1702bentrepreneurship from a Jewish perspective.

In a world where business is too often equated with large corporate enterprises, it is important to remember that usually these organizations began with much more humble beginnings. Likewise, the world tends to place the qualification for business success on the amount of money produced. Investors want to know how fast startups can reach certain thresholds. From a long-term, big-picture outlook, such mind-sets, or ways of looking at business represent a perception that tends to be skewed, with the priorities out of balance.

The foundations of Jewish culture provide a much greater emphasis on the bottom-up way of looking at business. It is more concerned with the role of small businesses in building the community, of being the backbone of a trust society. This by no means negates the benefits than can be derived from sizeable enterprises, but points to the responsibility shared by each member of the community, which is the result of centuries of a Torah-defined culture.

Embracing the dynamics comprising Jewish business secrets is going to require a different way of thinking. Understanding the culture will provide important insights into the way Jewish people think. The way of thinking that results from Jewish cultural foundations is a more creative way of thinking. Jewish culture foundationally is Eastern.

The Cultural Identity
One of the key strategies employed by Jews and reinforced by the teachings of Jesus was that of being a culture within a culture. Jesus described this truth as God’s people being a light on a hill that cannot be hidden. This is a context resulting in a different way of thinking. The edge we observe in Jewish business typically draws from this distinctiveness. Yet it bears a compatibility between their cultural and entrepreneurial foundations.

One of the most dramatic stories in Jewish writings illustrating this dynamic is the story of Joseph the Patriarch. Joseph was the great-grandson of Abraham. Abraham exhibited the model in which the community was supported, built and maintained by the mix of the spiritual and the entrepreneurial. The Jewish community orientation provides the means of self-sufficiency. Not to be confused with counterfeit theocratic and dictatorial zealots, Abraham operated a God-centered, entrepreneurial community. It is a model based on the type of leadership that serves. This wisdom was passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac.

So, the story of Joseph is an apt illustration of the strategy of God’s people operating as a culture within a culture. The story of Joseph is one of family intrigue. Joseph was the eleventh of twelve brothers. Not only was he the favorite of their father, but his spiritual acumen far outweighed that of his older brothers.

Joseph walked with God and was extremely prophetic. When Joseph was but 17 years of age, he and his brothers bore much responsibility for running the family business. Nevertheless, contrary to the foundations exhibited by their forbearer Abraham, Joseph’s brothers were consumed with jealousy. The abbreviated story is that his brothers reacted to his paternal favor and spiritual wisdom and deceived Joseph and sold him into slavery and told their father that Joseph had been killed.

Yet God, who always knows the end from the beginning had the big picture in mind. He was preparing to use Joseph to avert disaster caused by earlier deceitful behavior of his brothers with another local community. So Joseph’s sale into slavery took him to Egypt.

In Egypt, Joseph became a servant in the household of a high-level government official by the name of Potiphar. Joseph’s stewardship as a slave in this man’s house was such that scripture describes it with the words: “The Lord was with Joseph and he was a successful man and everyone saw that the Lord was with Joseph and made all that he did to prosper.”

The Cultural Impact
Joseph was bringing the culture established by Abraham into the way he operated as a slave in Potiphar’s house: he was being blessed and was extending that blessing to the way he stewarded his responsibilities. Joseph was soon entrusted with the responsibilities over all of Potiphar’s household.

The distinction of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being with him was evidenced by the way God blessed and prospered his efforts. Joseph stewarded his responsibilities faithfully. The Egyptians, who did not believe in the God of Israel came to see the reality of God through the life and results brought about by Joseph.

However, there then came a time when Joseph experienced spiritual backlash. A grasp of the dynamics of the spiritual world is vital to any who follow God. It entails the age-old conflict between good and evil. Within each generation are those who are drawn to God and the good. However, there also are those whose path is lined with compromise and deceit, who in the final analysis hate God. Joseph ran into such a conflict and despite his upright way of doing things for Potiphar, he was unrighteously accused of something he didn’t do and was put into prison.

Going from bad to worse. Joseph who had lost his family, along with his freedom in being made a slave was now imprisoned. Prisons in those days were pretty rough. Despite the circumstances, Joseph once again was seen as being trustworthy and capable and the keeper of the prison soon put him over all the other prisoners.

In all of these hard circumstances Joseph maintained his cultural identity, along with his attitude and behavior unwaveringly honoring the God of his fathers. The result was God blessing him in these difficult circumstances with Joseph extending these blessings to those he served. God was with him and this fact was evident to everyone around him.

The Impact of the Gift
I’ve previously mentioned the ancient Jewish writings that say: “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” This is what happened to Joseph. While still in prison, but being in charge of the other prisoners, two men from the king’s (Pharaoh’s) court were imprisoned. One was the king’s baker. The other was the king’s wine taster. One night, each of these men had dreams. Together with being incarcerated, their dreams troubled them deeply. They mentioned the dreams to Joseph. Joseph, through his prophetic gift, interpreted both dreams accurately. Pharaoh’s wine-taster was soon restored to his position, according to Joseph’s interpretation of his dream.

Then began a time of Joseph waiting on God’s timing. Roughly two years later, Pharaoh also had some troubling dreams. The wine-taster told him about Joseph and Joseph was sent for, to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.

During his thirteen years of slavery and prison, Joseph learned to depend on God. The prophetic gift that riled his brothers had been finely honed. So when Joseph was brought from the humble surroundings of his prison dungeon to Pharaoh’s palace, he had no illusions other than to begin by telling Pharaoh that only through God was he able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. So it was that Joseph outlined what the dreams meant together with the strategy of the response Pharaoh should take.

Pharaoh was amazed. His response was: “Can we find such a man as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God. Inasmuch as God has shown you these things, there is no one as wise and discerning as you are. You shall be over my house and all my people shall be ruled according to your word. I am setting you over all the land of Egypt.”

The Impact of Destiny
In the next seven years, in accordance with his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph diligently amassed and stored huge amounts of grain. Then according to the dreams, severe famine hit.  Joseph’s greatest exploits then took place during the time of great crisis, during the famine. His preparation and role as a prophetic steward, simultaneously discerned from God, but honoring both Pharaoh and God, illustrate the importance of a number of significant Jewish business secrets.

Joseph heard from God and despite personal hardship, he never wavered in culturally identifying himself as God’s ambassador. His identity was not determined by position, status or wealth. Then, when his circumstances got worse, his response was to dig in and move even closer to God. One of the greatest prayers of the psalmist are the words: “Teach me your ways O Lord and I will walk in Your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name.” Joseph walked in God’s truth with an undivided heart.

Joseph’s anticipatory response to the time of crisis required an alliance with one who combined favor toward Joseph, a spiritual openness, along with the authority and resources needed for the strategy to avert disaster. Only God could have orchestrated all this.

When the famine hit full-force, the money failed. The only thing of value was grain, which Joseph had stored in abundance. Operating according to the mantle of his great-grandfather Abraham, to be blessed to be a blessing, Joseph cornered the livestock market, then the real estate market and in the process, the people stayed fed.

During the peak of the famine, when the situation had digressed into desperation and lawlessness for those outside the realm, Joseph brought the people into the safe confines of the city and kept them fed. That included the members of his family who had betrayed him. Once the famine subsided, Joseph returned the land to its owners in return for a 20 percent subsidy of their annual harvests. Joseph was a major example of how good overcomes evil.

Joseph demonstrated how stewardship and an identity and faith in God can influence and release God’s authority to harness the spiritual climate and resources of a society that doesn’t have a knowledge of God. Joseph then managed the largest wealth transfer the world had ever seen. In the process, he redeemed his wayward, betraying brothers while also bringing God’s blessings to his adopted nation.

Foundations of Cultural Destiny
These foundations of Jewish culture didn’t stop with Abraham and Joseph. Moses outlined the framework for the Abrahamic model to inoculate God’s own from the subtle wickedness of the world and become a society of the righteous, living for God.

David demonstrated the priority of discerning and acting on God’s heart as the path to leading God’s people and then shaped a society of diverse factions of God’s own into a Kingdom that would prompt awe for God and His people from all those around them.

Jesus then raised the bar to the standard of these foundations and opened the gates to the authority that governs the mix of cultures, economies and seats of power. In so doing He established the Kingdom dynamic for applying righteous power in a corrupt world.

The Dynamic
To better grasp the dynamic behind Jewish business secrets we need to look at each of these very significant factors: the God-centered, entrepreneurial community, overcoming evil with good in establishing the right spiritual climate, operating a society of God’s people that prompts awe, then piercing the veil of the spiritual and becoming a steward of the authority that governs the right balance between culture, the economy and power.

Accomplishing these things within a community will take something more. It means assuming community responsibility. Most Jewish people understand this and we will talk about community in more detail as this series progresses. Community, according to the standards outlined by Moses, is both a gift of God and a strategy. It is a significant element of what we’re discussing with Jewish business secrets.

Let me explain with a story that came from a community of believers that we brought our program to in Western Africa. During our visit, we were invited to a traditional African wedding held by a seasoned Pentecostal community. The wedding service itself was about three hours long. During that time, not only did the bride and groom take their vows, but so did the parents. The parents committed themselves to helping the young couple through the stages of being newlyweds and into the time when they began having children. This entailed the parents making public vows and signing a community register noting their commitment.

There was more. An older woman, a great grandmother considered wise in the ways of the community was assigned as a mentor to the wife, as was an older man to the son. They would befriend them and visit them regularly during the first year of the marriage. I was told this community had not had one divorce in 30 years. This community had tapped the wisdom of the Jewish secret  of being a culture within a culture. In so doing, they protected themselves against the subtle and not too subtle inroads of witchcraft and ancient evil practices that were known to infiltrate and infect their culture.

This example is very Jewish in practice, as it should be. Most Orthodox Jewish communities are set up in this way. During a flight I shared with an Orthodox Jewish woman, I told her about our God’s economy program. She affirmed the importance of community by telling me how the Orthodox community her daughter was a part of in Israel had rallied around her daughter when her husband had died. It didn’t stop with the initial days of mourning.

It was a responsible social system that not only supported the widow emotionally and provided meals through the months of difficult transition, but helped her gain employment at the business of one of the members of the community. The social system she described was designed to care for the needs of their own, to ensure there were never any hungry or homeless, or any left alone. As it was written after the time of Jesus: “Do good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Jewish writings state that there should be no poor among us. These are a part of the foundations. This woman’s daughter, as were the newlyweds in the African community of believers were recipients of ancient wisdom, foundations that endure.

Bridging the Gap
What Jesus set in motion was not a new religion. What he established was built upon the foundations of the Torah and the prophets. The culture was the same, but Jesus raised the bar to all that had been started by Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David and then elaborated on by the prophets. He demonstrated closing the breach between the natural and the spiritual. He revealed the secret of creativity in opening the gates into the spiritual realm and releasing the authority from His secret of abiding with God to those who would believe. He showed why the Torah indicates that God’s people would be the head and not the tail through his parable of the talents, in explaining how increase is the expected result of good stewardship.

Jesus rejected the phoniness and misuse of power of the religious elite and explained things in a way that everyday people could bridge this gap between the natural and spiritual and tap this creativity. He then faced and overcame the greatest obstacle, death, to open the gates to this realm for any who would believe.

As has been noted, culturally Jewish foundations are a lot more Eastern than Western. In this journey of unfolding Jewish business secrets, you’re going to become more aware of how these foundations not only overcome evil with good, but enhance the illusive dynamic we refer to as economics, as well as how through the wisdom of God’s economics, culture and power come into balance.

Jewish cultural foundations that were set in motion by Abraham, were brilliantly anointed and written out for future generations in the books of Moses. Very few cultures have the level of a systematic record of their heritage like the Jews. As already mentioned, at the core of their identity is that of being a prophetic people of God. These things align Jews in the way that they think and view the world around them.

All this goes back to the illumination I got after observing the rampant poverty in Ethiopia, of how the spiritual and economic can progressively make community not only a safe-place, but a place that nurtures opportunity for its members.  It begins and has a focus of the simple things, of the most basic family-owned enterprises that become the heart of a society that takes care of its own. Larger enterprises within this cultural setting retain the responsibility and community focus. The history of the Rothschild banking empire is one of a network of institutions, which had very simple beginnings. It has been run by a single family that supported one another and had an overriding commitment for the good and safety of the Jewish community.

So in summarizing, what clearly exudes from the many facets of Jewish culture is captured in the writings of Moses, that if the conditions of the House of Israel’s identity and obedience to God’s principles and instructions are met, then the Lord would make them to excel above all the other societies on the earth. That premise explains not only their many amazing historical exploits, but more recent Jewish accomplishments detailed in studies such as “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement,” authored by Steven Pease. In a word, it is disproportionate achievement and the mark of the leadership mantle that has influenced the societies of which Jews have been a part over the millennia. This word influence is a vital part of Jewish leadership.

At the core of these exploits are the foundations impacting the way they think. Jews view things with a different perspective than most other peoples of the world. We’ll look closer at these things, such as the creative thinking that comes from these foundations, but for now we’re setting the stage to be able to better understand God’s economy and the form of entrepreneurship that comprises our focus of Jewish business secrets. As it has been written by the psalmist:
“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who takes great delight in His instruction. All goes well for the generous man, who lends freely and conducts his business fairly.”


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