Do as I Do, Not as I Say

Years ago, the little yeshiva in Skokie, Illinois, had a pathetic basketball team.  Just a bunch of slightly nerdy kids stumbling around the court.  Their star forward  dribbled like a drunk trying to stomp a cockroach.  They were so low in the Jewish schools’ league that they usually fell off the bottom of the page.

One day—wonders of wonders—the Chicago Bulls offered to coach them to basketball excellence.  This was going to be The Dirty Dozen all over again.  There is something deeply moving about watching hopeless losers rising to stardom.  King David’s words would resonate throughout Jewish Chicago, “The stone the builders despised has become the cornerstone.” (Psalms 118:22)

What a generous act of magnanimity.  Living legends of basketball like Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman unstintingly giving of themselves.  Through their concern, a motley collection of kids who had never known what it was to hear fans roaring approval, would ultimately achieve success in sports.

We all gathered to watch the stars’ limousines sweep into the dingy lane that housed the yeshiva.  To our astonishment, instead of heading for the court, Coach Phil Jackson led Jordan, Rodman and their teammates into one of the classrooms.  There they set the Jewish kids to write an essay on basketball.

The giants strolled the room, offering a word of encouragement here and a stylistic tip there.  Pretty soon, the three hours were up and to cheers, the Bulls left Skokie.  A week went by and they returned for the second session.  This time they asked their students to write down the rules of basketball.  One their third visit they explored baseball literature and recommended some books.

It eventually became apparent that the Chicago Bulls believed the classroom experience was more valuable than actually playing the game.  We politely reminded them that not one of their illustrious number had learned the game in that fashion.  In fact, some of them were not even terribly good readers.  They learned the game by playing.

Suppose my absurd story were really true.  What could possibly explain the Chicago Bulls spending countless hours coaching the Jewish kids in a way alien to them that produced absolutely no positive results at all?  Surely we would have to conclude that the Bulls were either stupid or malicious.  After all, it would have been so easy for them to have put the yeshiva on the basketball map had they only done for others what they had originally done for themselves.

Unfortunately, over the past fifty years most of my fellow Jews have done the same thing.  Inexplicably they have tried to help their fellow Americans escape poverty by means quite different from those they employed in their own journey from poverty to prosperity.  Not only do they fail to share their methods, they promote a political panacea almost guaranteed to perpetuate dependency and hopelessness.

Jews comprise under 2% of America’s population.  It follows that we ought to be represented by perhaps 8 of our co-religionists on the famous Forbes 400 list of richest Americans.  In fact, each year the list usually boasts between 60 and 100 Jews.  Yes, Jews have achieved spectacular and disproportionate success in business.

As both our admirers such as Mark Twain and Winston Churchill as well as our enemies like Adolf Hitler have noted, we are good at business. From notorious Nazis to venerated scholars, from Japan’s cultural commentators to conspiracy theorists who have never met a Jew, all who have examined the historic and current identity of the people of Israel acknowledge one simple truth—Jews are good at making money.

With the right guidance, anyone can emulate the Jewish climb from Harlem tenements to Beverly Hills mansions.  One fact is irrefutable.  Jews did not achieve affluence by persuading the government to transfer to them money seized from other citizens.  Instead, we succeeded because of the Biblically-based culture of ancient Jewish wisdom passed down since the time of our founding father, Abraham.

In 1968 the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a group rooted in rejection of traditional Judaism in favor of modern, man-centered wisdom, proclaimed, “…American Jews are products of the welfare-oriented civilization of Judaism,” in its efforts to promote welfare and other federal social programs.

That, quite simply, is a lie.  Had Judaism really been “welfare-oriented” Jews would never have achieved the independent financial power that, despite persecution, we gained in most countries.  Instead, we would, quite logically, have remained on welfare. The U.A.H.C was just plain wrong.

Its spokesmen were neither stupid nor malicious.  They were well intentioned but, just like the Chicago Bulls in my myth, they were mistaken.  By falsely claiming that Jewish affluence came through, “the welfare oriented civilization of Judaism,” Jews gave moral respectability to those advocating increased taxation and cash hand-outs.  In so doing, we unintentionally helped create an American subculture of welfare addicts.  The recipients acted logically and naturally; but those who promoted the “Great Society” in the first place must accept some blame.

Here’s a way to atone.  Some of the famous Jewish legends of fiscal success and monetary know-how should actually pass on the secrets of entrepreneurialism to the less successful.  This can best be done not in the classroom, but in the marketplace where we and our parents acquired our training.  In this fashion, we could live the advice of Maimonides who urges that the highest form of charity is to confer true economic independence on the recipient.  It may feel good to make the poor recipient eternally dependent on one, but it is wrong.  Jews really do have the ability to help America’s less successful achieve the same business success that we have.  But we must use the methods that worked for us.  In this way, the stone despised by the builders can once again become the cornerstone.

26 thoughts on “Do as I Do, Not as I Say”


    1. Thanks for your good wishes. In ancient Jewish wisdom, Chanuka is indeed alluded to in Scripture – we have a CD that shows where it can be found in the Five Books of Moses (Festival of Lights). Also, while the victory was miraculous, the Books of Maccabee are history rather than Scripture which is why we do not see them as holy. But we certainly do celebrate the victory of the few and holy (that is actually in the wording of a special prayer added during the week) over the many and unGodly.

  2. Hello Jean–
    wouldn’t you think the most grateful and patriotic citizens would be all those who have managed to live entirely on the sweat off the brows of their fellow citizens? Yet we all know that is not the case.
    A good reason to know what a terrible mistake it is to destroy people’s dignity by turning them into dependents.
    Wishing you a joyful and uplifting Christmas

  3. Awesome Advice, my dad died when I was only fourteen but he always set the example of hardwork. He was a cop when cops made really poor salaries. He always worked two jobs, sometimes three to make sure we were taken care of. He sent us to private school to boot. If he was short on money at Christmas he would work extra and onetime he even sold his favorite rifle (NOW THAT IS A MAN). When I became 100 percent disabled from my army service I cried when I had to apply for disability. After 11 years I still feel like a freeloader sometimes. There were times when I worked a second job in the army to make ends meet and save for a house. I go to UB using the GI Bill right now, but i know hoe easy it is to get lazy and complacent if someone else is paying your bills. Nothing good comes of it unless you realize the danger and pull yourself out. Maimonides was right way back then and he is right now and forever. We could use him now, oh wait we have you!!!

    1. Oh no, Louis, don’t compare me to our great teacher Moses Maimonides,
      If I’m a lawn chair connected to a hundred helium balloons, Maimonides is an F-22 Raptor 5th generation fighter aircraft. If I’m a second hand Yugo, Maimonides is a Lamborghini Centario. If I’m a piece of four-day-old cold pizza, Maimonides is a German Black Forest chocolate cake with brandied cherries. If I’m….oh enough of this depressing material, you get the idea.
      Stay strong my friend and thanks for your service and that of your dad who is surely proud of you.
      Wishing you a joyful and uplifting Christmas

      1. If you’re in a lawn chair I’m a tadpole born in a seasonal water hole. I knew you would reply like that to a Rambam comparison. Every reading of The Guide lets me know how bright I’m really not. Imagine Rambam with a computer, Internet and modern libraries. Maybe he had a terrible voice and wouldn’t do well on radio or podcasts, see we would still need you. חג שמח

  4. Another irony of the welfare state is that it has it has bred a sense of entitlement, rather than any gratitude for those people who willingly or not, still go to work and pay their (more than) fair share of taxes to support all of the anti-poverty initiatives. And the values the welfare programs have created include teaching your children every way possible to game the system. Anyone thinking of going into social services as a profession should be required to watch the documentary, “The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia.”

  5. rabbi i am ashamed of progressive judaism and all of its consequences- past, present, and future …. i sense you pointing at progressive judaism in this new (and brilliant) thought tool. you are an annointed teacher of truth.

    1. Hello Robert–
      yes, I am most definitely pointing at ‘progressive Judaism’ which owes far more for its guidance to progressivism than it does to Judaism. It mendaciously seeks to throw the cloak of Judaism’s moral legitimacy over the evil and destructive pathology of secular liberalism.
      Have a happy Chanukah

    1. Fine, Peter!
      Okay you’ve convinced me. But what shall we do with Betsy DeVoss whom I think a splendid Sec of Education?

  6. Peter Mojassamian

    Rabbi Lapin -> Jared Kushner -> Donald Trump -> Rabbi Lapin -> Secretary of Education of the United States of America

  7. Sorry Peter–
    It’s chief executioner for me or nothing! I may settle for emperor but not Dept of Education.
    I assure you that when I’m in charge things will be different

      1. Oh well, Okay Elizabeth, if i must. (Politicians never seem to be asked for explanations of what they say but I can accept that I am held to a higher authority)
        When President George W Bush appointed me to a presidential commission, I received a very large and fancy charter printed on parchment which read in part: “….and is hereby authorized to execute….” This got me quite excited because I do have “a little list” of those society would be better off without. To my immeasurable dismay, I then read on carefully to discover that I was only authorized to execute the duties associated with my commission appointment. In order to explain fully to you exactly what I intend my role as Lord High Executioner to be, I refer you to these fine songs from the Gilbert & Sullivan opera, The Mikado:
        wishing you a joyful and uplifting Christmas

        1. Thank you for clarifying your position, Rabbi.

          Perhaps the executioner roll fits a little with the time of year regarding Chanukah and the re-dedication of The Temple. Much purification is definitely needed in our society, most certainly as I consider the February 2014 case of murdered Hailey Owens in Springfield, Missouri. Her body was found just hours after her kidnapping in the residence of a man still in jail, (the best I can determine), ‘defended’ by ‘public’ funds. That he has not been executed already is a travesty, violating justice and sanity.

          For this world to be re-dedicated to the Creator will surely necessitate a thorough cleansing. May Mashiach come soon and perform just that. And may we all find joy in dedicating ourselves to the One Who is all Authority. Chanukah blessings to all. 25 / 8

  8. Peter Mojassamian

    This is why I keep saying Rabbi Lapin should be nominated to be the secretary of Education of the United States of America. Once he’s in, there won’t be any going back to the destructive patterns of addiction to dysfunctional society’s constructs. May God help us.

  9. Exactly! A famous Chinese proverb also tells us that the greatest prosperity and the greatest good comes not from giving a man a fish, but teaching a man HOW to fish. Your book ‘Thou Shall Prosper’ does exactly that, a great step in that direction. Thank you, Rabbi!

    1. You know James, I’ve thought about that proverb and I must confess to being a bit baffled. It’s just not that hard to fish. What sort of person is it who needs me to teach him how to fish? Now I don’t think giving him a fish is the answer but I am not sure I want to sit out in a boat all day with that person who can’t figure out how to fish. I must assume that it’s not that he doesn’t know how to fish as much as he lacks the patience to learn how to fish and then enough patience to do it. So, I’m not teaching him to fish. I’ll teach ancient Jewish wisdom on entrepreneurial skills, but for fishing, sorry wrong address

  10. As always you ‘hit the nail on the head.’
    I grew up in a Jewish family & was orphaned at she 8 & part of the welfare system with JCFS In Chicago & I appreciate it helping me when I couldn’t help myself.
    What got me out of poverty is following the ancient Jewish wisdom of hard work, building a business & learning to serve others NOT dependency on the state or welfare. All I needed were the tools to help me.

    Thank you for your continual wisdom !

    1. Dear Jeff–
      Of course I know just who you are–you arranged for me to deliver 22 speeches in fewer days while I was in the United Kingdom. You’re an excellent business professional and you’ve done so much for so many people in changing their financial destiny. I am proud to be your friend

    1. Thanks Felicity Joy–
      Analogies are tricky because they sometimes distract folks who then obsess on finding differences between the subject being discussed and the analogy. Of course there are differences–it’s an analogy not an echo.
      Wishing you a joyful and uplifting Christmas

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart