Lean Upon the Counter

In 2002, after six years in business, Amazon became profitable. How did they keep their doors open for so long without profits? Amazon had cash flow. A year earlier two famous Internet high-flyers, Webvan and Pets.com, collapsed. Why did they fail in spite of operating in profitable niches? They had no cash flow.

A business can run without profits for quite a while provided it has cash flow. However, the opposite is not true. Webvan wasted capital on huge infrastructure investments and Pets.com struggled to raise capital. Meanwhile, Amazon was generating sales and raising capital. Small business startups fail most frequently from lack of cash flow. Maintaining, and projecting cash flow is crucial. The tool for doing so is counting.

Whether you run a business, work in one or invest in one, you occasionally examine a balance sheet showing assets and liabilities. You also watch income statements which reveal profit and operating earnings figures. But more important, scrutinize the often neglected cash flow statements regularly as they show the cash coming into and flowing out of the coffers. Understanding numbers is a key life skill.

We are currently in the calendar period between Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot) when Jews count off each day. (Leviticus 23:15) This is called Counting the Omer. For instance, today, we formally note, is the 18th day of the Omer.

Hebrew associates counting with wisdom. The word SoFeR means both someone who counts and also a wise man. Wise people can convert complex circumstances into precise numbers which can then be easily compared and analyzed. Numbers can certainly be manipulated, but it is harder to mislead with numbers than with words. A torrent of words easily obscures simple facts and plays to the emotions. It is much easier to figure out the story from the numbers than it is to discover the numbers from the story.

For car enthusiasts like me, advertisements with performance figures are more useful than poetic paragraphs lauding the luxurious leather seating and the rapturous flowing lines of the Italian-designed bodywork. When studying a company’s annual report, the financials and footnotes are more important than photographs of corporate personalities and their headquarters. Revenue figures are more valuable than pages of propagandistic prose.

Jewish tradition is filled with numbers. We maintain and calculate a complex calendar whose months and days have not names but numbers. We count generations, we count money raised for the Tabernacle in Exodus and we count the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. We even like knowing how many letters there are in the Torah (304,805) as well as how many words (79,847) and verses (5,845).

Numbers convey meaning; often deep meaning. For instance, because the Torah is God’s message to mankind for all places and for all times, we should not be surprised by prophetic insights that flow from analyzing numbers.

For instance, the founding Israel in 1948 was a manifestation of God’s special relationship with the Jewish people. It would be surprising if the Torah contained no hint of that forthcoming event. The civil year of 1948 corresponds to the Hebrew year, 5708.

Let’s examine the 5,708th verse of the Torah:

The Lord your God will bring you into the land

which your fathers possessed and you shall possess it…

(Deuteronomy 30:5)

As the State of Israel celebrates its 64th birthday this week, it is worthwhile to remember that the land is continually earned through faithfulness to God.

I wish I could invite you all into my home to share more amazing truths which flow from Biblical numbers. I’m afraid that space would get a bit tight. But I am delighted that my wife and I can visit your homes through our television show, Ancient Jewish Wisdom. We have gathered four of our favorite shows on DVD, including The Importance of Numbers: Scripture is Full of Them. Why? You will greatly enjoy these shows with astonishing secrets embedded in Scripture. Imagine – TV shows the whole family can watch and discuss together! Ancient Jewish Wisdom with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin is on sale online for a few days, making it an even friendlier individual, friend or family activity.


This week’s Susan’s Musings: A Cruel and Unusual Susan?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend relating to feedback on my Musings. Last week offered one example. A reader wrote to my husband, commenting, “Had Trayvon been your son would your wife had been so inhumane about the matter? I think Susan is very cruel, I would like to hear your comment when it is your child’s turn.”

What was my alleged cruelty?… READ MORE