Posts tagged " Ecclesiastes 11 "

You recommend developing a specific skill set. Does Scripture suggest otherwise?

December 23rd, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 7 comments

I read about specialization in your book, Business Secrets from the Bible , and was very excited. However the quotation from Ecclesiastes below does not seem to promote specialization due to future uncertainties:

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” Ecclesiastes 11:2.NIV.

Am I getting it wrong?


Dear Clement,

We are eager to get started on answering your question in the spirit of, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” On the other hand, “Don’t cross that bridge until you come to it,” so perhaps we shouldn’t compose our answer until the deadline for Ask the Rabbi and Susan is looming.

Not surprisingly, we (Rabbi Daniel and Susan) approach this differently from one another since “Opposites attract.” Yet, we also share views as you might guess, since, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Seriously, we are big fans of learning and having familiarity with Scripture. Yet, phrases taken out of context and treated as no more than adages or aphorisms are not useful.

Even lovely sounding words, of which the Bible has many, such as, “Love your friend as yourself,” (Leviticus 19?) or, “Honor your father and your mother,” cannot be a guide for life at face value. Do those words mean that if you buy a new car, you must also buy one for your friend? Do they mean that if your father tells you to shoplift, you need to do so?

If you’ve been reading Thought Tools for any length of time and certainly if you are following our new Scrolling through Scripture online course, you know that ancient Jewish wisdom reveals important information mined from data embedded way beneath the surface. Each word of Scripture contains layers upon layers of meaning. We recently finished celebrating the eight-day holiday of Chanukah. Our Chanukah audio CD is titled: Festival of Lights: Transform Your 24/7 Existence into a 25/8 Life  because the number eight always implies things that are above the natural. We could study in depth the verse you are quoting in Ecclesiastes but for here and now, one kernel of wisdom that emerges is combining human effort (seven) with allowing room for partnering with God and going above nature (eight). 

However, in its plainest sense, the verse you quote does not contradict specialization in business. A better translation of the Hebrew than the one you are quoting might be, “Give a portion to seven and also to eight for you do not know what misfortune will come to the land.” Even on its most basic level, this suggests not, “putting one’s eggs all in one basket,” such as investing all one’s assets in one stock. I do speak in my books, as I’m sure you saw, of staying flexible and able to shift with events and technological advances.  The recommended doctrine of investment diversification does not in any way contradict the critical importance of acquiring specialized knowledge and skills with which to serve others.

Sayings are lovely, but they are also simplistic. One of the goals of learning Scripture seriously is to have a broad overview of how the many seemingly contradictory and confusing aspects of life combine cohesively to produce a complete picture.

Holistically yours,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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