Posts tagged " specialization "

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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Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker

March 22nd, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

When asked what the “Gerber” brand means, most moms would say ‘baby food.’ This is partly why Gerber’s foray into selling Buster Brown clothing, strollers, and insurance was doomed. Gerber lost sight of its specialty. It was not the only famous brand to forget its identity.

Contributing to Sears’ demise was confusion about its specialty. By the 80s, Sears was selling not only Craftsman tools, clothing, and home appliances; it was also selling insurance, commercial real estate, stocks and computers. Would you go to an eye doctor who repaired lawn mowers in the back room?

Early Americans were influenced by Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The book explains the importance of specialization. It is easy to see how specialization increases production and hence wealth. Six cobblers working independently will never make as many shoes as they would make collaborating with one another. If one makes only soles while another makes uppers while a third stitches them together and so on, productivity will soar as each specialist discovers better and faster ways to accomplish his own task. As a result, each person will take home far greater pay than he would have working alone. Then he can use his wages to buy clothes and food from other specialists.

It is easy to spot the trend toward specialization as societies evolve and develop increasingly sophisticated ways for humans to diminish the drudgery necessary to earn a living. Department stores give way to niche retailers, the corner garage offering full care for your car yields to Jiffy Lube and brand-specific repair centers.

This is exactly how the good Lord planned life for His children. He created a world in which His children would connect with one another and become preoccupied with one another’s needs. How better to accomplish this than to reward us with greater income provided we replace the model of working alone by the ideal of collaboration? God placed us in a world in which many people cooperating with one another within a mutually agreed-upon moral framework will vastly outperform those same people trying to make a living in isolation.

Why did the world’s Bible-based societies lead the march toward specialization by innovating the corporation and the industrial revolution? Perhaps because Scripture reveals how the founding of the people of Israel was rooted in specialization.

Jacob, or Israel, became the father of the ‘children of Israel.’ At the end of Genesis, Jacob assigned a specialized role to each son. Levi was to take care of temple worship, Zebulon was to develop expertise in shipping and trade, Issachar was to provide the scholars and educators, and so on. As each brother and his descendants specialized, thus becoming dependent upon all the others, the nation emerged.

Later, at the end of Deuteronomy, Moses reaffirmed the concept of specialization for each of Israel’s tribes. While individuals had different talents and strengths, the idea was being set in place for all time that specialization linked with mutual dependence and cooperation produces a strong nation.

One person completely on his own will not live as well as he would as a member of a family. A nuclear family lacks the power of an extended family. A tribe is greater than a family, but a nation made up of large numbers of interdependent people with a common set of expectations and obligations will achieve vastly more. A frequently ignored and invisible network of connectivity and cooperation makes possible so much of what we often take for granted. Moreover, we need to know that this vast enterprise of millions of people cooperating needs more than a legal system to sustain it. Laws reflect moral and ethical beliefs; they don’t form them. Jacob and Moses’ blessings instilled in the Jewish people the idea of specialization under an umbrella of widely accepted core beliefs.

My book, Thou Shall Prosper: The Ten Commandments for Making Money teaches you how to deploy this strategy, along with many others, to survive and thrive under widely disparate circumstances. For a limited time we are making this book, which has transformed the financial realities of so many families, available (web orders only) at the lowest price we have ever offered.

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