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

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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7 thoughts on “You recommend developing a specific skill set. Does Scripture suggest otherwise?”

  1. Context is a critical element for understanding what we read. We must consider not just a single word or a phrase standing alone, but how it fits in the sentence, chapter, book, and whole Bible.
    Psalm 14:1 [KJV] says (in part!) “There is no God.” Yes, it is in there.
    The context, however, makes a world of difference–“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”

  2. Hello Rabbi,

    I am reading your book “Thou Shall Prosper” (30 min out loud 3x a week btw to improve my speaking voice- on week 4) and am learning and digesting it slowly. I really want to change my mindset on making money and serving others. I also listen to your podcast daily. The reason I am doing this is that I am 35 and feel stuck in my career. I have always taken the poor advice of following your passion but here I am at 35 and still have no idea what I’m passionate about career wise. I’ve learned from you that this is bad advice and that we should try to become passionate about the job or career we are currently in. I am guilty of bouncing around from job to job but I want to end this as it is exhausting and is killing my soul.

    What would be your recommendation for someone my age? Sometimes I feel it is too late to start over and I’ve missed my calling even though I have a degree in marketing. How do I find the “right” job to develop my passion in? I can’t keep bouncing around from job to job anymore. Maybe this means I should try starting my own business? Idk. Would you recommend me joining We Happy Warriors to get further help on this?

    Thanks for your help and guidance Rabbi.



    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Aaron–
      I want to answer your question but I am thinking of doing it on our Ask The Rabbi page. Are you okay with that?

  3. The Rabbi also recommended earlier this year when the pandemic started to become a more generalist just for this season. There is wisdom in understanding what season we are in and what applies to this specific season.

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