12 business lessons from the book of Genesis
The characters are entrepreneurs and innovators, industrialists who struggle to adapt to modernity and negotiators seeking to preserve their unique identities.
The world is changing. Innovative technologies and digitization are disrupting traditional industries. People are on the move. The wealth is abundant; technological innovation is rapid. We have confidence issues, new currencies and political divisions. The power of Big Tech is unprecedented. Developments in AI, big data and machine learning are happening too quickly for our moral and legal regulations to follow.
How can we build an age-old framework to guide our innovation in these turbulent times? What can Judaism teach us about technology, wealth, regulation, negotiation, and other modern and significant topics?
Humanity has in fact already faced all of these “modern” challenges. The characters in the Book of Genesis are like us. They are entrepreneurs and innovators, industrialists who are struggling to adapt to modernity and negotiators anxious to preserve their unique identities.
Here is a lesson from each part of the Torah from the book of Genesis, based on my new book, The Tree of Life and Prosperity: 21st Century Business Principles from the Book of Genesis.
1. Bereishit: mission (im) possible
There are no children in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, all of Adam and Eve’s needs are met without any work. The Garden was a failure. Ergo, we don’t just need to work to live, to earn a salary. We work to be productive people who strive to create a better world for us and our children.
2. Noah: the frustrated inventor: technological innovation and moral innovation
The invention of the plow by Noah ushered in human flourishing on the one hand, and moral corruption on the other. After the flood, Noah’s astonishing invention on wine – the water of the ancients – and fermentation also led to debauchery. Innovation moves the world forward and it necessarily is. However, if it is not underpinned and supported by timeless principles, it can lead to the destruction or corruption of values.
3. Lekh Lekha: Wealth: Trial and error
The Patriarchs were wealthy people and Nachmanides even says that this is inherent in their blessing. The Bible challenges us to properly use wealth, care for the fatherless and widow, and use our capital to espouse timeless values.
4. Vayera: an embers saved from the fire
Here we see two models of society: one within Sodom based on corruption, greed and xenophobia, which strives to accumulate wealth for its own good. In contrast, Abraham’s society is founded on shared interest, mutual responsibility, hospitality, and concern for the weak. Societies are founded on values. It is the responsibility of each of us to create and disseminate those that are close to our hearts.
5. Hayei Sarah: Macpéla Cave Game Theory
Abraham’s skilful negotiation with the Hittites to buy the cave of Macpela to bury his wife Sarah revolved not only around financial matters, but also moral, ethical and religious axes. Staying true to our core principles and values can help us maximize the success of negotiations. People respect those who respect themselves and defend their values.
6. Toldot: the birthright and the blessing
Isaac spurred an agricultural revolution, settling in and taking root. Esau, a hunter and nomad, was unable or unwilling to adapt to the new economy. We are currently experiencing a digital transformation. Many traditional jobs are being replaced or fundamentally changed. In times of turbulence, it is essential that we adapt accordingly, while remaining true to our identities.
7. Vayetzi: Quid Pro Quo
After fleeing Esau at the behest of his mother Rebecca, Jacob meets Rachel at the edge of the well in Paddan-Aram. Covering the well is a stone – a form of technological, social and legal protection against a potential “tragedy of the commons,” whereby some shepherds might enjoy the public good. Jacob removes the stone and gives water to Laban’s flock.
“Our mistrust costs a lot of money,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here, too, we see the importance of interpersonal trust and the price to pay in its absence. Families, communities and societies built on trust are more efficient and effective.
8. Vayishlaḥ: From love to fear
Arriving in Shechem, Jacob seeks to establish a base of mutual economic cooperation and trust by buying fields from the local people and cultivating goodwill. After the prince rapes his daughter Dina, Simeon and Levi betray their father’s worldview by manipulating the locals and killing them. Jacob wanted to build a society based on trust and love, but his sons chose fear as their guiding principle. We can learn from this incident that trust is more effective, but many people surrender to fear.
9. Vayshev: Land reserve
Joseph envisions agricultural innovation to support the growing family and provide food throughout the year. His brothers became envious and mean, unwilling to adapt to changing times, stuck in their old ways. Joseph’s entrepreneurial spirit leads to negative reactions and jealousy from his brothers. Likewise, in each generation, the agents of change and the black sheep are called. But these visionaries are often the ones who change humanity.
Maybe we should believe it a little more. Former Canadian spy and current personal development specialist Shane Parrish recently wrote: “When everyone agrees with you when you make a decision, you get paid in a linear fashion. When everyone agrees with you after the fact, you get paid exponentially. Joseph was paid exponentially.
10. Miketz: the city mouse
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that Egypt would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then reorganized the Egyptian economy – to focus on trade and commerce, while building an urban grain storage, local distribution centers, and other infrastructure. His planning and forethought saved the country during the famine. Likewise in life, good crisis preparation and innovation are essential to overcome challenges.
11. Vayigash: a warning sign
This part of the Torah is a warning about the complexity of systems and the unseen negative impacts of too much government intervention. Joseph saved the Egyptian economy from catastrophic famine and the threat of outside enemies. But then it over-centralized and dramatically increased the level of vulnerability to the invisible risks that had built up within the system. It is up to us to be wary of solutions that claim to solve all problems. The natural world is doing well in many ways, and sometimes we should take a step back and let the world go round.
12. Vayeḥi: land and sea
Entrepreneurs and managers are essential in any business. You need people to imagine the future and executors to build and run successful businesses. Jacob is preparing Israel’s export economy for this in the partnership between Issacar and Zabulun.
Copyright © 1995 – 2021 Aish.com,
Aish.com is a non-profit organization and needs your support. Please donate to: ,
or mail check to: Aish.com c / o The Jerusalem Aish HaTorah Fund PO Box 1259 Lakewood, NJ 08701.