Were the Bible written today, it might include wisdom on start-up businesses, communitarian governance, positive psychology and organizational skills. At least those are the "bibles" I notice people reading around me nowadays. To the modern purveyors of how-to business literature, success often means not only financial reward but also position in the industry, innovating for the future and organizational restructuring. These principles are not just for businessmen. Non-profit organizations spend huge amounts of time on new modes of operation, financial development and creative marketing. They measure success by metrics – emails opened, clicks on links, donations made, attendance at events. Why not wonder if business contributes to creating a healthy society or if non-profits sustain the souls of people?
Success in the ancient Jewish world would have meant rainfall when needed, healthy animals and abundant food. Eager to prime the pump with the Source of plenty, sacrifices would be offered and rules were admonished (but not always followed). It is a model we find the second of three paragraphs following the Shema, which traditionally we read twice daily. Some progressive Jews have stopped reading this altogether: a Torah of reward and punishment is challenging to the modern Jew.
I think that there is a common flaw with the nouveau guidebooks on success and the way we are wont to read Torah. It is not so much what is said but how we receive the message. Torah isn’t about believing that a prescription will yield a positive healthful result. Torah is about faith in a Creator/Source/Power that sets in motion the possibility of reward and the potential for punishment. For example, if we don’t take care of the earth and if we pollute and scorch the atmosphere, then we plant the seeds of our "punishment" growing naturally from our actions. And if we care for each other and share resources well, then we plant the seeds of those "rewards." God is in the formula. God is the inspiration and the energy to make change happen.
There is reward and punishment in the collective sense of identifying core values and upholding them in our work and in our society. Torah inspires us to reach beyond literal meaning and focus on the planetary and societal goals that our activities and livelihoods should serve. Along with every book on starting a business or restructuring operations, there should be a reminder from Torah that we must measure success by the qualities of meeting collective needs – preserving and enhancing life. Let that be our bottom line. Add peace, freedom, protection, and resources to the list of metrics of success: let those be our bottom line. With that kind of how-to and purpose to what we do, we can live out heavenly days right here on this earth.
R' Evan Krame