A High Holidays Business Model
I once read a story that I suspect is apocryphal but nevertheless contains a pertinent message for the High Holidays. It took place in Russia one hundred years ago. Two men who had been classmates and close friends in their small town’s Jewish school saw each other in a train station. They hadn’t seen each other in many years and after a short conversation it became obvious that they were now geographically and spiritually far apart. One chose a path of remaining connected to the Jewish people and the Torah, the other completely assimilated and did not live his life as a Jew in anyway and wasn’t part of the Jewish community. By chance they met that day at the train station. They were overjoyed to see each other and after catching up and conversing the completely assimilated man told his friend how many doors had been open to him because he had assimilated. He was able to enter certain business ventures that made him wealthy; they would have been closed to him if he would have retained his Jewish identity. He told his friend, “look what you are missing. You, who have remained Jewish, will never lead my lifestyle. I have everything, you have nothing; you’re living in poverty.”
When it came time to part, the assimilated friend started heading toward the carriage that would take him to his destination. His friend told him that there was a luxurious carriage on the other side of the station for half the price. The assimilated friend said that the carriage was going in the wrong direction; what good would it do him? The friend replied, “listen to your words. Luxury, convenience and price aren’t even a consideration for you because they are not taking you to the place you need to go. That is what I say about you and everything you possess. I seek to identify with the Jewish people and raise my children to do the same. Even though the path might not seem as luxurious, it takes me to where I need to go.”
Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are approaching; where do we want to be heading? What direction? The following would be a strange conversation: A person who owns a store is asked, “how’s it going?” His responds, “things are wonderful. The store is always busy and I love coming to work each day…but I don’t make any money because my prices are so low that there is no profit margin.” The listener would reply, “you obviously don’t know what a store is. A store is a vehicle for making money; a store owner must know this before opening the door for business. You obviously don’t know what a store is all about.” What good are strategic goals and merchandise displays if one does not have a goal? However, if one has a store in a terrible location and sells low-end merchandise but makes money, (s)he is a success because that’s what a store is all about for its owner.
Tonight marks the beginning of a new year as well as the commencement of the High Holidays. At the end of these days, we need to ask, what did I acquire; what profit did I gain? People are individuals and there is no one correct answer but it is crucial to ask yourself the question.
May we all be granted the profit we hoped and w