June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Learning Business Principles From Genesis

When Michael Eisenberg graduated Yeshiva University in 1993, I doubt he would have even dreamed that almost 30 years later he would have become a leader in the Israeli startup and tech scene and established himself as a noted author, synthesizing his two worlds of venture capital and Torah, being firmly rooted in both.

Eisenberg has just published another book which is certain to become a bestseller, “The Tree of Life and Prosperity: 21st Century Business Principles From the Book of Genesis.” He says the aim of his latest book is to provide “a framework that uses the words and actions of the Hebrew patriarchs and timeless business principles and values to lay the foundations for a modern growth economy.”

In a similar style to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt’l, Eisenberg integrates Torah texts and commentaries with political theorists in a most elegant manner. You will find the biblical characters of Genesis compared with more modern figures, such as Warren Buffet, Machiavelli and Alfred Nobel.

Also like Rabbi Sacks, Eisenberg emphasizes the core tenet that the “Torah is as relevant today, in the era of artificial intelligence, as it was thousands of years ago.

“The Bible is a timeless text, boasting more unique users throughout history than Facebook and Google combined,” Eisenberg said. “It is a text that has stood the test of time. I wrote ‘The Tree of Life and Prosperity’ so we could learn relevant lessons and timeless principles from ancient stories.

“The characters of the Book of Genesis are just like us,” Eisenberg continued. “They are entrepreneurs and innovators, industrialists struggling to adapt to modernity, and negotiators seeking to preserve their unique identities. Many of the fundamental issues of the human experience are confronted in Genesis. We can glean modern insights through this lens.” Investors, techies, scholars and religious people alike will find the book interesting and engaging.

The Jewish Link met with Eisenberg, one of Israel’s leading venture capitalists, to discuss his latest book.

Michael, what inspired you to write “The Tree of Life and Prosperity”?

I was inspired to write the book because timeless wisdom is missing in today’s very relativist society. We are dealing with so many foundational questions around human existence, from artificial intelligence to new technologies like cloning and synthetic biology. Simply, the world is undergoing massive transformation right now. Innovative technology and digitization are disrupting traditional industries. Populations are shifting.

We have trust issues, new cryptocurrencies and political divisions. The world is living through a very confusing time. Innovation is good. In fact, it is critical and propels economies and societies forward.

My day job is to invest in technology. But what I worry about is how innovation can go awry or a society based on innovation can become divided or overregulated when we don’t put timeless values at the core.

You relate biblical sources in the Book of Genesis to modern concepts like universal basic income and game theory. What inspired you to connect these ancient stories with modern concepts?

On some level, everything in life is personal, and this book is a reflection of my disparate interests in Torah, ancient biblical studies, Talmud, economics, business and technology.

Ibn Ezra, who was poor, wrote his commentary on the Torah through a poor man’s lens. The Abarbanel, who lived in Spain and Portugal and was exiled as part of the Inquisition, despised the monarchy, which influenced his biblical exegesis. R’ David Zvi Hoffman—who lived alongside German Bible critics—addressed them through his commentary.

Every commentator on the Torah brings his or her experiences, circumstances, place of living and profession to his understanding of Torah, enriching Torah itself and our lives.

As an investor, my lens is economic and technological. The Torah informs economics and economics informs our understanding of Torah.

What kind of people are most interested in the book?

It’s been really exciting and gratifying to see that the book is already appealing to a wide and diverse audience, resonating with traditional communities of faith as well as with leaders and people in business, tech and investing.

This book is for anyone who is confused, scared or excited by a changing world. And we are living in a changing world. Amid all the chaos and rapid technological change, the Torah can provide us with timeless anchors and an ethical framework to support our innovation and economic growth.

Of course, this book is also for people interested in a different perush (explanation) of stories in Genesis. I think there is serious exegesis in the book as well and it has been referenced by Biblical scholars.

Michael, you’re a successful VC investor. Do the principles of this book inform your investing strategy? If so, how?

My investments are undoubtedly informed by my values and principles. However, I wasn’t always this aware of what I was trying to do. Over time, things have become clearer.

For example, you can see how Lemonade has fundamentally remodelled the insurance business to align incentives between consumers and the company.

Other values-driven portfolio companies of mine include RiseUp, Uniper, Empathy.com and Melio. With taglines like “Keeping small business in business,” it is clear that more than mere profit is at the core. We don’t always get our bets right––that’s the VC business, but we continue to invest based on these principles.

My view is that values-driven businesses create better brands, better consumer demand, better customer behavior and a better ability to attract the best talent. Technology businesses are based on brilliant and innovative minds. These minds have souls, too. I think that’s really fundamental to how you build valuable companies in the 21st century.

This is not CSR (corporate social responsibility) or impact investing. This is free-market capitalism, but a view that believes that principles actually provide companies and investors with a competitive advantage.

Your book was a bestseller in Hebrew with an Israeli audience. What nerve do you think it touched? Why are people thirsty for this kind of material right now?

Values have become so relativist that people feel lost. People are looking for principled frameworks. Former coinbase chief technology officer and futurist Balaji Srinivasan has said that my book is “wisdom of the ancients for moderns.” I really like that framing.

People are looking for fundamental principles to anchor them amidst this tumultuous environment of technology, business, money-printing, etc. This book provides an ethical framework that people can grab onto.

This is the first of a five-volume series. What are some of the topics that you plan to raise in the next four books?

Volume two (Exodus) looks at the importance of contrarianism and leadership. It also includes a modern implementation of why the Sabbath is so important. I take a hard look at the Tenth Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” by examining Philo’s societal approach, contrasting it with Maimonides’ slippery slope of desiring to coveting and Ibn Ezra and Shadal’s attempt to control desirous thoughts.

There is also a unique chapter—which is not exegetical but rather a historical perspective—on the challenges or failures of nepotism in the priesthood, political leadership and rabbinate. Even though the Torah ordains passing the priesthood and monarchy from father to son, this passing of the mantle has not always succeeded.

The book finishes with a discussion of John Paul Sartre, perception and the vessels of the Tabernacle. A neat summary of that last piece might be “all that glittering gold is not the point.”

The third installment is a treatise on what a uniquely Israeli economy should look like according to the Book of Leviticus, which is the initial book of preparation for entering the land of Israel. I called it the “fraternity economy.”

The third installment also tackles timeless economic issues, such as price fixing.

It further discusses George Akerlof’s Nobel Prize-winning research on why the used car market frequently contains “lemons,” and shows how the Torah would prevent this inefficiency between buyers and sellers.

Lastly, I treat viruses and how they can threaten rickety societies with implosion or expulsion. The book was released earlier this year, but the wisdom is timeless and right there in the text.

I haven’t fully written the last two books yet, but with God’s help they’re coming soon!

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon and through other booksellers.

Benjy Singer lives in Jerusalem and is a freelance journalist covering Jewish world and Israel stories. He can be reached at [email protected].

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