The Bible and the Torah have served as sources of inspiration and guidance throughout the ages. Accounts in the Book of Genesis of the Tower of Babel and the Garden of Eden are among those that have helped people from ancient times to understand God and to navigate personal issues.
Michael Eisenberg, an Israeli venture capitalist and author of the upcoming book “The Tree of Life and Prosperity: 21st Century Business Principles from the Book of Genesis,” says he believes these stories contain nuggets of wisdom just as applicable today as they were back then.
“Wow, this is super-relevant for modern times and modern challenges, this kind of timeless wisdom,” Eisenberg says about the Torah, which encompasses the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. “It has a modern feel to it, despite its nature as an ancient text.”
Eisenberg joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about his book and some of the lessons we can take from the Book of Genesis.
We also cover these news stories:
- At a Pentagon briefing, Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor says the U.S. military expects that one flight per hour will leave Afghanistan's Kabul airport as the evacuation continues.
- The Biden administration will recommend Americans get a COVID-19 booster shot eight months after they were fully vaccinated, government sources tell CBS News.
- A California city councilman and five others are charged with election fraud.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Joining us live from Jerusalem, our guest today is Michael Eisenberg, an Israeli venture capitalist, creator of the Six Kids And A Full Time Job blog, and author of the upcoming book “The Tree of Life and Prosperity: 21st Century Business Principles from the Book of Genesis,” which releases Aug. 24. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Eisenberg: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Great to be joining.
Blair: It's definitely a pleasure to talk with you. So, I want to start off with your book, such an interesting concept. How did you get the idea to use ancient wisdom from the Torah and apply it to the modern business world? What inspired you specifically to write this book?
Eisenberg: It actually came out of conversations I had with my children around the table as the weekly biblical portion was recited. And everybody views, any text you read, there's certainly biblical texts through the lens of your life, and my daily life is venture capital investing in startup companies. And that became the lens through which I talked about these timeless texts with my children.
I started writing some notes, notes evolved into posts, posts evolved into dispatches, dispatches evolved into a book when a friend of mine said, “Hey, you really should put this together in a little book.” And that's what happened.
I wrote it first in Hebrew, which is not my native tongue. It climbed the bestseller lists here. And then we translated it and adapted it in English. So it's a bit of a different book in English than it is in Hebrew.
And the one other thing I'd add is, the feedback to the kind of dispatches was, “Wow, this is super-relevant for modern times and modern challenges,” this kind of timeless wisdom. It has a modern feel to it despite its nature as an ancient text.
Blair: I think that's very interesting that you're taking something that's so old and something that people have studied for such a long time and using those principles to apply them to modern problems.
One of the things that you've actually described the book as, “a framework that uses the words and actions of the Hebrew patriarchs to lay the foundations for a modern growth economy, based on timeless business principles and values.” I'm curious, would you be able to give our listeners an example of some of these timeless principles and how they might apply today?
Eisenberg: Sure. Let's take the story of Jacob—it's not that well known a story, but we'll find some more well-known ones in a second—where he's sent from his home in Canaan to go search for a wife in the homeland of Abraham, Haran, or Aram-Naharaim, as it's called.
And he comes there and there's a giant rock in the well and all the shepherds around the well [are] kind of milling around and waiting for all of the shepherds to arrive to take the rock off of the well so that they can give their flocks to drink. And Jacob walks up to the rock and takes it off right away.
You say, “Well, what's going on here?” Well, what's going on is that water is a scarce resource. And with a scarcity mentality, people put regulations in place. That rock is regulation. “How do I prevent one shepherd from taking water from all the other shepherds?”
And it also reflects a lack of trust in society. Jacob, who had come from a trusting home, a trusting economy back home in Canaan where his parents were, walks up and says, “This regulation, this lack of trust is destructive economically, and so you're all wasting a lot of time waiting for everyone to arrive to agree to remove the rock.” And he brings his trust in the system and removes it, and he feeds his cousin's flock.
I think one of the lessons of that story is that excess regulation hurts productivity. Excess regulation is there to cover up for distrust, when what we are really after is a trusting society.
I'll give you a different example from the story of Abraham. So, the Bible is scarce with Abraham's biographical facts. We know he leaves his ancestral homeland and comes to the land of Canaan, and he arrives there. And the Bible tells us that he comes with the wealth that he had accumulated there, which was mobile wealth, because he was an immigrant, and he comes with 70 people and his nephew Lot.
The one thing we know about Lot is that he's an orphan. And the story that the Bible is trying to tell us, because it reiterates so many times that Abraham is wealthy—because what is the purpose of wealth? Which Andrew Carnegie wrote, many thousands of years later, in his treatise on wealth, but in a different way.
Abraham is teaching us that the values of wealth are, one, private property is important, because Abraham is the first patriarch, first person in the Bible to own private property. But No. 2, when you accumulate that private property, you must take care of the orphan. You must take care of the other 70 souls, the immigrants, in order to be able to have a sustainable society.
Blair: Definitely, and it seems as if, extrapolating a little bit, that these principles aren't just exclusively tied to business. Do you feel that these principles can be tied to other realms like politics or other social issues?
Eisenberg: No question. In one of the appendices of one of the pieces in the book, I talk about the politics of Sodom and Gomorrah versus Abraham's politics and Lot's politics. And unquestionably, part of what goes wrong here is, we don't have a economy just to have any economy. We have an economy to spread our values.
And one of the irreconcilable differences between Lot and Abraham was that they were both wealthy people, but they had very different values around that wealth. And Sodom and Gomorrah were very wealthy cities of the plains, but they had very negative values around that wealth and autocratic leaders also inflicted a lot of pain on their inhabitants of those areas.
So, I think what the Bible is after is this society built on these values. It's a fundamentally capitalist society that believes in private wealth, but in the usage of that to promote values and to promote good leadership in politics. When it becomes abusive, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, or somewhat corrupt, as in the case of Lot, it unfortunately meets a bitter end.
Blair: Now, in addition to your book, you've also written some commentaries, and I love the titles on some of these things. One of them is “Big Tech Is a Modern Tower of Babel That Must Be Scattered.” And then another one is “Guaranteed Income has Been a Bad Idea Since the Garden of Eden.” I think that's so evocative that you take these stories from the Torah and the Bible and you kind of connect them to these modern issues. I'm curious, why do you think these stories from antiquity make for such effective comparison points to modern issues?
Eisenberg: We kind of are, like, amazed by Facebook that it has 3.5 billion users, but the Bible has probably had billions of users, tens of billions users over time. It's really stood the test of time and has more users than Facebook or Google, which is a modern invention. So things that stand the test of time tend to be relevant in the modern generation. We need to interpret them.
And I think really critically, like in the case of universal basic income, we have a story of the Garden of Eden that's been told over as some sort of paradise. However, in this paradise, man gets thrown out and woman gets thrown out. Not just that, they have no children in the Garden of Eden.
Please note in the Garden of Eden, there are no children until man begins to work, meaning he doesn't have basic sustenance provided by the gardener, by universal basic income. He's not productive. And he has no children. He's not productive work-wise and he's not productive in procreating the new next generation, because he has no project with which to collaborate around and pass on to the next generation.
I think if we just read these stories carefully with both an ancient and modern lens, we find these things.
In the book, I talk a bunch about Noah. Noah is a fascinating guy and he reminds me of Alfred Nobel. Noah invents two things in the Bible. One is the plow. And the second is chemistry or fermentation around wine. And in each case there's a destructive element to it.
After the invention of the plow and an era of abundance, the world kind of destroys itself, becomes lewd, licentious. It becomes overwrought and greedy and people begin to cheat each other and trust degrades. After he plants the vineyard and becomes drunk, his son abuses him, ultimately.
And I think the notion is that innovation is really good and really important. That's what moves society forward. But if we don't put an ethical framework around it, it can go really sideways. And I think that's true for [artificial intelligence]. I think that's true for cloning and synthetic biology. And there's a lot of timeless lessons in that. And only until Abraham comes around later do we get the ethical framework.
So these two first sections of the Bible, the Garden of Eden, the story of Noah, are really warnings of what happens if you don't have the basics in society. We don't cause people to work and find ennobling work. And two, if we have innovation, it kind of runs amuck.
Blair: Such a fascinating point and speaking of all of these stories, we were talking about the Garden of Eden, the story of Noah, you had mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah at the very beginning, do you feel as if there's a particular story from the Torah that resonates with this moment in time? There's so much going on right now, obviously over the weekend, we heard stuff about Afghanistan. Is there anything that kind of resonates with you from the Torah that kind of connects just to now?
Eisenberg: … Afghanistan, over the weekend—I woke up this morning, I had a hard time sleeping last night after watching the images out of Afghanistan, a really hard time. And not to be too political, but you know, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi's tweets troubled me greatly.
I don't know if we should have been in that war to begin with or not. “We should have gotten out after six months,” like I heard people say, or, “We should get out now,” or “stay in,” I don't know. I don't feel like I have enough knowledge, but there's a way to treat allies and there's a way to treat people that you've been shoulder to shoulder with. And the person I was looking for in this discussion was Abraham.
So, Sodom and Gomorrah, to go back to it, was a corrupt society. God decides he's going to destroy this very deeply corrupt society. And here comes Abraham out of the shadows.
First of all, he doesn't hide behind Twitter. He gets right to the precipice of both Sodom and Gomorrah. He's in the game and says, “God, I know you're a god, but come on, we have to save these people.”
And there may be some righteous people there. We don't remember. But a few chapters earlier, Abraham had fought shoulder to shoulder with the King of Sodom against the former Imperialist King Chedorlaomer who had enslaved a lot of people. They had fought together. And even though society corrupted itself, and it was difficult, etc., the moral voice of Abraham stood up to the leader, God, in this case and said, “Hey, wait a minute. What are we doing?”
And I neither heard Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken nor did I hear Speaker Pelosi or anybody else stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute. These are people we fought shoulder to shoulder with. There's a lot of righteous people in Afghanistan, even if it's a tough place. What are we doing?” Instead, everybody said, “Had to be done. We got out of there, and watch out for the girls.” That's not enough.
Blair: I think that's a very unique take and a very good way to connect the modern issues with some of these past ones. Moving on to a different topic, right now, we mentioned at the top that you have a blog where you talk about a variety of different topics. And one of these articles that you wrote recently for the blog I found absolutely fascinating. It's called “What Digital Games Can Teach Us About Building a National Economy.” The top line of the article was that national economies should be expressions of culture. Can you please dive into that idea a little more for our listeners? I just thought that was so great.
Eisenberg: Yeah, so, just a word about games, in general, game economies are differently successful depending on geography—the economy that works to generate a lot of revenue in China is not the same as the one that works in Korea, is not the same that works in the United States. Some places you are free to play, some places you have pay to play, and on and on.
So, one of the things we can take away from that is that national cultures impact how economies work. And we see it very clearly in gaming economies, because we can iterate those a lot quicker.
And I think that the Chinese economy now going to kind of a national level is not the same as the American economy, is not the same as the Israeli economy. The Israeli economy, which emerged from socialism, is now much more capitalistic and super-innovative, still has elements of what I would call high levels of social solidarity.
We have a single-payer health system here, but competition among the HMOs. We have other large parts of the economy that are run by not-for-profit organizations here. In the U.S., it's a much more … freewheeling capitalist society, which is I think reflective also of the Founding Fathers and the founding of the states, and that's appropriate.
The U.S. economy should not be like the Swedish economy. It shouldn't be like the Israeli economy. And the Israeli economy should not be like the U.S. economy, the Swedish economy, and certainly none of them should be like the Chinese economy.
I think it's really important to ask ourselves, “What are the foundations?” For Israel, I think freedom is a core foundation, like for the United States. For here, I think solidarity, because everybody serves in the military here right now. I think it's super important to keep society together, and I think that that puts extra social structures on society and explains why so many [nongovernmental organizations] take up a large part of the economy.
And by the same token, I think that over time we've shown, as the world is sped up and reached kind of the speed of games, that big honking institutions cannot solve a lot of modern problems. And so, probably in all places, we need a reduction of government involvement.
In Israel, I know it's an imperative and they're trying to get to it in this current government. And I think in the U.S. you're looking at a similar thing, where just things are moving too slowly at the government level to keep up with the pace of technology and the economy.
Blair: So given what we've discussed today—we've obviously taken stuff from the Bible, we've taken things from kind of ancient stories and ancient wisdom to a more modern perspective of digital games—what is your advice to listeners who are looking for guidance in these troubling economic times?
Eisenberg: No. 1, technology is taking over every part of the economy. And we need to be aware of that. Digitization is accelerating at the same time in the U.S. there's unemployment in large sectors, and there's lack of employable people in other sectors. I think the technology economy in the U.S. and in Israel can absorb hundreds of thousands and millions more people.
So we're in a giant era, which needs a lot of re-skilling, and we need people to take that upon themselves. And we need societies as a whole to take that upon [themselves]. I think it's a civic responsibility to help educate four or five other people and take them into the 21st-century economy. So I think acquiring digital skills is like reading, writing, and arithmetic right now. And it's really important to be employable in the future economy.
I think the second point is it's going to be rough out there for awhile for a variety of reasons, whether it's COVID, in the post-COVID economy, international issues, etc., and some divisive, domestic political issues. And so we really need to reach out as citizens to help empower other people through during this time.
And then the last thing I would say is, we need timeless principles to guide us through these times. And timeless principles cause you to stand up for yourself and for what you think is right when there's a lot of canceling going on out there, where it's easy to get caught up in a zeitgeist and the quick reaction. We need time to think about things, respond appropriately, and do the right thing at the same time.
And the last thing I would say is, dig in, which is, get involved in the technology economy, get involved in the future economy. The jobs of yesteryear will be digitized. And so, jump forward, get out of your comfort zone, take risks, go into the uncertainty. It will pay off.
Blair: I think that's solid advice. Now, Michael, we are running a little low on time, but I wanted to give you the opportunity. If listeners wanted to check out some of your other work, where should they go?
Eisenberg: So, the book is coming out on Aug. 24. It's called “The Tree of Life and Prosperity.” I write this blog called Six Kids And A Full Time Job, although it was terrible branding—I actually have eight kids, but it wasn't very scalable. So, I have a lot of writing on the blog. I've done a fair amount of podcasts, and you can find links to a lot of them on Aleph.vc. And in general, if you Google me, I'm not that hard to find, type in Michael Eisenberg/Israel or venture capital and it's generally the first result.
I look forward to more conversations like this. I think it's how we learn from each other and how we can help society go forward.
Blair: Absolutely, I completely agree. So from Jerusalem, that was Michael Eisenberg, an Israeli venture capitalist, creator of the Six Kids And A Full Time Job blog, and author of the new book “The Tree of Life and Prosperity: 21st Century Business Principles from the Book of Genesis.” Again, that book releases on Aug. 24. Michael, it was a pleasure.
Eisenberg: Thank you very much. I wish everybody much success and a lot of health during this time.
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