MEANING & MONEY
An Interview with Rabbi Nilton Bonder
By The All Canadian Mutual Fund Guide
SPECIAL SUMMER FEATURE - MAY - 1997
The following interview with Rabbi Bonder was carried out by correspondence over the Internet.
I'd like you to explain briefly the title of your book, The Kabbalah of Money. I was reading recently that the word "Kabbalah" is derived from the root "to receive, to accept", and in many cases is used synonymously with "tradition".
Kabbalah is the generic term used to refer to Jewish mysticism and to the profound teachings of Judaism that were passed on through time. The information we gather from reality is but the tip of the iceberg of a greater reality that is concealed from us. To search for deeper meanings of what surfaces as our reality is the work of the Kabbalist.
So my idea was to apply Kabbalah as a method to better understand the meaning and the impact that money has in our lives. The Kabbalah of Money means to understand the real value of money, what it really buys, what it allows for and what was the intent that created it. What we pay for is a good measure of what we are. Or we are what we value and we are not what has no value to us.
I found that two of the most compelling ideas in your book are the concepts of "livelihood" and "the ecology of money." Would you explain those?
Both concepts, livelihood and wealth, should not be understood, as our civilization does, as something that relates to the individual level. Quality of life and wealth are as much a product of interaction, as a healthy environment is.
We are becoming much aware of the marketing of nature, its interconnectedness and its organismic complexity, but we have much to learn about that in the market of our economy. And to be rich is not determined solely by the account one has in the bank, but the other treasures that allow for that money to be used for improving our quality of life. Those treasures, however, exist only in relation to others.
So it is our duty to expand wealth into the world and to improve the quality of life around us. But our duty is to create maximum abundance for all without generating scarcity. In the language of the rabbinical Market, it includes not only the direct benefits we can gather but also the condition in which "one party doesn't lose, and the other gains".
Doing favors and caring for wealth around us is an obligation and the implications
of refusing to do favors are similar to those of theft. If we prevent someone from
gaining something, even if we don't derive any gain from it ourselves, we are stealing
the potential heritage of humanity. Our responsibility extends to everything we
control directly or indirectly; it goes beyond what we own to include what we influence.
The act of preventing someone from having something is comparable to taking something
away from him.
On the first page of your book, you write "In everyone's pocket (or, relation to money), questions of survival and its boundaries come to light--questions related to excess, ownership and insecurity."
In Canada, (if I can generalize to an entire country), people don't discuss money very openly. Why do you think people have taboos about discussing money? Also, on a related topic, I'd like you to explain the concept of the gesheft, and how that applies to thinking soundly about money.
I don't think is only in Canada that people avoid discussing money openly. Friends can talk about the most intimate details of their love life but they will rarely share openly how much they make. It is often the case when we don't know how much our parents make. People think that money is something dirty. Why? Because we all know that money is a relational value and since there is poverty and deprivation around us, or even on a plain level, people that have less than we do, our money could include money that is not really ours or that we don't have the merit to possess.
We feel guilty and ashamed of what we make and it shouldn't be like that. If we knew how to tax our money of all its responsibilities we would end up with real money. Money that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
The other factor is "insecurity". It goes from the real concern that those that have less than we do are a threat to us, to pathological behaviors that want to use wealth not to achieve a better quality of life but to allow for a sense of power and control having nothing to do with improving the quality of life. This in reality is the meaning of a "gesheft" - a good business deal. It is good when it creates the maximum wealth for all parties involved and generates abundance that causes no, or considerably less, scarcity in the world.
If you get the best deal just for yourself you may think you've done a good gesheft. And you might have done it - for the short term. In the middle and long term you did a bad business since you probably acted in a predatory way to your market. I live in a country where people did not believe in that for quite a while and today the rich, the ones that made "good" business deals, but horrible geshefts, have to live in cages and surrounded by bodyguards. In the long term their quality of life has decreased because they have not sufficiently invested in having others participate in their "good" business deals.
The interconnectedness of life and of economy has much to teach us in the future. People are now starting to think like that. I've seen studies of how much crime can you prevent with investments in penitentiaries or in schools. The money is the same but its use can always be for short or longer range. It is what the rabbis used to call: the short-long path and the long-short path. We act with money always taking the short, the immediate, reward. But the short path that can lead you close to the city may end by a river that will prevent you from getting there. In the other hand, there might be a longer path that will lead right to the gate. In the late case one gets there first, but actually does not. In the former case it takes longer, but he reaches his final destination. This is not a mere moralistic speculation, it is economy and mathematics at its best.
In your chapter called The Wheel of Success and Failure, you wrote that it is important to know how to yield to momentary losses. "A gesheft is the possibility of making constant entrances and exits in such a way that what remains, and either moves through our lives or exists as livelihood, is satisfactory." I was wondering if you could comment on this.
What I tried to explain is that neither success nor failure are the concerns of a gesheft-person. The gesheft-person does his/her best and don't depress at loss nor gets euphoric at gain. There should be belief in the Market that if you do what is right, even if there is a probability for chaotic or disastrous events, you will end getting what you need and beyond that. The bonuses will come because life, the structure of our nature and environment, is such as to produce livelihood. However, we don't believe this and because of that mistrust we increase the imbalance in the world of livelihood. The very rich and the very poor are a product of predatorious interventions of those who gain and increase their anxiety that they won't next time as well as those that lose and think that they will necessarily continue to experience that. These pathological behaviors vis-ａ-vis money, are responsible for this cruel Market of today. A Market that consumes not only the loser but the successful too.
To be rich is to be able to account for many different forms of investments where gain is a result product of life and not of effort. To be poor in many levels is to depend and believe in this dependency on personal effort.
We're dealing in a world that is undergoing fundamental changes in the way the gesheft happens. Where people used to meet face-to-face to make deals, more business is faceless: you can carry out transactions without even talking to people. Just punch in the numbers on your phone, or place an order on the Internet. What are your thoughts on this trend?
Faceless business tends to be careless business. Gesheft is not only the desire for sustenance and gain for oneself but for the largest circle possible in this planet. The story that I tell in the book about the rabbi that is praying and someone trys to make offers to buy his donkey is a good exempla. Because it is prohibited to divert ones attention at prayer the rabbi would not answer at the offers that became higher and higher. After he finished praying he said to the man: "I will sell for the first offer. I will not accept the higher offers since I had, at the first, decided to sell it".
Why would the rabbi do that? Because he isn't smart and don't know how to take the best of any situation? To the contrary, he is out in the streets and in life to take the best of it. And he knows that the best gesheft (business) is the one that will allow for the maximum gain for all.
Eye-to-eye exchanges is a fundamental tool for the development of concern and
for the creation of wealth.
I believe that eventhough this seems to be today's trend that a certain equilibrium will be met at the future. We are creatures that have at our disposal the tools that allow for this kind of writing that I am doing, namely, for comprehension much beyond of what the immediate senses tells us. We carry in us that which can rule against trends and tendencies. That is what makes us capable of geshefts that nature does not know or that seem difficult to understand from the point of view of someone who is out there just for profit. There can be livelihood only where there is exchange, real exchange. I want to believe we will not get mad enough to bypass this first law of existence.