How Business Can Be the Highest Expression of Righteousness

I have often closed my Process Triaging for Executives talk and exercise with a reflection on my father’s (OBM) commentary on the Declaration of Independence. Because business processes are constantly stressed and break as the company succeeds and grows, continuous process improvement is a pursuit, not an objective one satisfies. As dad admonished, the pursuit of happiness is a miserable existence that implies one is not happy in the moment, only chasing what one doesn’t have. Instead, find pleasure in the toil and hard work of life — find happiness in every moment; in every item on the to-do list. And occasionally everything comes together for truly superlative, joyful celebrations — like icing on an otherwise very good cake.

This happiness of pursuit is an excellent anchor, psychologically and emotionally. As a habit, it builds resiliency and courage. However, it must rest on a foundation of purposefulness. Pursuing anything with the intensity it takes to lead a business requires transcendence. Might this be charity?

The medieval Jewish sage Moses ben Maimon (a.k.a. Maimonedes) — the Rambam unpacked the concept of tzadaka, often translated as charity. But charity doesn’t do it justice; a more nuanced word is righteousness that expresses an alignment with purposeful virtue. With our Divine raison d’être — why we are here. The Rambam offered a list of righteous actions ranked by degree — all good but some more equal than others. The highest form of tzadaka is all why we devoted to this business of business:

  1. The least expression of righteousness if to give unwillingly. The giving is good, nevertheless.
  2. A better expression is to give gladly, but inadequately. The giving is good, nevertheless.
  3. A better expression is to give to a poor person after being asked. The giving is good, nevertheless.
  4. A better expression is to give to a poor person directly to his or her hand before being asked.
  5. A better expression is to give, but not know who receives it, so the receiver is not shamed.
  6. A better expression is to give, knowing the receiver but the receiver does not know the benefactor.
  7. A better expression is to give in a manner the benefactor and receiver do not know each other — such as giving to an anonymous fund. There is a necessary obligation to be satisfied with the fund’s administration.
  8. The greatest expression of righteousness is to endow someone with a gift or loan or entering into partnerships that finds them employment or a livelihood.

There is no greater expression of tzadaka — of charitable righteousness than creating and sustaining a business that provides someone employment and a livelihood. This is beyond teaching someone to fish — it is to help and enable them become a professional fisherman.

So in our happiness of pursuit, let’s pursue that which is most purposeful.

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