י״א באייר ה׳תשע״ד (May 11, 2014)
By Yonatan Gordon
There is a concept gaining interest in the investment world called “Impact Investing.” But while the intention is still to make physical money, the end result and hope is that these “impact investments” should change the world for the better – Tikkun Olam.
If you don’t yet know what Impact Investing is, I encourage you to read Julie Hammerman’s article, “Israel Is Ripe For Impact Inv
Beginning the Meditation
As we begin our meditation, our first question is what differentiates Impact Investing from all others?
The difference begins once we think more into the word “impact.” While all investors hope to see a return on their investments, the difference is in whether the act of investing is viewed as a form or social activism of not.
As Julie mentions, we are not now speaking about charity, even though the act of giving tzedakah, charity, is most praiseworthy (the meaning of the word tzedek, צֶדֶק, is “righteous).
What Julie picked up on, and why this term generates such excitement, is because it represents a shift. But in order to connect the dots, to uncover what has actually changed in the way we view investing, let’s first turn to a recent TED interview with Larry Page.
In this video, Larry stated that as it stands now, he would probably give away his billions to Elon Musk in his will (may he live long and healthy years). Larry’s reasoning for giving to Elon and his SpaceX company, instead of a charitable organization, was because Elon’s plan to “backup humanity” on Mars is both inspired and a company. As he said, “That’s a company, and that’s philanthropical.”
Now these words definitely are impact words, so much so that instead of featuring the topic of the interview itself, many news outlets headlined with this statement. But these words need to be meditated upon more deeply. Although the statement may not reflect this at first, Larry most definitely wants to give. But before he does, he wants to make sure his money will change the world for the better.
A Tale of Two Bank Accounts
Previous to Larry’s remark, a person could think that there are two types of investments.
There are those physical investments bent on monetary gain. Then there are spiritual investments which, while sowed in this world, are performed with the intention of receiving a reward in the World to Come. Either we invest into enhancing the size of our bank account in this world, or we do good acts here, so that the coffers of our “bank account” in Heaven should become full. While it appears that Larry prefers the physical over the spiritual “bank account,” this is not the case.
Chassidut explains, based on the Midrash that God desired to make a dwelling place for His presence in our physical world. But in order to make the physical world more spiritual, we need to converge these two “bank accounts” into one.
What was Larry excited about? That Elon has plans to “backup humanity” on Mars, i.e. to begin a second human civilization on Mars. But while these prospects are far-flung, Larry views them to be the most “inspired” and money-worthy. But the motivation to colonize Mars doesn’t have a monopoly on far-flung ideas.
The efforts of those who work to unite spiritual concepts with the physical world also seem far-flung. But whereas many focus on one “bank account” or the other, Larry’s statement reminds us of the importance in unifying the two. To Larry, the most “out of this world” idea that has reached a level of practicality is Elon’s plans to colonize Mars. But if tomorrow he were presented with something even more “out-of-this-world” yet practical, there is a good chance that he would become inspired by that even more.
What is readily apparent is that Larry’s statement has reminded us of an important concept: the importance of weaning our efforts away from a dependence on receiving only physical or spiritual currency in an effort to unite the two. To take revelations from higher dimensions of reality, and land them to benefit this world.
For the Sake of a Drop
When the revelatory teachings of Chassidut starting becoming publicized, there was concern over whether these Divine secrets would be mistreated or not. Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was of the opinion that these holy teachings should be safeguarded, whereas Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi favored publicizing. You can read the story, but the result is that for the sake of a drop that could save the son of the king, the king is willing to grind his entire prized gemstone.
What this story illustrates is that even if most of the gem (the investment) is squandered, for the sake of a drop, we squander the entire gem; for the sake of one person that could be benefited, then the entire investment was worthwhile.
The question Impact Investors have is whether they are benefiting the world as a result of their investment. But instead of the strictly pragmatic world of other investors, Impact Investors have real hope for bringing inspired ideas down into the world. Even if a company is focused on improving solar energy, nanotechnology, efficient water desalination, etc… The lesson from our discussion is to begin (and continue) viewing these new initiatives within their spiritual context. As we have explained many times, it was the core spiritual concepts that first drew millions to become inspired by this new company or product to begin with.
Impact Investing then reminds us of the challenge and the call to remain conceptual. Even as physical millions are being made, the Impact Investor should stay focused on the intention to make physical reality a dwelling place for God.
The title of Julie’s article used the word “ripe.” Indeed the unification that we are making in this meditation is between the sefirah of yesod (foundation) and malchut (kingdom). But whereas kingdom alone may represent a world in need of sweetening, the union of yesod and malchut relates to the fruitful ripening of our efforts. An example that is often used is that of a husband and wife uniting in the holiness of marital relations (whereby the fruit is revealed nine months later).
As the focus of Impact Investing is on the unification between yesod and malchut, the result of our meditation is that one drop (e.g., one well intentioned investment) can sweeten all of reality.
Impact Investing reminds us that no matter how much investing we do, and no matter how much money we invest, we should always strive to feel the real and tangible spiritual effects down here in this world. As mentioned, the means to be successful in bringing down the most out-of-this-world idea down is by keeping the new light of the idea in its proper spiritual context. Even if millions are made as a result, what drew millions to be attracted was the new light, the new union between yesod and malchut.
While Larry reminded us of the importance of Impact Investing, instead of traveling to Mars, the most inspired hope is that our well-intentioned efforts should better this planet (and from here, the rest of the universe, cosmos and dimensions of space time).
And while the physical millions are being made (with the proper thoughts in mind), one should also give at least a tenth to tzedakah as well.
Please contact me if you have a question on how to conceptualize your business.
Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 13 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website CommunityofReaders.org.