The lessons from this week’s Torah Portion, Miketz, are an important economics lesson. The story is well known, Joseph’s imprisonment ends when Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows that are swallowed up by seven lean cows, and of seven fat ears of grain swallowed by seven lean ears. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the plentiful years.
The first lesson, which is actually an important lesson in financial literacy, is to save to ensure you have enough for the future. We often begin teaching our children to save, not to spend everything, but, we often forget about that lesson as we are buying cars and homes and other items that are deemed essential and we forget to put away money for when times may not be as good in the future. Three years ago, the economy, for many, was very good and growing. Investments were up, salaries were growing and many people spent money. Along comes a pandemic and the economy screeches to a halt. Stock markets fell, people got laid-off or furloughed. Many people hadn’t saved and they found themselves starting to struggle. So, the lesson of Joseph is – your cows maybe fat today, but a few years from now that can change. Save today for an uncertain future tomorrow.
The same is true in business, it is important to know what your needs are, not only today, but in the future – the next two or three years and to build a runway that will make sure you can continue to operate. Joseph came in and built a plan to save today for a future that will not be as bright. That strategy helped not only Egypt survive but to play a significant role during the famine and to use the savings to their advantage – to take over land and to make other nations subservient to them. Joseph collected the resources during the good times to leverage them during the challenging time to expand.
A good business needs to think about the logistic necessary to grow and support their business. For Joseph and Egypt that meant building storehouse to hold the grain from the good year and to develop the infrastructure necessary to deliver the grain and other provisions to the storehouses and eventually from the storehouses. Figure it was an ancient day Amazon like operation. Joseph was a smart Chief Operating Office for Pharaoh, that not only had to have the vision to detect the forthcoming challenges the world would face, but to build the necessary structure to be able to react to it. That was much more that interpreting dreams.
It is vital for a business to not only have a vision, but a realistic plan of action that helps them achieve their vision. Today, we talk about business analytics. Imagine what Joseph had to consider – who much food would be necessary for the 7 good years and how much food would need to be stored for the 7 years of famine? And, how much Egypt would need and how much they could “sell” to others. All very important business decisions.
The Parsha teaches us how it is important to plan and also have a strong implementation plan to move the vision forward.
The Parsha is read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah. There is also an important message in the story of Hanukkah for businesses. We know the story; the Temple is retaken and there is only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day. It would take 8 days to get more pure oil necessary to keep the Menorah lit. So, a decision had to reached, do you wait for 8 days and then light the Menorah. Or, do you light it with only enough oil for on day and see what happens? It is a challenge that many businesses face around a variety of issues and opportunities. Do you wait or do you go forward?
The story of Hanukkah teaches, that you can go forward and take the risk. What was the worst thing that would have happened, the Menorah would have burned out and you would wait 7 days for the pure oil to re-light it. The risk reward quotation needs to taken into consideration. Some times you can take a chance and some times that chance will pay-off. This is something that businesses need to deal with daily. Some times the oil will burn for 8 days. Know your risks and make wise decisions.
These are lesson each one of us can learn and use in our daily lives. The Torah and the Holiday have very real modern implications.