Denes Ban
Israeli tech entrepreneur-turned-investor on the weekly parshah

Not your name, not your socks

Embed from Getty Images

There is a tale told about the late billionaire Edward Reichman’s funeral. He left two wills directing that one be opened immediately after his death and that the other one was to be opened 30 days after his funeral. In his first will, one of his requests was that he be buried with his favourite pair of socks, despite such a request violating halacha (the Jewish codex of law). Although his children pleaded with the authorities, explaining that their father was a very pious and learned man, and he obviously had a very good reason to make this request, their request was refused.

Edward Reichman, the famous billionaire, was buried without his favorite socks.

30 days later, the second will was opened and it read something like this: “My dear children, by now you must have buried me without my socks. I wanted you to truly understand that a man can have billions of dollars, but in the end, he can’t even take along one pair of socks!”

In this week’s Parshah, the Israelites conquer the villages across the Jordan river (some 3000 years ago) “And Yair…went, and conquered their villages, and he called them the Villages of Yair. And Novach went and conquered Kenas and her suburbs, and called it Novach, in his name”. 

At least, that’s how it reads when you read it in English. In the original Hebrew version in the “called it Novach” the letter hei of the “LaH” (in English: “it”), misses a dot, which makes it into a “LO” (in English: “No”), thus the sentence reads as “and called NOT Novach”.

The ever astute Rashi catches and explains this strange grammatical glitch based on the Sages: The difference between Yair and Novach is passable, but upon inquiry, rather significant. Novach named the city 100% after himself, as if: “this city is what I am”. Yair on the other hand, said in essence: “these are my villages” or better, “these are my possessions”, but they are “not what or who I am”. The Sages explain that because of this, Yair’s name endured, Novach’s name, by contrast, did not.

Novach identified his total Self-Worth only with his possessions and “it did not last” and his name was eventually forgotten.

In business terms, we often use both words “net” and “gross” together: net income vs gross income, net assets vs gross assets, net profit vs gross profit, etc. For example: gross income is the individual’s total pay from his employer before taxes or other deductions have been removed. Net income refers to an individual’s pay that remains after taxes and expenses have been paid and removed.

It is interesting to note that there is also such a thing as “Net Worth” and when referring to, or listing the world’s billionaires, net worth is the metric used and popularised by different lists such as Forbes magazine. Net Worth is basically how much you OWN minus how much you OWE. So then, what is the definition of “Gross Worth”? You would think it is simply the sum of what you own and what you owe…but try to look it up or ask around and you will be surprised that you won’t find a “Gross Worth” list nor even a working definition.

As I reflect on this I am in Sweden, famous for the Swedish Model (or Swedish welfare state). For example I just learned that parents are entitled to a paid leave of 480 work days per couple per child…read that SLOWLY: a PAID leave of four hundred and eighty WORK days, PER CHILD; and children have free education and free health care, including free dental, including braces! again…take this one slowly Americans: FREE BRACES! Well obviously, this welfare state is financed by some of the highest taxes in the world, often well over 50%.

Yet, what I find interesting, is that I almost never hear Swedes complaining about the high taxes, actually the very opposite. It is not uncommon for my Swedish family members and their local Swedish friends to literally brag to each other, not about their salaries, or their latest luxury purchases – not about their net worth – but rather, about how much they or others paid in taxes for the year! “This year I paid x amount in taxes!”, “well ha! you know this celebrity, she paid XX amount!”, and they are happy and proud from these admissions. People here are proud of what they contribute, as they define themselves with what they owe or contributed to society. It is a part of their personal value and identity.

So, taking this view, could this added value be counted as part of their Gross Worth? Could the working definition of “Gross Worth” be: One’s Net Worth (your money for yourself), plus how you define your contribution to others? This contribution could obviously be varied…the taxes you contributed to society, your selfless charity work, your donations, the quality time you spent with family, etc – as possibly, these are the values that will remain, even after you are long gone…Just as Mr. Reichman knew, you may not be able to take your favourite pair of socks, but there is much you can leave here.

About the Author
Denes Ban is the Managing Partner of OurCrowd, Israel’s leading venture capital fund. A serial entrepreneur turned serial investor, he founded and sold an HR company and co-founded PocketGuide, one of the world’s leading travel apps. Denes has lectured at Harvard, Kellogg, and INSEAD and trained thousands of CEOs and entrepreneurs around the world. After growing up without knowing he was Jewish, Denes found his way to a Yeshiva in Jerusalem and learned Torah for two consecutive years before returning to the business world. Now he uses his experiences representing Israel in Asia to share examples of what it can mean to be a Jew in the 21st c and writes a weekly blog that has spread to countless subscribers, combining the world of business, technology, philosophy, and psychology with his insights into Judaism and Zionism.
Comments