After spend­ing a year at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, I took a gap year to study at Yeshi­v­at Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, Israel. The first intifa­da was still rag­ing when I arrived in 1989 to Gush Etzion, locat­ed just south of Jerusalem. One year in the hal­lowed halls of the Yeshi­va led to anoth­er and I spent two fruit­ful years there while the intifa­da of 1989 – 1990 con­tin­ued, fol­lowed by the first Gulf War of 1991. The Scud mis­siles that defined the Gulf War stopped rain­ing on Israel on Purim in 1991 as the war ended.

Against this back­drop and approx­i­mate­ly one week after Purim 1991, I found myself in a large audi­to­ri­um room with Rav Yehu­da Ami­tal — one of the two heads of the Yeshi­va — along with approx­i­mate­ly fif­teen oth­er young stu­dents. Rav Ami­tal found­ed Yeshi­v­at Har Etzion in a small vil­lage called Kfar Etzion, just down the road from Alon Shvut in 1968 fol­low­ing the Six-Day War. Two years lat­er, the insti­tu­tion moved to its cur­rent loca­tion, and is now housed in a build­ing shaped like a soar­ing white eagle. Rav Ami­tal, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, was a diminu­tive bespec­ta­cled man with a brown and gray beard and a sweet voice that I can still hear in my head; he was a man of few words but had many sto­ries and pierc­ing insights into human nature. He was a mas­ter­ful Torah schol­ar, and an ora­tor that moved hearts and minds. He often point­ed out that what could be said in one hour could be said in five min­utes and believed that the 614th mitz­vah­was to be a mensch.

I was a nine­teen-year-old year old stu­dent thirsty for knowl­edge, and this was my first rel­a­tive­ly inti­mate encounter with Rav Ami­tal in my eigh­teen months in the Yeshi­va. I mus­tered the courage and asked Rav Ami­tal a ques­tion: Is there a big­ger mitz­vah [com­mand­ment] of set­tling the land of Israel for a per­son to move to an unpop­u­lat­ed place, or is it the same mitz­vahif you move to a pop­u­lat­ed place like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?” Rav Ami­tal looked square­ly at me sit­ting some ten feet away and said: It’s all non­sense — set up a fac­to­ry to employ 10,000 peo­ple so they can earn an hon­est and decent liv­ing. That is the biggest mitz­vah.

I was tak­en by Rab­bi Amital’s sim­ple words about the impor­tance of eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence and of enabling oth­ers, espe­cial­ly in Israel, to earn an hon­est and decent liv­ing. It was the first time I had heard a rab­bi talk about eco­nom­ics. I decid­ed on the spot to move to Israel, to make aliyah. It took two years to fin­ish my degree back in New York, but in the sum­mer of 1993, I grad­u­at­ed from YU with a degree in Polit­i­cal Sci­ence, got mar­ried, and moved.

Upon mak­ing aliyah, I worked in polit­i­cal con­sult­ing and then tran­si­tioned into the then-nascent indus­try called ven­ture cap­i­tal. For the past twen­ty-five years, I have been a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist invest­ing in Israeli tech­nol­o­gy star­tups and dri­ven by this mis­sion. Impor­tant­ly, most of us think pri­mar­i­ly about our career and our abil­i­ty to earn an hon­est and decent liv­ing. Many will move their home and leave their com­mu­ni­ties for a job oppor­tu­ni­ty or will spend years in school or nights in the office to get ahead. We are very much homo eco­nom­i­cus, dri­ven in large mea­sure by mak­ing a liv­ing, a good liv­ing. Ergo, a coun­try that pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties for earn­ing a good and hon­est liv­ing has a real chance to attract human capital.

I was tak­en by Rab­bi Amital’s sim­ple words about the impor­tance of eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence and of enabling oth­ers, espe­cial­ly in Israel, to earn an hon­est and decent living.

And so, I took life lessons away from this one brief encounter, which, in large mea­sure changed the direc­tion of my life.

Help­ing oth­ers earn an hon­est and decent liv­ing is a val­ues state­ment as much as it is an eco­nom­ic imper­a­tive. This is crit­i­cal in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry where con­sumers and busi­ness­es are trans­act­ing based on val­ues and there is more trans­paren­cy than ever. Today, val­ues cre­ate val­ue. Val­ues-laden busi­ness­es will cre­ate bet­ter brands, bet­ter con­sumer demand, bet­ter cus­tomer behav­ior, and bet­ter abil­i­ty to attract the best tal­ent. We live in a dig­i­tal econ­o­my. Inside the bod­ies that house the brains dri­ving these dig­i­tal busi­ness­es there is a soul. And so I think that val­ues that are at the core of a busi­ness (not CSR) are fun­da­men­tal to how you build com­pa­nies today.

In our dig­i­tal econ­o­my, ser­vices and prod­ucts that are not prin­ci­pled will ulti­mate­ly be seen as harm­ful and will con­se­quent­ly dis­ap­pear. Thus, a short-term strat­e­gy of max­i­miz­ing prof­it not only impov­er­ish­es future gen­er­a­tions but also hurts the sup­pli­ers them­selves. It also stands to rea­son that in a more trans­par­ent world, in which rep­u­ta­tions are judged on social media each day, cus­tomers and investors will not be as for­giv­ing toward peo­ple who vio­late their principles

One of my favorite exam­ples is Lemon­ade, an insurtech com­pa­ny that is rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the con­ser­v­a­tive insur­ance indus­try. In 2015, I intro­duced Daniel Schreiber and Shai Wininger, two amaz­ing entre­pre­neurs with com­ple­men­tary skill sets. They want­ed to build val­ues and an aligned busi­ness mod­el into the core of the busi­ness, which would reduce fraud and dis­hon­esty, an ail­ment that plagues insur­ance busi­ness­es and rais­es pre­mi­ums for every­one. Unlike every oth­er insur­ance com­pa­ny, Lemon­ade would not make more mon­ey when it turned down cus­tomers’ claims in their time of need.

Daniel Schreiber orig­i­nal­ly hails from Eng­land and Shai Wininger from Israel; they set about trans­form­ing the glob­al insur­ance busi­ness. Insur­ance com­pa­nies do not pop up overnight. In the West­ern world, the aver­age age of insur­ance com­pa­nies is 125 years.

On some lev­el, insur­ance is a case of tragedy of the com­mons. We all band togeth­er and form a pool of cap­i­tal that allows us to help each oth­er in times of need. It should be the world’s great­est social good busi­ness. How­ev­er, peo­ple cheat. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Dan Ariely has often said that if you want to design a busi­ness that would not build trust and would instead bring out the worst in peo­ple, it would look like a tra­di­tion­al insur­ance company.

For a bib­li­cal per­spec­tive on this ques­tion, con­sid­er the fol­low­ing pas­sage from Genesis/​Bereishit: Jacob resumed his jour­ney and came to the land of the East­ern­ers. There before his eyes was a well in the open. Three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for the flocks were watered from that well. The stone on the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gath­ered there, the stone would be rolled from the mouth of the well and the sheep watered; then the stone would be put back in its place on the mouth of the well” (Gen­e­sis 29).

We live in a dig­i­tal econ­o­my. Inside the bod­ies that house the brains dri­ving these dig­i­tal busi­ness­es there is a soul.

In bib­li­cal times (and today), access to water was a social good, one that need­ed to be avail­able to all. The rock on the well, which required all shep­herds to be present to remove it, was the visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an eth­i­cal code. This code served to pre­vent a tragedy of the com­mons, where­in a few bad actors might take an unfair share, thus rais­ing the risk (and cost) for every­one else.

Insur­ance com­pa­nies are the indus­try most hat­ed by cus­tomers, but they are also an indus­try that every­one needs. Only a team that took a prin­ci­pled approach, chang­ing the sup­pli­er-cus­tomer rela­tion­ship from an adver­sar­i­al to a coop­er­a­tive one, could find a rock” large enough that pre­vent­ed peo­ple from cheat­ing. The bril­liant minds and prin­ci­pled souls of Lemonade’s team in Tel Aviv and New York answered this chal­lenge and devel­oped an approach that neu­tral­izes the con­flict of inter­est between the com­pa­ny and its cus­tomers, there­by cre­at­ing a true sense of part­ner­ship. Beyond the admin­is­tra­tive fees, which are fixed as a per­cent­age of the pre­mi­um — thus syn­chro­niz­ing inter­ests — the bal­ance is trans­ferred to char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions cho­sen by the customers.

Because Lemon­ade cre­at­ed an insur­ance mod­el with com­mon moral val­ues, it is adding cus­tomers — who come from all over the world — at a dizzy­ing pace. When I pub­lished the Hebrew ver­sion of my book in 2019, Lemon­ade was the fastest grow­ing insur­ance com­pa­ny in the world and the high­est rat­ed for cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. As of today, with my pub­li­ca­tion of The Tree of Life and Pros­per­i­ty in Eng­lish, Lemon­ade has donat­ed over four mil­lion dol­lars to char­i­ty on behalf of its mem­bers. In the ear­ly sum­mer of 2020, Lemon­ade held an Ini­tial Pub­lic Offer­ing on the New York Stock Exchange at the height of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. The tick­er sym­bol, LMND, serves as liv­ing proof that a busi­ness approach based on moral prin­ci­ples has sig­nif­i­cant ven­ture scale invest­ment val­ue. Not only that, but Lemon­ade is expand­ing the eco­nom­ic pie. In an era when socioe­co­nom­ic divides have grown wide, Lemon­ade is seek­ing to close the gap with its Mak­ers Pro­gram.” Val­ues do cre­ate val­ue as well as more peo­ple who can earn an hon­est and decent living.

Lemon­ade, Jacob, and the tragedy of the com­mons are but a few exam­ples of the time­less val­ues influ­enc­ing com­pa­nies and tech­nolo­gies. But there are many more, which is why I wrote The Tree of Life and Pros­per­i­tyto see if I could pro­vide a frame­work based on the val­ues of the Book of Gen­e­sis to guide, sup­port, and sus­tain our rapid innovation.

In the 21st cen­tu­ry, mas­sive shifts and trans­for­ma­tions are accel­er­at­ing: inno­v­a­tive tech and dig­i­ti­za­tion are dis­rupt­ing tra­di­tion­al indus­tries and pop­u­la­tions are shift­ing. Devel­op­ments in AI, Big Data, and Machine Learn­ing are hap­pen­ing fast, and our eth­i­cal frame­works are strug­gling to keep up. The good news is that human­i­ty has faced these chal­lenges before. The char­ac­ters of the Book of Gen­e­sis are just like us. There are entre­pre­neurs and inno­va­tors, fam­i­ly busi­ness­es, and indus­tri­al­ists strug­gling to adapt to moder­ni­ty, along­side nego­tia­tors seek­ing to pre­serve their unique iden­ti­ties. And some very wealthy forefathers.

As such, we can exam­ine their lives for lessons about how to turn these chal­lenges into oppor­tu­ni­ties and stay true to our val­ues. Based on these time-hon­ored prin­ci­ples, we can devel­op an eth­i­cal frame­work with which to under­stand today’s chaot­ic envi­ron­ment, oper­ate and adapt suc­cess­ful­ly, and build a soci­ety and econ­o­my based on shared inter­ests, mutu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, and hospitality.

Despite his pass­ing a decade ago, Rav Ami­tal nev­er left me — his imper­a­tive dri­ves my invest­ing strat­e­gy and life out­look. I try to embody this by sup­port­ing trail­blaz­ing ear­ly-stage Israeli entre­pre­neurs to build busi­ness­es that dri­ve progress and cre­ate val­ue with prin­ci­ples at the core. And my assump­tion is that even if I pass 10,000, he would say, make it 100,000 and make sure it is an hon­est and decent living.