By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 93 – Equal Partners
Two investors. One invested a third of the principal, the other, two thirds. And yet, Shmuel says that whatever profits (or losses) may accrue, they split equally. Rabbah and Rav Hamnunah dispute this statement’s extent of implication, and there is a further machlokes amongst the Rishonim how to understand Rav Hamnunah’s shitah, which is how we pasken. Either way, the conclusion that the Rosh comes out with is that “most mefarshim are in agreement that in any form of business venture, if the partnership was formed without any particular stipulation, the one who invested less takes just as much as the one who invested more, whether in gains or losses.”
What could be the reason for such a din? Doesn’t it only make sense that each investor should take his proportionate share of the profits? That, the Rosh explains as follows: “The larger share investor should have made a clear stipulation that he will receive from the profits in accordance with his portion of the principal investment. Since he did not make any such stipulation, we surmise that his intention was to agree that the junior partner will get half the profits because the latter is a sharper, more expert businessman, or for some other reason. For it is the way of all partnerships to clearly stipulate that they will divide the profits according to each one’s proportionate share of the principal investment; and since in this case he did not make any such stipulation, it is an umdenah d’muchach, unequivocally clear, that he agreed to split it evenly.”
This explanation of the Rosh brings into sharp focus a point that often goes overlooked. The world of skills and talents, of contribution and productivity, is variegated and multifaceted. By some people the golden rule is “he who has the gold makes the rules.” Although that is in fact the reality of our world to a great extent – “ha’kesef yaaneh es ha’kol” – the real truth is that value can be measured in so many more ways than just by who happens to be holding more money in hand.
Rav Fischel Shachter once related that a businessman friend of his who lost all his money was lamenting the fact that no one consults with him anymore. “I lost my money, not my brains,” is how the man put it.
And by no means is that an isolated phenomenon. It is quite common that people of all stripes and colors will seek out wealthy individuals to ask them for their advice and insight into whatever it may be that they want to discuss. Particularly if it involves parnassah matters. Why is that? Well, it’s pretty simple, isn’t it? If this man succeeded in making so much money, he must be pretty talented and intelligent, right?
Might he be? Sure. But the fact that he currently has multi-millions in his bank account is most definitely not any form of sure-fire indicator to that. And you want to know what the proof of the pudding is? That story that Rav Schachter told over. Those same people who were probably drooling to be able to have a few minutes of that once-wealthy guy’s time, dropped him like a hot potato the minute his fortune went down the tubes! So what happened? Did he in fact lose his brains together with his money? Obviously not! Just what? People assume that if now he lost all his money, it must be that he really is not that talented and intelligent after all. Aaay…you’ll ask a kashya, but if that’s the case, how did he get all his money to begin with? Ah, that was just a random fluke. Dumb luck. That’s all.
So now let’s swing that Talmudic thumb full circle. Oib azoy, you can never take someone’s wallet size as an indication of how intelligent or talented they may or may not be. For all you know, he inherited his money. Maybe he just got lucky. As a matter of fact, a seasoned, successful businessman – who happens to also be exceedingly intelligent – once explained to me his first rule of business: to still be in business next year. Come now, you may be thinking, that is so ridiculously obvious. Why on earth would you need to make a big deal out of having that be your first rule of business?!
Anticipating the question, that intelligent individual explained it like this: “That may seem obvious, but it’s not. You see, the overwhelming majority of people who want to get rich take a look at the world around them to see how the really wealthy people got to where they are. Well, most of the super-wealthy people are those who took big risks. So, most people figure that that is what they need to do. What they are not taking into account is that they are playing a statistics game (read: gamble) and the cards are stacked against them. The overwhelming majority of people who take big risks lose! That small handful of super-wealthy people who won are those one in a million (or billion?) who come out the lucky winner. But if you take that as a paradigm for smart business, you are in for serious trouble. So, yes, the first rule of business is to still be in business next year.”
So what can we take out of all of this? (Aside, of course, from realizing that it’s probably not a good idea to use up our savings on powerball tickets.) What we can take out of it is that money is a koach. But it is only one koach out of an endless list of kochos that exist in the world. It is one particular tool, albeit quite powerful. But talent, intelligence, and skill comes in so many forms. By the way, take note of the fact that being in possession of money does not fit into any of those three categories! A truly intelligent individual will learn to recognize and take advantage of all different forms of kochos – both in himself and others – irrespective of whether that strength can immediately display a dollar-value amount or not.
Whether it’s in business or life in general, this is a good creed to live by. Identify talent. Find skill. Recognize intelligence. In all their multifaceted and variegated forms. Appreciate it and put it to good use wherever possible. Both in yourself and in others.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.