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Rabbi says creating wealth is a fundamentally moral concept

Radio talk show host and biblical scholar Rabbi Daniel Lapin addressed the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, discussing how spiritual matters influence how business is conducted.

“The creation of wealth comes from people trying to help each other,” he said. “And the creation of wealth by recognizing what people need is a noble activity, because if people are making money they are not trying to kill each other. A free-market system where everyone can decide where to spend their money and wealth keeps people from fighting.”

Lapin, who comes from South Africa and lives on Mercer Island with his family, was cited by Newsweek as one of the top 50 rabbis in the United States.

“We have both physical and spiritual sides,” he said. “We have two eyes. If you look at something only with a physical eye, you will miss the target. You won’t understand that your customers, contacts, and the people who read your advertisements are just as much spiritual as physical. Trying to do business without understanding the spiritual side is to ignore the most important aspect of the people in your life.”

Lapin used the incredibly successful Starbucks chain as an example: From a physical standpoint, selling a 7-cent cup of coffee for $3 doesn’t seem like it would excite the public. But Starbucks creates an environment that makes its customers feel warm and comfortable.

“Comfort and familiarity are very important,” he said. “Having a cup of coffee is spiritual; it is all about the feeling that we get from visiting a Starbucks. Holiday Inn is the same way. It is more than the little piece of paper across the toilet that says it’s clean. People will pay a little more for something that is comfortable and familiar. And McDonalds. I would go to McDonalds — if I wasn’t kosher.”

The difference between physical and spiritual, according to Lapin, is that one person does not have to actually touch another to affect the spirit. For instance, a person can damage another’s reputation simply by telling lies, and can hurt them without needing to be in the same room.

Lapin uses this example to support the idea that money is spiritual. Someone could spread information that would cause the economy to collapse, decreasing the net worth of people they had never met.

“People need to believe that money is worth something in order for it to have any value,” he said. “In wartime Germany, confidence collapsed, which is why it took a cartful of money to buy a loaf of bread.”

Lapin explained that the tendency for new acquaintances to ask each other what they do reflects a deeper question.

“The question is really, ‘What do you do for other people?’” he said. “The answer can be, ‘I fix their teeth,’ or ‘I fix their cars.’ It’s all about customer service, which is actually serving another child of God. So building a business becomes a moral enterprise, and is a great thing to do.”

Lapin’s message was embraced by the audience, a combination of businesspeople, politicians and other spectators.

“I think a lot of people go to big-box stores because they create a comfortable environment,” said Bremerton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Silvia Klatman. “So small businesses can succeed if they create a comfortable place for their customers to shop.”

At the end of his talk Lapin and his small entourage sought a place to decompress — and ended up doing so at the Port Orchard Starbucks.

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