Parsha Korach — The battle for a better world

In this week’s Parsha, we have the leadership challenge of Korach against Moses. As they say timing is everything . There was a crisis, and the people were at moral low after the bitter news that they were to die in the desert. The timing was right for a Revolution. The message was popular.

Everybody is holy. They deserve a better way, a better leadership.

Numbers 16:3

ויקהלו על־משה ועל־אהרן ויאמרו אלהם רב־לכם כי כל־העדה כלם קדשים ובתוכם יהוה ומדוע תתנשאו על־קהל יהוה׃

And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, you take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you lift up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?

And sometimes these message sounds wonderful. For example:

“We seek the spiritual emancipation of man , of his liberation from the chains of economic determination, of restituting him in his human wholeness, of enabling him to find unity and harmony with his fellow man and nature.”

I am going to repeat this, and say these words sound wonderful. I definitely ascribe to these words. And in my heart, I ascribe to Korach’s message .

Now what if I told you that these were the words of Karl Marx — the father of communism. So, what went wrong? There is one missing ingredient and that is God — Submission to our creator, a higher power, recognizing that we are not free to live as we wish. Without this recognition of a higher power, something greater than ourselves, we are bound to corrupt and fail.

So, using this as base, there was a classical battle of approach of how to run the country i.e. Capitalism vs Socialism / Communism. Of systems of beliefs . and these beliefs are always not so rational.

Quoting Guido Palazzo, a professor of ethics., he writes”

“Romans believed that Aeneas, the son of a demigod was their ancestor. Twin brothers founded the city, both again demigods, suckled by a she-wolf. From such stories, the Romans derived their values such as dignitas and the idea of being the chosen one — represented in fortuna, granted by the Gods.

For us today, it sounds strange that an entire society could be organized around such a narrative.

Yet, we believe that markets regulate themselves, that consumption makes happy, that shareholder rights should trump any other right and that growth is possible in eternity.”

And we have an attack on Capitalism. Capitalism has gone too far . So, we have ESG and Impact.

What does Judaism have to contribute to this debate . Just as Moses was a trailblazer then, Jewish Ethics, Tikkun Olam can play a key tempering the excesses of Capitalism.

The battle of ESG is one of values. Personal Values.

Capitalism is challenged by ESG. Let’s repeat Capitalism is challenged and this is why there is much greenwashing . People , Business are motivated by money , profit and are greedy. Capitalism is based on competition and not on co-operation. While Capitalism has had much success, ESG is wakeup call that changes the emphasis . It is no less than a revolution. This battle is in each and every person.

While ESG , the E stands for Environment. In my definition, E stands for ethics. Without proper Ethics , ESG, we are bound to fail.

This leads to a discussion to the nature of man. Man is conflicted and sharing these words of the late Rabbi Sacks who quoting “ Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in his famous essay, The Lonely Man of Faith. This essay speaks of “Adam I” — the human person as creator, builder, master of nature imposing his or her will on the world — and “Adam II”, the covenantal personality, living in obedience to a transcendent truth, guided by a sense of duty and right and the will to serve.

Adam I seeks success. Adam II strives for charity, love, and redemption. Adam I lives by the logic of economics — the pursuit of self-interest and maximum utility. Adam II lives by the very different logic of morality, where giving matters more than receiving, and conquering desire is more important than satisfying it. In the moral universe, success, when it leads to pride, becomes failure. Failure, when it leads to humility, can be success.”

I think this sums up our personality. We are by nature self-centered, while the challenge is to have a strong self-esteem and belief we need to be more caring, more sensitive to others.

This is I believe is the battle of Capitalism vs ESG.

It is at the core about us , how we can become Adam II. How the world , companies can become Adam II.

As Rabbi Sacks z”l wrote “Crisis, failure, loss, or pain can move us from Adam I to Adam II, from self- to other-directedness, from mastery to service, and from the vulnerability of the “I” to the humility that “reminds you that you are not the center of the universe,” but rather that “you serve a larger order.”

Today the world is failing — you have dangers of Global Emissions, World poverty , the struggles of the working man, the growing gap of rich vs average person and poor, and unnecessary wars which highlights the vulnerability of economic system and global food resources. This challenges us to make a change.

While Marx philosophy was misappropriated by Communism, we have had Socialism, and now Capitalism which is failing the world. Yes — let’s look in the mirror — Capitalism is failing and placing too much money , influence in the hands of this elite — It is strange that this elite in events like Davos and COP26 calls for action and make pledges. And then all we have read about since Cop26 is about greenwashing, more investment in fossil fuels and greenwashing. Regulators , like the SEC and EU are trying to bring in some form of Accountability. It is an earthquake no different to the 1930’s when standardized accounting was implemented. Change is hard and this why we are seeing backlash.

In interesting that in the development of ESG it attempts to incorporate the principles of Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability. CSR has been around for decades

Traditionally, most businesses have primarily been concerned with wealth creation, or what is referred to as “the bottom line”. Since the 1960s there has however, been a discernible shift in terms of how society perceives the social role of commercial entities. This is part of the trend with how corporations exercise their social responsibility. And so, Business is now forced to consider Profit — ESG , or Profit + Impact , and this is where the conflict and battle lines are drawn.

In conclusion , I want to share my to definition ESG .

E- Environment — I would add that should have an emphasis on ethics. Without Ethics, you get greenwashing. Account (and pay) for the damage or resources that you have exploited from the Universe.

S- Social — Treating your staff and Customers fairly (and better). Give back to the community that gave you the business opportunity.

G-Governance — do it Properly. Put in mechanisms ,data measurement to fairly and truthfully report on your Impact.

The challenge of each of us to define what is our Adam I and Adam II. What is our definition of ESG. Without this we are deemed to fail and continue paddling against the stream.

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