- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

THE HASIDIC MASTERS’ GUIDE TO MANAGEMENT

By Moshe Kranc

Devora, $21.95, 262 pages

REVIEWED BY JEFFREY MARSH

The Hasidic movement swept through the Jewish communities of 18th-century Eastern Europe, bringing a renewed sense of enthusiasm into the lives of millions of impoverished Jews whose spiritual lives had become as depressed as the environment of material poverty in which they lived following the destruction and massive pogroms during the cossack revolt of the previous century.

The inspirational leaders of the movement taught their followers that the sincere, devoted prayers of a simple, unlearned man were worth more in the eyes of Heaven than religious exercises performed by the rich and scholarly in a formal and perfunctory way. The most powerful tool used by these Hasidic masters was a vast repertoire of inventive, intriguing stories and parables that captivated their followers with painless but pointed lessons about how a worthwhile life should be lived.

In his first book, Moshe Kranc (pronounced Krantz), argues that today’s business managers, who are constantly tempted to make immediately profitable but ethically questionable quick fixes rather than try to achieve long-term success based on ethical behavior, face a challenge similar in principle to the huddled Jewish masses of Poland and Galicia who were demoralized by their material circumstances.

Mr. Kranc, a veteran high-tech executive and motivational speaker in the United States and Israel, believes that effective leaders can revitalize their workers by teaching them to focus on the right values, just as the Hasidic masters reinvigorated their disciples by emphasizing the spirit over the letter of Jewish law and tradition. Following their example, he elucidates the principles of effective management by a series of parables.

Mr. Kranc is a descendent of Rabbi Jacob Kranc, best known as the Dubno Maggid, who was not a Hasidic Jew, but part of the traditional rabbinical mainstream. He was the most celebrated of the 18th-century traveling preachers, and many of his parables, all carrying a religious message, are still a staple of rabbinical sermons that have made them well-known to regular synagogue goers. Mr. Kranc has clearly inherited his ancestor’s eye for an engaging tale, and while many of his stories are from Hasidic sources, he also uses parables from the Maggid and other non-Hasidic sources. Without telling all the stories that make this management book different from all other management books, we can summarize some of the lessons Mr. Kranc teaches.

On motivation, he tells how Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was able to persuade a life-long miser and misanthrope to make a huge charitable donation by enthusiastically accepting his derisory first contribution of one penny. Lesson: To bring out the best in people, expect the best, but be willing to take the first penny.

On hiring and firing decisions, he tells how Rabbi Israel of Rozhin, investigating allegations from villagers that their shochet (kosher slaughterer) was unreliable, sent Yossi, one of his followers who was ignorant of the detailed laws of kosher slaughter, to observe the shochet’s behavior at home. When Yossi returned to tell him that the man was a cheerful, generous and attentive host, Rabbi Israel concluded that he must also be an honest and careful shochet. Lesson: A cheerful face is one sign of a devoted worker.

On building effective teams, Mr. Kranc describes how Rabbi Haim of Romshishok dreamt about visiting Heaven and Hell. In Hell, he observed lines of starving people sitting in agony on benches across a table laden with delicious food which they were unable to bring to their mouths because their arms were held straight by splints from shoulder to wrist.

When he went to Heaven, he saw well-fed, happy people sitting across identical food-laden tables on identical benches, also with splinted arms. The difference was that each one was using his rigid arm to feed the person across the table from him. Lesson: The difference between Heaven and Hell is not the setting — it’s the way people treat each other.

On coping with failure, he describes how Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov learned a lesson in persistence in his often unsuccessful charitable efforts from Ezekiel the town thief. After the rabbi had managed to save the thief’s life by ransoming him from jail, Ezekiel refused to swear falsely that he would give up his chosen profession. He had been caught and severely punished numerous times, but told Rabbi Moshe “A single success more than repays the price of all the failures.”

Mr. Kranc does not limit himself to Jewish sources. He intersperses his parables with other well-chosen sources of instruction and enlightenment that keep the reader interested, including Dilbert cartoon strips, quotations from works by business guru Peter Drucker and other authorities on management. and illustrative business case histories, including well-managed triumphs like the marketing of Post-It notes and fiascos like the introduction of New Coke.

The penultimate parable of the 40 he brings is the famous story of Nachum the peddler of Shklov, who persuaded the sadistic and antisemitic prince who owned the town to withdraw his order to expel all the Jewish residents by promising to teach the prince’s dog to talk within five years. When asked how he could make such a promise, Nachum replied, “Who knows what will happen in five years? Perhaps the prince will die, perhaps the dog will die, perhaps they will both die. And the dog might even learn to talk.”

Drawing the lesson that “sometimes your best bet is to wait for the prince to die,” Mr. Kranc reminds us of the antitrust case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against Microsoft in the 1990s.

Dragging out the case as long as possible and then stretching it out further by tortuous appeals after the judge ordered the company broken up, Microsoft managed to continue making profits and introducing new products for years, until the newly elected Bush administration, opposed to the break-up proposal, negotiated a settlement Microsoft was happy to accept. In Mr. Kranc’s words, Microsoft outlasted the prince.

The book does not include one of the most famous of the Dubno Maggid’s stories, which the Maggid used as an answer to someone who asked how he managed to find an apt parable to illustrate every principle he discussed. The tale concerns a traveler who finds an archer standing with a bow in the middle of a stand of trees, each one decorated with a bull’s-eye with an arrow right in the middle.

The amazed traveler tells the archer, “You must be the world’s greatest shot. How did you learn to be so accurate?” The archer replies: “It’s very easy. First I shoot the arrow, then I paint the target.” In The Hasidic Masters’ Guide to Management” Moshe Kranc has painted an appropriate contemporary target for traditional wisdom.

Jeffrey Marsh has written widely on scientific topics and public issues ranging from nuclear strategy to social policy.


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