Hillel and Buffett by Robyn Coffey

Hillel the Elder and Warren Buffett have imparted many words of wisdom which transcend their two thousand years of cultural and historical separation. It may seem strange to mention an ancient and beloved rabbi and the Oracle of Omaha in the same sentence, but stay with me on this one.

Every Jew knows Hillel’s famous response to the Gentile who challenged Hillel to teach him the entire Torah as he stood on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. The rest is commentary. Go and study.”
Buffett stated that his success is due to independent thinking and inner peace in response to a question asked during a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting several years ago. As reported at the time in Harper’s, this profound and succinct response was followed by shocked silence by the audience, as his advice soared over their heads at light speed.

Undoubtedly, the shareholders were hoping for specific investment strategy advice from The Oracle. Actually, it is obvious: Independent research before investing averts unquestioned compliance with the recommendations of a financial advisor, and resisting emotional knee-jerk reactions to sell all of one’s position in a company stock when its price goes down.

Independent thinking and inner peace are excellent practices of living. They also clearly reflect Buffett’s long-term investment strategy, which certainly has served him well, to the puzzlement of the short-sighted and emotional herd mentality of most stockholders and CEOs across the globe.

It’s no accident that losing money because of unsuccessful investing is sometimes called getting fleeced.

Constant study, discussion, and debate are cornerstones of Jewish education and thought. Such activities usually lead to independently analyzing and questioning the principles and injunctions set forth in the Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmud, halakhah, and countless commentaries on these works by Jewish scholars. It’s been said that if there are two Jews in a room, they have at least three opinions on any given subject.

Inner peace is a mental state that all humans seek to achieve, regardless of the contexts of religion, secular thought, culture, and history. This is far harder to achieve and maintain than anyone has been led to believe, in all places and at all times.

I’m hard pressed to think of any widely held religion, creed, or philosophy which discourages or proscribes the practice of the Golden Rule, although Ayn Rand believed wholeheartedly that selfishness is a virtue. She never missed an opportunity to strenuously argue this position at length, both in print and in person. Even Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a member of her abject and unquestioning inner circle. Eventually, a perceived intellectual mutiny caused her to excommunicate him and several others from her learned and august flock of adoring sheep, who to a man clearly possessed far more money than brains. The root cause of this audacious mutiny was undoubtedly independent thinking in one form or another.

Given her well-documented, unpredictable, and generally appalling behavior to her family and friends, Ms. Rand was hardly an advocate of the Golden Rule. More than one biography documents her favorite activities of barking orders from the firmament at anyone in her path, and her preoccupation with accumulating wealth, power, and possessions by whatever means necessary. This behavior hardly reflects an authentic and consistent state of inner peace.

Generosity, compassion and respect for their fellow humans are only a few qualities not only practiced, but advocated by Hillel and Buffett, making them moral polar opposites to Rand’s philosophy and mode of living. These men have imparted wisdom which is of far more benefit to humankind than materialism, consumerism, and selfishness ever can or ever will.

In conclusion, I submit to you that consistent practice of independent thinking, inner peace and Hillel’s Golden Rule will invariably lead to successful observant Jewish living.


Robyn Coffey lives in Fort Worth, Texas and is in the process of converting to Conservative Judaism.  She was an Oracle software developer for fourteen years and a litigation paralegal for twenty years.


Enjoyed this archived service or article? Click here to donate $3 to OneShul (care of PunkTorah).

Support OneShul on GoFundMe

Leave a Reply