Warren Buffet's Lessons on Value & Values

Rabbi Jonathan Gross

Rabbi Jonathan Gross

For ten years Rabbi Jonathan Gross was the Chief Rabbi of the State of Nebraska. During his tenure he revitalized a community, did business with legendary investor Warren Buffett, and revolutionized the synagogue experience.  He created, produced, and hosted Good Shabbos Nebraska, the world’s first ever, highest rated, and longest running synagogue talk show program.  He received his BA in mathematics from Yeshiva College and his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University.  Most recently, he served as a rabbi at Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation, one of the largest Orthodox Synagogues in North America.  He is currently a student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Rabbi Gross is the author of four books, including Values Investing: An Omaha Rabbi Learns Torah from Warren Buffett. 

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Debbie Gutfreund, MA

Debbie Gutfreund, MA

Debbie Gutfreund is a marriage and family therapist and a writer. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and her MA in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas. In her free time, Debbie is a marathon runner and an avid swimmer. 

Values Investing: 
An Omaha Rabbi Learns Torah From Warren Buffett

by Rabbi Jonathan Gross

Over the last few years I became a student of Warren Buffett, but not in the financial sense. I have read his teachings looking for deeper meaning and I have found lessons about morality, ethics, and character development that are actually consistent with the values of the Torah and Jewish tradition.

This book is not another book about Warren Buffett’s life.  It is one rabbi’s reflection on the principles, the ideals, and the values that I learned from his writings and speeches. There are many good books already written about Warren Buffett, and I am sure many more will be written in the future.  

This book does not claim to be at all authoritative, and it is certainly not exhaustive. The quotations found in the following pages represent a small sample of the wisdom that I found in the many hundreds of pages that I read, and in the dozens of hours of videos that I watched over the last few years.

Warren Buffett repeatedly says that he does not give stock tips. Instead he gives out wisdom in the form of universally true principles.  His gift is his extraordinary ability to relate those principles in a manner that is succinct, entertaining, compelling, and easily understood, often employing the use of aphorisms and parables.

On the surface, the principles of Warren Buffett are about mundane matters like investing in the stock market, running businesses, and understanding financial reports.  Taken at face value, his wise principles are sound advice, and those who have followed them properly can attest to their efficacy.

Many ancient Jewish religious texts, Biblical and Talmudic, also appear on the surface to give sound investment advice. For instance in the book of Proverbs we find:

“The wise one gathers in the summer.” (Proverbs 10:5)

“Harm awaits him who cosigns for a stranger.” (Proverbs 11:15)

“One man gives generously and ends with more; Another stints on doing the right thing and incurs a loss.” (Proverbs 11:24)

“A generous person enjoys prosperity; He who satisfies others shall himself be sated.” (Proverbs 11:25)

The simple understanding of these verses is that you should invest your money at the right time, run background checks on potential business associates, and always diversify your portfolio. [And you get as good as you give]. All good advice.

However, Jewish tradition has always understood these verses allegorically.  The surface meaning has some value, but if the verses are deciphered properly, the discerning reader will find hidden meanings that are “better than rubies, and no goods can equal it.” (Proverbs 8:11)

In the same way, Warren Buffett’s wise principles can be viewed as parables, and a discerning person who studies his many writings and speeches will find that they contain pearls of wisdom that lead to treasures far more valuable than money.

Warren Buffett is not Jewish.  He is a value investor, which means, simply put, he searches for bargains.  And what is more Jewish than that? Although anti–Semites have tried to shame Jews for their ability to save money, the Jewish ability to bargain is not a vice, but a great virtue.  

The hunt for a bargain is really a quest to get full value for every dollar spent.  It demonstrates an understanding that money is only a means.  When a person acquires money he acquires the responsibility of finding the most efficient way to spend it on the goods and services that will provide the greatest value. As Warren Buffett’s mentor Benjamin Graham put it, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

This concept can be illustrated in a famous story about the last teaching from the great Rabbi Elijah the Gaon, the Genius of Vilna.

In the year 1796 Rabbi Elijah fell ill.  Knowing that his days were numbered he called for his family and his students. When they arrived he took hold of his tzitzit, the Biblically mandated fringes[vi] that hung from his garment, and he held them up and said, “This garment that I bought for a few pennies, by wearing it each day I was able to attain a valuable reward for fulfilling the word of God.  In the world to come, even so simple a deed will not be possible.” As he left this world for the world to come, he wept because he was leaving behind the investment opportunities that only exist in this world.

[According to the Talmud in Pirkei Avot 4:16], Judaism views this world as an antechamber to the next world.  Our challenge in this world is to accumulate as much merit as we possibly can while we are here.

Throughout life we make choices of where to spend our time, money, and energy. That is the price we pay. The consequence of our life choices is the value we get. The principles that guide those choices are our values.

This is an excerpt from Rabbi Jon Gross’s book, Value Investing: An Omaha Rabbi Learns Torah from Warren Buffet.

Words of Wisdom
From Warren Buffett

by Debbie Gutfreund, MA

A good friend of Warren Buffett was having dinner with Warren and a dozen others right before the New Year. As they discussed different upcoming events and meetings, Mr. Buffett pulled out a small, personal planner for 2017.

“Do you want to know what I have in my daily planner?”

Everyone at the table leaned forward, eager to see what was in the planner. He held the planner up and showed them blank page after blank page.

“I have nothing planned. Nothing. I need all the time I have to learn and think.”

Everyone at the table sat there silently for a moment as they thought about their overflowing calendars. Mr. Buffett was living one of the quotes for which he is well known: “Invest as much as you can in yourself. You are your biggest asset by far.” 

When Buffett is asked what he does with most of his time, he answers that he reads. He reads all day, and he thinks. That seems to be how he comes up with his greatest ideas. But it’s also how he has grown into one of the most giving, thoughtful leaders of our generation.

Here are some more gems of wisdom from Warren Buffet:

On Israel:

“You can tell prospective investors that I would have taken a perpetual bond if you had offered one. I believe Israel is going to be around forever. If you are looking for brains, energy and dynamism in the Middle East, Israel is the only place you need to go.”

Investing in the next generation: 

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.”

Lessons from yesterday:

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

Taking action:

“Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building arks does.”

Protect your good name:

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Developing habits:

“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

The value of family: 

“Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.”

Money and character:

“Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.”

What matters is what you do today:

“The investor of today does not profit from yesterdays’ growth.”

Look for the next small step:

“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars. I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”

On love: 

“The only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give away love, the more you get.”

On what’s important:

“If you get to my age in life and nobody thinks well of you, I don’t care how big your bank account is, your life is a disaster.”

On mentors:

“The best thing I did was to choose the right heroes.”

On thinking for yourself:

“A public opinion survey is no substitute for thought.”

Warren Buffett still resides in his modest home in Omaha, Nebraska that he bought before he became wealthy. He has donated millions of dollars to Israel and has earmarked the majority of his wealth to nonprofits. As his son Peter, a musician and author, remarked: 

“My father transferred values to me, not wealth. He doesn’t believe in inherited wealth. His management style is the way he is in life. In a business environment, he finds great management and says ‘I believe in you’ and then leaves them alone. That’s the kind of father he is too. I would have never found my own success if I knew that my father was there to bail me out.”

(Courtesy of Aish.com)

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