Jewish wisdom can help guide business leaders through COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic will be a defining moment for nearly every business in America. Some companies will come out of this crisis stronger. Others will not survive.

Jerusalemites walk and shop at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on Aug. 10, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Jerusalemites walk and shop at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on Aug. 10, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Kfir Gavrieli
Kfir Gavrieli

As the CEO of a Los Angeles-based company, I have navigated the past five months with an understanding that our actions during this moment will be forever remembered by our customers, our employees and the public. The Jewish values that I was raised with have never felt more relevant to my decision making as a CEO. Below are four principles rooted in Jewish wisdom that have helped us meet this moment.

See the bigger picture

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that God gave us 613 commandments, or mitzvot, to observe throughout our lives. To perform even a single mitzvah, such as helping the needy or welcoming the stranger, can have a profound impact on the world, our sages explain. This belief is predicated on an understanding that we are part of something bigger than ourselves—and that by cultivating community and investing deeply in relationships with others, each of us will ultimately benefit.

Businesses are not just vehicles for capitalism, they are also integral parts of communities. That is why business leaders who are focused exclusively on making money right now are missing the point. Those who use the same metrics to measure success through COVID-19 as they did before the pandemic are likely to do harm to the long-term value of their companies. This is the time to shift away from using quarterly or annual profits and losses to define business success, and instead focus on building goodwill and long-term value for a brand.


The shema, one of Judaism’s foundational prayers, begins with “Hear O Israel,” an imperative to listen. More than just the act of listening, this prayer is a powerful call to open ourselves up to another’s experience so that we may grow and change.

Too often, business owners believe that they alone understand how best to run their companies.  Since there are so many unknowns with this crisis, it has never been more important to reject this line of thinking. Instead, we must turn to those who may know more, both inside and outside of a business. This might sound simple, but the ability to listen will be critical to the ability of every business to endure the pandemic.

Be a mensch

The word tzedakah is one of the most commonly known terms in Judaism. The root word, tzedek, translates to “justice,” though many of us think of tzedakah as meaning charity or giving to others. Rabbis have often pointed out though that how one gives can be as important as how much one gives.

When the pandemic has passed, customers will remember which brands stepped up to help, and which were noticeably absent from the fray, or even worse, took advantage of the crisis for their own selfish benefit, for instance by seeking taxpayer dollars that they didn’t need.

Many businesses have responded in incredible ways—from distilleries making hand sanitizer to manufacturers repurposing their operations to produce critically needed supplies. Whether they are providing financial security to employees, supporting local nonprofits, or using their platform to spark action, businesses should look to give back in a way that is manageable, meaningful and comes from the heart.

Be yourself

Judaism also teaches the importance of individuality and owning our unique identities and characteristics.

A brand’s purpose is an extension of the people behind it, and should shine through in however they respond during this crisis. It is important to be timely and relevant in communications by speaking to what people care about right now—staying healthy, being financially stable and helping their communities. Brands cannot be afraid to expose their own humanity.

Ultimately, Judaism provides a wide range of advice that is highly relevant to business owners today, especially as we grapple with an ongoing crisis. The best thing we can do for our companies is to lead with empathy and stay rooted in the principles of our tradition. More than ever, the world needs us to show up right now.

Kfir Gavrieli is the co-founder and CEO of Tieks by Gavrieli.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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