Our Forefather Isaac and $16 Billion of Sales

Often, the most basic and obvious truths are the easiest to forget (cf. Luzatto, Path of the Just, Preface) and therefore merit frequent reinforcement.  One truth about the difficulties that we constantly encounter is definitely no exception.  Life often hurls at us various difficulties, trials, and crises that can deeply obscure the Almighty’s kind, nurturing hand.  Things, thankfully, aren’t always what they seem and long afterwards we can look back at sticky situations and see that they were pivotal moments that led to our future success.  One way to reinforce our awareness of this principle is to examine historical cases that we can see, in hindsight, fit into this pattern.

One such instance is from the life of one of our patriarchs.  Isaac and his family lived through a severe famine that threatened their survival and forced them to uproot from their home and relocate to Gerar in the land of the Philistines on Israel’s coast.  Life was extremely difficult there and Isaac lived in fear that Rebecca would be taken from him, as did eventually transpire.  Eventually, it became clear that this trying period actually brought Isaac great wealth when his field in Gerar produced a yield a whopping hundred times more than usual.  A hardship and crisis was actually an ultimate blessing.

A contemporary corporate example comes from Eli Hurvitz, the late founding CEO of  Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva Corporation, who made a similar observation about the success of his company.  Hurvitz built Teva over three and a half decades into the world’s leading producer of generic pharmaceuticals that sold $16 Billion worth of medication last year alone.  What’s remarkable is how Teva got into the generic market in the first place.  “I used to say that we should thank God for bringing us the Arab Boycott, without it our company wouldn’t exist” said Hurvitz in 2004 (WSJ, Wednesday, November 23, 2011, pg B7).  “Israeli chemists gained expertise in producing medicines that were patented in other countries when Arab trade boycotts in the 1960s made many drugs unavailable in Israel” (ibid.).  The persecution of the Arab nations gave birth to the niche of Teva Pharmaceuticals.

The Medieval scholar R. Yonah Gerondi (died 1263),  understands the Torah’s order to remember how God led us through the desert as a formal, obligatory commandment to remember and contemplate His kindnesses towards us.  It seems obvious that the type of thinking that makes us comb for the good in what initially seemed like misfortune is a significant aspect of R. Yonah’s contemplation.  As we think about the episodes in the Torah, the stories of other people’s lives, and our own stories, there is much fertile material that we can examine and reexamine with this idea in mind.

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