Vayeitzei: Mr. Buffett: Meet Mr. Bogolubov

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Revolution in the Air

For several years now – and especially in the last few months – I was troubled by the fact that while two non-Jews were pioneering new and unprecedented historical paths in philanthropy, there was no Jew close in sight.

Not that there is any problem with gentile charity. Quite the contrary: as I have written in several earlier columns, the charitable initiatives of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are simply breathtaking and astonishing. For the first time in history the richest people on the planet are not using their wealth to accumulate more power and to celebrate and immortalize themselves, but they are sharing their blessings with others.

First, four years ago, when Mr. Buffett announced his unparalleled $30 billion plus gift to charity, and then again five months ago, when Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates challenged the richest people in America with the givingpledge.org, which states its objective: “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”

They are fulfilling – on a scale never before seen – the purpose of existence: Bucking the formidable drive of self-interest, and instead of being takers they have become givers – and challenging the billionaires of the world to do the same!

Simply unprecedented. And nothing less than a true paradigm shift of human consciousness, which promises to change the course of history (for a lengthier analysis of this breakthrough, see Givers and Takers and $600,000,000).

What was troubling is that the founder of charity and social justice was Abraham – “father of all nations.” As a true visionary Abraham pioneered the path of kindness that would change the entire world. This gave birth to Judaism, the Ten Commandments, the Torah – and in turn to all the world’s major religions. Our modern democratic world became possible only due to the teachings of Abraham and his descendants.

So where are the Jewish visionary philanthropists?

This does not, in any way, diminish the enormous amounts of charity given by Jewish (and for that matter, non-Jewish) philanthropists – money that has built impressive institutions, hospitals, universities, humanitarian efforts, and many other vital entities that have and are improving our world. Yet, despite all the vast charities distributed, no one before Misters Buffett and Gates, has launched a visionary philanthropic drive that virtually has the power to change the entire way we will forever look at wealth: not as a measure of self-worth, or as a personal reward, or as an expression of ego and power, but as a gift from above meant to be returned to the public interest.

Why is it that only Mr. Buffett and Mr. Gates – very likely also grandchildren of Abraham – are leading the Abrahamic charge? Why are their Jewish compatriots not following suit?

In truth, I should correct that statement. Since Buffett and Gates challenged, in June of this year, the wealthy to pledge giving away the majority of their riches to charity, their website, givingpledge.org, sports 40 people who have risen to the call – I count at least 12 Jews among them.

Yet, this visionary drive remains the initiative and the primary effort of Misters Buffet and Gates.

Perhaps, at first, one can justify the lack of Jewish visionary giving as a sad byproduct of a mentality that has been shaped by centuries of Jewish suffering. For close to two millennia Jews have become accustomed to protecting themselves from all forms of grotesque oppression, expending all their resources – and then some – fighting for their basic survival – with no energy left to think about anything more than survival. Where was there time to be visionary – to think about the big picture? Where was there wealth to change the world, when the world was trying to annihilate the Jews?

This protective defensive “golus” attitude has remained part of the Jewish psyche, spilling over even into our free world. And has been the defining force of most Jewish charity: To address a crisis (the pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust and its survivors, protecting Israel, fighting anti-Semitism).

[As some cynics like to point out, that much of Jewish giving is driven by guilt and is defined not by a vision, but by being anti-anti something or other. What would we do if we had no enemies? What would drive us? Where would we direct our passions?]

But today we are a free people. And as such, time has come, high time that we return to our roots – to reclaim our place in history, as children of Abraham who set in motion the path of global change and perfecting the universe, the path of justice and charity.

Given, there are still forces to battle (and perhaps raising money to fight a crisis is easier and tugs more at the heart strings than a cause of building) – nevertheless, today, in a free world, we no longer have to define ourselves and our giving by what we stand against. We now have a new opportunity – that compels us to rise to the occasion and demonstrate what we stand for.

That does not mean we forget our history of suffering; we remember but we do not allow it to define our identities. We have suffered, but we are not sufferers. It is not our state of being: we are not a suffering people. Indeed, Jewish suffering can serve as a powerful lesson in this message. That despite the fires we have endured – we have come through it all unscathed, and stronger than ever. And now – after all the ordeals and tragedies – we are wiser and more mature. We no longer need to use our money and resources merely for survival; we can now use it to change the world.

And yet, it is Monsieur’s Buffett and Gates that are leading the way. Without any Jews in sight, or at best, following along.

This is what has been troubling me for the past few years. Until this week.

This week I heard a talk delivered by a Jewish billionaire from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, which gives us a glimmer of a new trend – making Abraham and the world proud.

Mr. Buffet: Please Meet Mr. Bogolubov

Mr. Buffet I would like to introduce you to Mr. Bogolubov. Gennady – Tzvi Hirsh – Bogolubov.

In his own words the 49-year old Mr. Bogolubov described his life as one of transition – from being a “big atheist” and a “very material” man, to a man of faith and tradition.

From being an utterly ignorant and indifferent Jew, “25 years of my life there was nothing with Judaism,” feeling ashamed of walking out of Synagogue with a kippah (skullcap) on his head, to someone who now wears tztizit (fringes) – Mr. Bogolubov raised his tzitzit to the amazement of the large crowd – keeps Shabbat, dons Tefillin, says Shema Yisroel. And it is all, as the Ukrainian billionaire put it, “unexplainable.” “I have a synagogue in my house in London. I have a Sunday Jewish school for kids. I’m ready to do much more, and if you ask me why, I cannot answer… It was a nes. It was a miracle, because” – and here the billionaire leaned over, stabbed the air with his determined finger and empathically declared – “I can’t find any reason in this world to explain why I started to keep Shabbos…”

From being a cold businessman whose life was entirely consumed “to go and take and put into our pocket” and giving “was against the nature,” to someone who suddenly did the “reverse, backward” and has to date given away tens of millions of dollars, to fulfill “man’s purpose in life, as taught by the Torah, to partner with G-d in bringing the world to a state of perfection” (as stated on The Bogolubov Foundation website) – and clearly these millions are only the beginning.

As the words flowed out from this Ukrainian Jew with a thick Russian accent — infiused with disarming wit and street smart intelligence — you could feel the tension of two worlds at war (in this week’s Torah portion): the devious business world of the corrupt and manuevering Laban, and the pure world of the inncocent scholar Jacob, with the latter prevailing in Mr. Bogolubov’s unfolding life.

I could not control my tears when I heard this self-proclaimed materialist declare the moment his life shifted, forever – the moment he decided to give his first $10,000 donation: “After that I gave out [charity in] the millions. Everything [all the millions] I can explain, besides the [first] $10,000… it was unexplainable. Because at that time our business means that we have to go and take and put into our pocket. But do to the reverse, backward, was against the nature. I did it and it changed my life.”

He did it – he reversed the natural selfish inclination of materialism – and it changed his life…

And equally impressive is that he remembered and appreciated the moment everything changed.

If he can do it, is there anyone on Earth that cannot? I do not know if Mr. Bogolubov himself understood the gravity of his statement. Had it come from a self-declared man of faith, it would have been not much of a declaration. But it came from a self-acknowledged “very material” man, a “big atheist,” a person who grew up with no other option. For most of us living in the free world – including Misters Buffet and Gates – it is impossible to imagine the depths of secularization imposed by the Communists. The extent of how they amputated any semblance of validity to religion and faith. For over 70 years (!) they orchestrated a deliberate effort to cut out and destroy – even from common language – what they considered to be the “opiate of the masses,” seen as a threat to the authority of the State.

And now on this memorable evening, Mr. Bogolubov stood and announced in public, his transformation from a taker to a giver. “It changed my life,” he repeated many times in his talk.

In one fell swoop, in a remarkable talk, Mr. Bogolubov ripped away the excuse of all materialistic human beings, of all atheists, of all secularists – not just in our times, but in all of history. And not with logic and reasoning, but – as the man said – it is a miracle!

With his heavy Russian accent, but an uncanny mastery of English, infused with humor, wisdom – and humility – the Ukrainian businessman dramatically mesmerized close to 5000 people (and thousands more online) with his metamorphosis. Here is a full transcript of his fascinating talk. And here is the video.

No doubt, Mr. Bogolubov is not alone. Indeed, he credited Mr. Lev Leviev — who has himself contributed tens of millions — for teaching him by an example “how to give.” Other rich Ukrainians and Russians are beginning to give away millions. A trend is well under way. Mr. Bogolubov can perhaps be credited for helping us all appreciate it and in such a pronounced and blunt fashion, contrasting tzedakah with the coarse forces of greed so inherent to materialism.

Yes indeed, the time has come for Mr. Buffet and Mr. Gates to meet Mr. Bogolubov.

20 years have passed since the fall of Communism. Now with Capitalism disappointing us, time has come for (failed) Capitalism to meet (failed) Communism.

Now with the failings of Capitalism in full glare, with the desperate need of a new economy – that will provide us with true security and certainty, instead of the current anxiety-ridden markets, accelerating at a frightening and dizzying pace – here is a bit of good news, a breath of fresh air:

Some of the richest and the mightiest are leading the way to something which is nothing less than a revolution: Giving is greater than taking. At the outset – giving the first $10,000 – seems impossible to do. As Mr. Bogolubov so aptly stated: Everything I can explain, besides the [first] $10,000… it was unexplainable. Because at that time our business means that we have to go and take and put into our pocket. But do to the reverse, backward, was against the nature.” Materialism, after all, is all about taking, hoarding, accumulating, building your self and your own equity. But then, after the initial shock and jolt to your materialistic systems, you realize the power of giving, the blessing of being blessed to be able to help others – the reason you were entrusted with your wealth in the first place. As Mr. Bogolubov dramatically concluded: “I did it and it changed my life.”

You realize that giving vs. taking is the core essence of our purpose – the battle – of life: Who will prevail – self-interest or serving others? Laban or Jacob?

Another fascinating element in this new economic revolution is the fact that, in contrast to the Communist revolution – the specter haunting the world in the 19th Century – which was driven by a frustrated and oppressed populace, a proletariat rebelling against the bourgeois establishment, the common folk rising up against an arrogant leadership – this current revolution is being driven by the wealthy in power!

Throughout history the revolutionaries were the poor and downtrodden (as mentioned above), or the spiritual visionaries, the prophets, the counter-establishment – the Abrahams of history. Now the pioneers are hard-core, tough-minded business people.

The Talmud says that it takes the wood of a tree to craft the axe that can cut down that very same tree.

So good morning world. Welcome to a new era. Let us usher in the economy of the future, one infused with heart and soul – a paradigm unlike anything we have ever seen (see Money and Spirituality).

May the material men of the world lead the way. May the atheists show us the path. May the miracle of faith manifest in our highly scientific world – teaching us that the most logical thing of all is the illogical (or supra logical) act of helping another, of perfecting the world, of taking the inward arrow of self-absorption, turning it around in the other direction – outward.

Instead of being a mirror – a pane of glass smeared with silver – seeing only our own reflection, we become a window, seeing everything around us. Seeing and feeling the needs of others and our connection to them.

Yes indeed, I would like to arrange a meeting between Mr. Buffet, Mr. Gates and Mr. Bogolubov. And then the real miracles will begin…

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Natasha
8 years ago

Dear rabbi, I suspect that among your readers there is only a tiny sliver of Jews of the Bogolubovs wealth, so why chastise the majority of us for not being excessively charitable?

Also, is excessive charity such an unquestionable good? Have Mr. Gatess millions gone to good use? Have they not created new problems, especially with school education in California?

Good intentions on such huge scale as Buffet and Gates’s create problems of their own: how do you administer an empire of good without it turning evil? Is it like socialism: great in theory, deadly in practice?

And is taking the majority of money from your heirs something that the Torah support? Is not what Mr. Gates has done?

Also, I was shocked to learn from your article that Abraham was the founder of SOCIAL JUSTICE? Really? Wasnt justice not enough? Why do we need new types of justice when simple justice ought to suffice?

Isnt social justice the kind of justice that creates injustice for the talented, creative, energetic, rich, good people? Hadnt social justice decimated Jews in the Soviet Union? I doubt Abraham wouldve supported SUCH social justice. Why do you think that social justice in America wont affect American Jews negatively the way it did in the Soviet Union? Are Americans that different from Russians?

In addition, discussions of failed capitalism might be appropriate in a Marxist seminar, but coming from a rabbi, such language is jarring.

Charity starts at home and spreads in ever widening circles as the means increase. Focusing on quantity is dangerous when we ought to focus on quality, on where our money would do the most good, first for the Jews and then for our neighbors. Connecting excessive charity with social justice ought to give the chills to most Jews who know history since such things have always in the past ended in our expulsion.

Sadia
9 years ago

Yasher Koach!

S

marilyn
9 years ago

AMEN!!!!!!!!

a
9 years ago

Thank you…. great piece, a bit of a stretch, but good…nonetheless

Greg Federbush
9 years ago

I think that theres no need to fight for anything anymore. Weve evolved to a place in human history where giving is a reward in and of itself and trying to fight against anti-semitism, fight against cancer, fight against crime and fight against the Palestinians, does nothing but give those evils their existence. WHAT WE RESIST PERSISTS. Once we fully understand and integrate that, our enemies will dissolve naturally. Its not that we should let them do whatever they want but if we all shift to a paradigm of giving, there wont be anything for anyone to take. Give it up. Give it away.

chany kaminezki
9 years ago

great article! Brings in a new perspective. Thank you.

Lillian Resnick
9 years ago

terrific article….I hope many people read it!!!!!

chana boas
9 years ago

its unusual to be able to define a process while living it, but this is what you have done Rabbi Jacobson, and enable your readers to live and marvel at an ongoing miracle that is going on in the capitalist Gog and Magog war.- on the one side unspeakably greedy investors who have seriously undermined Americas economy, and on the other side these magnificent givers.
And good will win out.

lakshmi
9 years ago

Dear sweet Rabbi, I always enjoy hearing your excitement and inspiration in the reflective consciousness of your realizations and teachings. It is good to become aware of Mr. Gennady Bogolubov and his kind generosity and the profound difference he is contributing to humanity. it is most important to become acutely aware of both being a receiver at times of our lives and to experience the satisfaction of being the giver. Not only in monetary terms, but in terms of deeds, happiness of family units, and most recently the foreclosure situation hitting many American families. I am beginning to understand the balance of G_ds creation in terms of those that are more prone to practicality, accumulation, and great resources; as well as those that have chosen a spiritual life dedicated to humanity but who need the support of those such as you mention in your article. Together they weave a fabric of unity, not so much a judgement call as we have known in the past but as a necessary duality forming a wholeness. In other words, if there were only goodness we would not evolve . It is through the struggle of both forces that we attain unity. Both the giver and the taker or receiver are balancing each other on their respective complimentary journeys. I have been blessed to observe both sides of this coin in my own family and extended family. I have also been blessed to see the flow between G-ds creation, {giving} and mans find{ receiving}. As we enter creation itself, of course it creates great sparks that change the course of our humanity. It is this context of understanding ourselves in relation to the cosmic mind that brings the Joy of both ends of this spectrum. Many Blessings Lakshmima

Carol Beatty
9 years ago

Great article! Well done!

luda patlakh
9 years ago

Rabbi Jacobson, its no wonder his last name is Bogolubov which means G-d loving.

Sally Dietz
9 years ago

Thank you so much for being able to share in this inspiring meeting with Mr. Bogolubov and to see the new life of the Jewish people in the FSU.
Sally Dietz

Tone Lechtzier
9 years ago

Shalom,
money is like manure, in a pile it stinks,
spread out its fertilizer. One must put back into the community to enable its growth. [my father, Saul]

In general, most wealthy are tighter than the bark on a tree. While poor give freely of what little they have. [from experience]

For every wealthy giver, there are millions
of poor helping each other every day. It all helps.

Coffins have no pockets.

Blessings ~ BE

chava t
9 years ago

Brilliantly stated and inspiring.

Edm
9 years ago

Would you comment on anonymous giving at that level of giving, millions of dollars. Is anonymous giving a personal choice?
Mr. Bogolubov was a gift to the world expressing himself with such wealth, humility and faith. The Jewish faith is the basis for this way of handling money.The money is not yours.
A person of wealth is like a vehicle to shephard the money to where it is suppose to go. I wonder if the interests of the wealthy man have a role in this endeavor of giving or if his choice should be something to pray about to get the money where Hashem wants it.
For example a wealthy man may value education and his university and give all his money to this university. Should his interest play a role in the giving or should he give more objectively or sleflessly? How is the ego involved in a good way? How do the Cohens and Levites do it?
Wealthy people give to Religious centers and sometimes they do not attend services. Wealthy people give to non profit places like private schools and universities, hospitals,museums, places of music, or non profit social service agencies. All of these places operate at a deficit so people who do not have money can get the financial assistance to receive services or attend the arts. Fund raising is a big part of this job for the non profit.
I wonder if the Religious institutions might be a center in the vision to shephard the money from the wealthy to the other places people enjoy to go?
The rich/middle class/poor is always fertile ground for jealousy and inability to find time to know of Hashem.

anon
9 years ago

I feel that the point of this article is out of place. Whilst the generosity of messrs buffet and gates is not to be sniffed at, the spiritual value of charitable giving is not to be judged by the dollar amount but by the sacrifice of the giver. I very much doubt that any members of the above households will ever be in need. Jews do not need a giving revolution as it is already a way of life to give at least ten percent of income to charity, however hard that may be for them.

Shelley Minanel
9 years ago

Wonderful article…perhaps an American prize equal in stature to the Nobel Prize should be created for those two men, and all those who will come after them.

Berry
9 years ago

BH

Thank you so very much. Very well done. Amazing and inspirational

Yasher Koach

BF

Tuvia Doron
9 years ago

giving only to shluchim on the list of Tzach and not to Shluchim in India etc. is Really generous AND SMART!

Art Nudell
9 years ago

I thought George Soros was Jewish. Am I wrong?

Esther Sarah Evans
9 years ago

bH
A beautifully inspiring article. Now a further challenge presents itself, and those who want to be great have a marvelous opportunity.
Here beAretz we are having weather that hints many may be celebrating Chanukah on the beach. However, there is also a serious side to this: water shortage. We know already from the Torah itself that only Tzedakah (not Tehillim and the like) can help us receive HaShems gift of rain. Often this quintessential fact gets swept under the carpet or drowned in Tefillah, which never hurts, but is not the moving factor in this case.

However many observant and charity giving Jews we may be here beAretz, there is also a very high percentage of more secular, of whom only a noble few are ready to open their pockets and purses.
While it is a merit to give Tzedakah, and davka a very essential one, it is even more meritorious to move others to give Tzedakah. If someone wants to be great right now, here is the big opportunity.
Want to feel great ? Give and move others to give Tzedakah, and sing or listen to someone else sing: Hashkifah min Maon kodshekha, min HaShemayim, uvarekh et Amkha, et Yisrael..
Shabbat Shalom umevorakh.
Gut Shabbos.

Rishe Deitsch
9 years ago

Perfectly well said. Exactly right. May G-d bless and keep Mr. Bogolubov! He really is an example to all of us – he broke his nature in the service of Hashem and his fellow Jew! Thank you for this fantastic article.

solange sarah saraga
9 years ago

You are so right. I am still mesmerized by the words of Mr. Bogolubov. He may not be a talmid chacham, but his speech touched all of us in such a deep way . I think his neshama was shining through every word and even though he may stand on a pedestal of materiality, he has reached a level few of us have achieved.