Business Lessons From Passover

by Guest Contributor on April 19, 2011

I’m a traditional kind of girl. I love family holidays and love entertaining. So Passover provides the perfect canvas for me.

And did I mention that I love matzo ball soup? Love!

But lately, I’ve been thinking about the real meaning of the holiday.

  • The exodus: the march to freedom.
  • The plagues: the obstacles to overcome.
  • The symbols: remembering and learning from the past.

And I’ve been thinking about how these themes relate to running a business.

The exodus

According to a new report from American Express OPEN, women start businesses at 1.5 times the national rate and are now estimated to own just over 8.1 million enterprises that generate nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employ 7.7 million.

It’s interesting to note that almost 85% of women-owned businesses are sole proprietorships and more than half of women-owned businesses are home-based businesses.

So why do women start businesses? A fascinating study by the SBA, Self-Employed Women and Time Use, concludes that the majority of women are seeking life and family flexibility.

Who are these women? The SBA report states “higher-earning women are slightly more likely to enter self-employment than their lower earning peers. Further, entry rates do not differ between women who are not in the labor force and those previously employed in wage-and-salary jobs. Weak evidence also supports the claim that women are less likely to enter from unemployment.”

What this says to me is that women are leaving their jobs and choosing independence and freedom.

And that’s exactly what I did 16 years ago. I left my position as a partner at a global advertising agency and started my own business. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve never looked back. I’ve had my challenges – particularly as the business has grown – but nothing says freedom like setting your own goals, creating your boundaries, and being accountable to yourself.

The Plagues

According to the story of Passover, 10 awful plagues were delivered to Egypt in order to get the Pharaoh to change his mind and let Moses and the people of Israel leave Egypt.

When I was a little girl, I was frightened by the reading of the plagues at the Passover Seder. The illustrations were a bit intimidating. In particular, I was pretty disturbed by the boils and the locusts. And there they were, every single year at our Seder reading before dinner.

But I digress.

Bad things happen sometimes. So maybe losing a client is not as bad as wall-to-wall frogs, but I can tell you from experience that it sometimes feels that way. In business, and in particular if you run your own business, challenges, disappointments, and hardships abound. Surely none of us wants to dwell on the bad things that happen, but there is real value in remembering and even revisiting the difficulties in order to grow and learn from them.

Do you need to have a big dinner every year and list them? I think not!

But, knowing what could trip you up will go a long way to help you plan and prevent future issues and, perhaps, can help you deal with bumps along the road.

The Symbols

There are seven symbolic foods for Passover. Six are arranged on a plate and explained in conjunction with the telling of the story of the exodus. And then, of course, there’s matzo.

What strikes me is that the foods are to remind us of: bitterness, slavery, tears, pain, mourning, sacrifice, and lack of time. That, in and of itself, is depressing, no?

But the real significance lies in the juxtaposition of these symbols and remembering them in good times. Do you take the time to appreciate your success? Do you appreciate the sweat and effort that got you here?


Passover is about moving toward freedom. And to me, running a business is about independence and, yes, freedom; the freedom to set goals, to succeed and to sometimes fail- and always to learn, grow, remember, and strive.

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Image: Lawrence OP via Flickr, Creative Commons

Wendy Goldman Scherer is a founding partner of research firms The Social Studies Group and Scherer Cybrarian. They provide business research and geographic information services, news aggregation and monitoring. What Wendy loves most is social media research. Her focus for clients for many years has been on monitoring, reporting, building custom knowledge dashboards and virtual ethnography reporting. You can always find her at wendyscherer.com.

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