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How the Torah Gave Me the Name for My Energy Business

A good name tells a story and identifies the named in some memorable way. And I needed one. Fast. It was late in the evening one night this past May. I was going to my lawyer’s office the next day to sign the papers for the incorporation of my business and I found, much too late for comfort, that the URL for the name I had chosen was already owned by a popular web portal in Korea.

I did what any God-petitioning Jew should have done in the first place: I picked up a copy of the Torah. Pretty soon, I had zeroed in on the story of Joseph (seven fat years, seven lean years) and was reminded of the name that the Pharaoh gave him after interpreting his dreams: Tzafnat Paneach. I chose the latter half of that name and Anglicized it to Panea. My company, Panea Energy Ltd., is in the field of energy storage, so the Egyptian meaning of the name ("storer of grain") made sense. My success also depends upon successfully anticipating the needs of the utilities industry, so I liked the fact that the name also had a mystical Hebrew connection: "Revealer of Hidden Things".

So Panea Energy was born. Now I not only had a name, but I had a story to tell whenever a potential client asked me what the name meant as they glanced at my business card.

I was advised by several people (all Jews) to not choose a “Jewish” name for my company. “They’ll think you’re a religious nut,” my brother told me, for instance.

I’m probably a nut, but nobody has ever accused me of being a religious one, so the suggestion caused surprise. The Bible, I argued, is as valid a source for a company name as the Iliad (Ajax, Midas, etc.) or tree identification books (Sycamore, Juniper, etc.).

As it turns out, my brother’s fears never materialized. I get lots of questions about Panea Energy’s name, but I’ve never gotten the feeling that someone discounted me or the company because of the religious source. In some cases, I’ve come across devout Christians who know the meaning of the name without my telling them and an instant bond is formed. In most other cases, I sense a recognition of my earnestness and gravitas on the part of the questioner as I tell the story of the name.

I’ve been thinking of the real Tzafnat Paneach a lot recently. If only he had been around in 2001 when George Bush took office. His advice (to store the surplus of the good years and dole out those savings in bad years) would have prevented the current crisis. Instead, we find our government doing the exact opposite: borrowing a few trillion dollars from the good years to come to pay off today’s debts. It’s just another example of a Biblical voice being lost amidst the happy whistling of leaders who were sure they were right.

Not everyone ignored Paneach’s advice. Vladimir Putin wrote his doctoral thesis prior to his KGB years on how Russia could save cash from years when oil prices are high (Russia gets most of its foreign reserves from fossil fuel sales) and then spend it in years that the price of oil falls. Thus the economy could be insulated from the peaks and valleys of petroleum pricing. As leader of his country, Putin put more than $190 billion into cash reserves. The Moscow stock exchange has crashed even harder than Wall Street, but the government can now swoop in with savings from years past (not more borrowed money like us) and prop up the economy in the hard times to come.

I’m not recommending a Putin-like leadership for our country. But Putin’s forethought—and his correct interpretation of a Biblical story—is going to serve Russia well. Every time we are reminded over the coming years of America’s declining power and Russia’s more prominent role in world affairs, think of Tzafnat Paneach. And hope that our economic leadership of the future is thinking of him too.

Sam Jaffe, co-author of Jewish Wisdom for Buisness Success, is guest-blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.

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