On occasion my thoughts wander to the fall of the Roman Empire. It seemed impossible that the eternal capital of Rome could teeter and fall, but it happened. What external forces could bring a modern empire to its knees? As our Great Western Culture staggers through currency crises, fighting unending wars against invisible non-traditional enemies, skyrocketing divorce rates and an epidemic of cyber crime, could this be the beginning of the end?
I often hear from American friends quite how bad the situation is in Europe and how long it will be before we declare the Islamic Republic of Great Britain. “Don’t believe everything you see on Fox News” is my standard answer, but who knows?
Perhaps a better question is; how can we make our nations great? How can we make our lives great?
Moses relayed a simple message amidst his lengthier discourses, “Which is a great nation? [One] that has righteous statutes and ordinances” (Deuteronomy 4:8). The commentaries explain that a great nation must have laws that are fair and acceptable. We can probably assume that the next step to greatness is that people actually keep those laws(1).
Recent years have seen giant corporations fall and countries defaulting, and this week the troubled City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy. This month’s Rolling Stone Magazine continues to delve into the recent financial crisis, arguing that much of Wall Street was complicit with making toxic loans look kosher. A layman’s version – they wanted to make more money so they pretended that bad loans were really good ones, giving away the Triple-A rating when they knew it was a lie, “a Triple-A rating is to Wall Street what the USDA seal is to a meat-eater, or virginity is to a Catholic. It’s supposed to be sacrosanct, inviolable” (2).
When Lady Macbeth realised that her husband could ascend the throne through a corrupt, back-door killing of the current king, she actively hardened her heart so that she could pursue the murderous goal:
“Make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between/The effect and it”
If we are to create a personal breakthrough in this area, we might ask; Where is your inner corrupt Wall Street trader? Where is your inner Lady Macbeth?
Please join me on a deeper journey with this.
Moses’ promise of greatness, having ‘righteous statues and ordinances’ contains the Hebrew word tzaddikim (‘righteous’), and the word also has overtones of ‘justice’, or ‘balance’. Elsewhere we are told “justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deut., 16:20). If we want greatness, we have to ensure we have justness, righteousness and balance.
Taking this into your own life, where are you lacking balance? Where are you experience corruption, however minor? This can rear its head in many ways, whether it is areas that you are not keeping to your word, where you are breaking arrangements, where you are letting down other people with promises, or letting down yourself with your own agreements.
When we break our word with other people it is often a reflection of an internal experience and might be used to highlight areas that we are not keeping commitments to ourselves. What are the big promises that you have made for your own life and not kept?
In an age of comfort and materialism we may take the easy route, to break our word because ‘it doesn’t matter’ and to avoid challenges, but to achieve greatness usually takes deep work and full engagement.
Will the west fall like the Roman empire? Here is the ironic twist. The Kabbalists believe that Rome is still ruling, in subtle effect. They call it Edom, the Biblical kingdom, and suggest that everything we experience today is a mere impression/after-effect of the Roman empire. One way to ensure we are strong is to look into the areas of our own lives, get our house in order, and start fortifying the foundations from the ground up.
HOW TO APPLY THIS IN THE BOARDROOM: Apply the questions from this essay to your business, including: where are you breaking your word? Where are you out of balance? Where are your actions not in line with your mission statement?
HOW TO APPLY THIS ON THE MEDITATION CUSHION: Where are you breaking promises to yourself?
HOW TO APPLY THIS ON THE YOGA MAT: Where are you lacking tzedek, balance? Try it literally and internally. Where is your body (body-clock, nutrition) out of balance? Work on rebalancing and retuning your practice.
Based on Parsha Vaetchananan.
(2) Rolling Stone Magazine, July 4-18th 2013, “The last mystery of the financial crisis” by Matt Taibbi, p65.