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There is a Hebrew proverb that states, “Promise little and do much.” It speaks to our human tendency to do the exact opposite – we often promise more than we can realistically do. Most of us are well intentioned and promising more than we can deliver is a result of our optimism and eagerness to help. However, it has become more common in our culture to over-promise or break our promises altogether.
We witness community leaders, politicians, and celebrities (among others) go back on their word so regularly, it seems unusual when they do keep their promises. Still keeping an oath is not grounds for praise; it’s simply what we should do as thoughtful individuals. Few would argue with this, so what can we do to help us become more conscious and honest, to become the people we strive to be?
Consider the idea that keeping a promise is not only a matter of moral integrity; keeping our word is good for us and our collective wellbeing. In short, it makes the world a better place. The notion that our word is worth living up to is the foundation of a more just and well-functioning society. When so many hollow words pass between us, at some point we begin to respond lackadaisically, not only to the commitments that others break, but also to those we make, as if it’s no big deal.
Kabbalists teach that when we make a vow, whether to ourselves or to another person, we receive all the positive energy we need to meet that goal. If we don’t follow through, that energy becomes stagnant, which can be harmful to ourselves and others.
We would all like to think of ourselves as loyal friends, caring partners, and upstanding citizens. It may seem like a small thing to let a promise go. It isn’t really necessary, we think. Or They probably don’t remember… It’s not a big deal… It won’t make a difference anyway. However, one failed commitment makes the next one feel a little less important, and so on until we become the kind of people who can’t be counted on to follow through.
Whether we realize it or not, those around us learn from our actions. Our behavior sets a precedent for what is acceptable and what has value. When those around us witness us break our promises, they learn that we are not trustworthy and that a broken promise is to be expected. Not only does this alienate us from others, it also disconnects us from the Light of the Creator.
Each of us has experienced the disappointment of a broken promise. Still, very few of us can say that we’ve never gone back on our word. Before making a commitment, ask yourself why you are making a promise in the first place. Is it in order to get something in return? Or is it out of good will?
When the answer is the latter, try surprising someone with an act of kindness instead of making a promise you may not be able to keep. There is great kabbalistic wisdom in the Hebrew proverb, “Promise little and do much.”
If you find that you have been letting commitments slide, set an intention to only make promises you know you can keep. Better yet, limit your promises to begin with and focus more on positive action. Then remain diligent in following through. Small and positive shifts can do much to bring us closer to the Creator and connect us to the Light.