In 2001, Standard and Poor’s awarded a top grade to Enron until five days prior to its collapse. It also rated Lehman Brothers Holdings highly while that company was sliding inexorably towards bankruptcy in 2008.
I am not suggesting that Standard and Poor’s generally lacks reliability. My intent is to show that very smart people with a lot on the line can sometimes say things they wish they hadn’t. We all do.
Even a cunning and experienced politician like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain landed back in Britain on September 30th, 1938, and told the crowd:
“This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine…We regard the agreement signed last night…as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again… I believe it is peace for our time…And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.”
In less than a year England was plunged into the bloody misery of World War II. Chamberlain surely came to regret his hasty words.
It would have been wise had Standard and Poor’s as well as Neville Chamberlain used their eyes before they used their mouths. Careful scrutiny would have revealed flawed internal accounting in Enron and valueless underlying securities at Lehman. Looking at Hitler’s visible military buildup since his invasion of the Rhineland two years earlier would have shown that Germany was hardly planning “never to go to war” again.
So how do ordinary folks like us avoid making similar mistakes in our own lives? How do we remember to use our eyes before using our mouths?
I suggest that we study the Bible regularly. Yesterday was the 9th day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calendar. This fast day has always been the most calamity-filled day in Jewish history. For that reason, on this day we read the unbearably tragic Book of Lamentations (Eichah in Hebrew).
The book’s five chapters enjoy intriguing symmetry. Chapters 1, 2, 4 and 5 each contain 22 verses, while chapter 3 contains 66 (22×3). Things fall into place when you discover that the Hebrew alphabet contains 22 letters.
The first letter of each verse of chapter 1 moves through the alphabet in consecutive order.
Chapter 2 does the same except that two letters are reversed. The letters AYIN and PAY are the 16th and 17th alphabetical letters respectively, yet the 16th verse starts with a PAY and the 17th verse opens with an AYIN.
Chapter 3 contains the same anomaly except that each letter of the alphabet gets three verses. Verses 46, 47, and 48 start with a PAY, while verses 49, 50, and 51 start with an AYIN.
Chapter 4 possesses the identical structure to chapter 2 while chapter 5, also containing 22 verses, exhibits no ordered sequence at all.
You need one final clue to solve the ancient Jewish wisdom puzzle. All Hebrew letter names possess meaning. Stunningly, AYIN means eye and PAY means mouth.
The horror of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish people’s suffering grows as we read through Lamentations. Catastrophe threatens Israel in chapter 1, though order still exists. By the time misery overwhelms us in chapter 2, the reversal of the AYIN and PAY give us a clue that the Jewish people’s error can be symbolized as speaking without enough analysis and thought. Chapters 3 and 4 continue to reflect that fatal error. Finally, in chapter 5, Israel’s downfall is complete and there is simply no order or coherence to be found. Total chaos envelops the nation and its people. Through its very structure, one message of Lamentations is how thoughtless speech can cause calamity.
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