Can We Stop Being Scrooge?
How has greedy Scrooge been able to maintain his popularity with young and old, rich and poor, and across all nationalities for over one hundred years? Maybe it’s because we can all see our own reflection in him? Or perhaps it’s because his story stirs our desire for personal transformation?
One of the most enduring characters in literature is Ebenezer Scrooge, the stingy, greedy, cold- hearted financier in Charles Dickens’ classic tale, who devoted his entire life to the accumulation of wealth. “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind - stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” the story begins. And although we love to hate Scrooge, there is something none of us care to admit: deep down, this description applies to all of us in one way or another. We all want good things to come our way.
Not all of us may be obsessed with money, like Scrooge, but there are a myriad of other delights that can tempt us: respect, knowledge, power, or even the warm feeling that comes from being a “good” person. The only problem is that, just like Scrooge, many of us get these rewards at others’ expense. The great Kabbalist, Baal HaSulam, sums it all up in the article, “Peace in the World,” with these words: “The nature of each and every individual is to exploit the lives of all other people in the world for his own benefit.” Thus, Scrooge both appeals to us and repels us because he has become a master at the craft of self profit.
It’s Time to Face the Scrooge within Us
Until now, it was easy closing our eyes to the fact that “Scrooge” is sitting inside all of us. After all, we have managed quite well in this manner for thousands of years. But the current financial crisis is bringing us face to face with our real nature, and sounds the alarm bell that we must now go through a transformation. For Scrooge, that transformation begins when his deceased partner, Marley, pays him a visit. Marley comes to warn Scrooge about the stark future ahead of him if he continues his miserly ways.
After Marley’s departure, Scrooge is visited by three Ghosts who show him his past, present and probable future. Slowly but surely, Scrooge is forced to open his eyes to what he is and the impact he has had on those around him. He looks back on his miserable childhood and sees that despite his entire life of accumulation, there were just a few, brief sparks of love and kindness that filtered into his life.
But the Ghost of the Present soon turns Scrooge’s attention away from himself, forcing him to consider the rest of humanity. Amidst all the bounty of the holiday season, the Ghost throws back his robes to reveal two children – a boy and a girl – “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable.” These children – Ignorance and Want – are the by-products of the excess Scrooge has “enjoyed” - although clearly, he has never really gotten any real enjoyment out of it. Why not?
Kabbalah explains that all that we receive beyond our necessities transforms inside us into greater emptiness and expands our desire for fulfillment to a level we can never fulfill. Hence, we become even more zealous in our pursuit of excessive and unnecessary fulfillment. And the more we take for ourselves, the less we leave for others. This is the root of the problem that created those two children with all their misery.
Today, we are also receiving a visit from the Ghost of the Present, who is forcing us to confront the consequences of our nature. But this time, the Ghost is named, “the Global Financial Crisis.”
I Am Not the Man I Was!
By the end of the visitations, Scrooge can no longer stand himself. He issues a heartfelt plea: “’Spirit!’ he cried, tightly clutching at its robe, ‘Hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?’" We, too, are hopeless (or helpless) to change our nature. But Kabbalah tells us that it can be done with the help of an “Upper Force,” if only we issue a “perfect prayer.”
In plain English, this means that we must reach an inner realization that we cannot continue to live the way we have been, and that we refuse to put up with our egoistic nature any longer. At that point, we will immediately be transformed by virtue of an “Upper Force,” which means that our future, more developed and altruistic state, will be revealed within us in response to our inner request.
Scrooge’s prayer is answered. He wakes up a new man, full of consideration and compassion for others. As Dickens concludes: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more … He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”
Kabbalah tells us that in order to build a secure, prosperous, peaceful, and happy world, we must reach the spiritual degree of “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” This means that we will be more concerned about the well-being of others than our own, as Baal HaSulam writes in the aforementioned article: “The place that needs correction is for each and every individual to understand that his personal benefit and the benefit of the society are one and the same. This is how the world will attain its full correction.”
Right now, while we haven’t yet gone through the transformation, it may seem paradoxical that the more we focus on fulfilling others, the more fulfilled we will be - but this is what will occur. Then, the phrase “Bah! Humbug!” will be eliminated from our vocabulary.