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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Don't vilify Reform Jews for Bernie Madoff's atrocity


Daf Yomi Chagigah 15

Bernie Madoff was the greatest swindler in history.  He stole fifty billion dollars from his clients in a massive Ponzi scheme.   He was a Reform Jew.  But strangely, nobody maligned Reform Jews when he was caught.  Had he been an Orthodox Jew, people would have vilified Orthodox Jews the world over.   Why the disparate treatment?  Aren’t Reform Jews also against theft?  This atrocity should have been a massive indictment of all Reform Jews!

For some reason, though, people only attack when an Orthodox Jew acts unethically.  Why is that so?   The difference between the Orthodox Jew and the Reform Jew is that the former keeps Shabbos and kosher.  While Reform Jews may have cast off the yoke of these mitzvos, they still adhere to ethical mitzvos such as honesty in business.  If that’s the case, why aren’t they held to the same standard when they act inappropriately?!

Acher inquired of Rabbi Meir as to the meaning of the verse in Ecclesiastes: “G-d made that one similarly corresponding to that one.”

He replied: Everything that the Almighty created, He created a corresponding item.  When he created mountains, he created hills; when he created seas, he created rivers.
Acher responded: That is not what Rabbi Akiva, your teacher, taught!  Rather the meaning is that when He created the righteous, He created the wicked; when he created heaven, He created hell. 

In order to grant us free choice, G-d created everything in equilibrium.  Every good choice in life has an equal, opposing bad choice.  But free choice demands that each of the choices appear just as luring.  If the good choice was the more attractive choice, then it would no longer be free choice as you would be drawn to the good choice and dismiss the bad one.

What this means is that anytime you get Divinely inspired, Satan arrives at the scene to lure you away and provide an alternative, equally exciting, bad option.  That is the reason for the sin of the Golden Calf: How could the Children of Israel worship idolatry only days after having received the greatest revelation of all time, hearing G-d Himself speak?   The answer is that once they were so inspired by the side of good, G-d had to bring them back to equilibrium in order to reinstate their free choice.  And so he sent Satan to create within them a sudden massive desire to worship the Golden Calf, an egregious sin that sadly so many fell prey to. 

Practically, what this means is that the more religiously observant you are, the greater Satan must work to tempt you to sin.  So when an Orthodox person sins, it should actually be less surprising!  If he is so committed to observance of mitzvos, Satan must find some way to lure him to sin.   He might not be able to get him on the ham sandwich and so he comes in and gets him from a different angle, like lashon hara (gossip). 

I am not suggesting Heaven forbid, that Orthodox Jews should be vindicated for any unethical business practices.   We must be vigilant and act beyond question in all areas of mitzvos, especially those ‘between man and his fellow,’ in order to demonstrate that a life of Torah and mitzvos is the finest, most appropriate way to live – keeping Shabbos should only serve to make one’s life even more pristine and beautiful!

But at the same time, you have to be very careful when judging anyone else.  You never know what their internal struggles look like.  And next time you feel challenged by Satan, remember that G-d has sent him to tempt you because you are so special and committed.  But know that the Almighty always gives you the strength to pass the test, no matter what!