I just watched the Wall Street Journal's internet videos on Bernie Madoff. The whole issue is absolutely bewildering. How could he have pulled this off? How much pain did he cause? While watching, though, something else began to bother me. Actually, I was bothered about this before but the issue seemed to crystallize as I was watching these videos. What does this whole episode say about Jewishness is our time?
Let me explain what I mean. If I told you that I hated fishing but all my friends fished, in fact that's all they ever talked about, you would wonder what happened when I was with my friends. Who we associate with tells us about ourselves. So here is Bernie Madoff, heavily involved in the Jewish community -- how did that work? Was his Jewishness also feigned, something he use to secure easy "clients" for his scheme? Of course, people wonder how he could have done this to friends, to people he knew. But my question is about not only his Jewishness but Jewishness generally in our time. How could a conman feel comfortable within a Jewish community? Was that simply part of the con? Or is it actually possible for a conman to be a "proud Jew", wishing to interact with and within the Jewish community? What does that say about our present Jewish community? Shouldn't a conman not feel comfortable with fellow Jews who stand for values that are the opposite of a conman? I have a feeling that while a thief may like to steal from the Chafetz Chaim -- after all this great tzaddik would be full of rachamim and perhaps, sadly, an easy mark for a con -- this thief would find it very difficult to actually spend time with the Chafetz Chaim for the righteousness that would surround the Chafetz Chaim would drive a thief crazy; he simply couldn't take the ethical atmosphere. So did Bernie Madoff hang out with Jews because they were easy marks, he had an in with them, even though he couldn't stand all the honesty and goodness? Or did he not get this type of feeling when associating with Jews so there was nothing to bother him? And what does this say about the Jewish community? Or is there another perspective that we must attempt to understand in order to explain why someone wishes to hang out with a community that challenges his very intent? Maybe a human being is full of complexity? After all, that butcher who sold non-kosher meat as kosher had a family that was frum -- how could he maintain such a personal facade?
Rabbi Ben Hecht