Pause to re­flect be­fore damn­ing Mad­off

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Cal Thomas

The bilked have pro­vided nu­mer­ous sound bites de­nounc­ing Bernie Mad­off as “evil,” a word whose true mean­ing is some­times dif­fi­cult to grasp in our “non­judg­men­tal” age.

The def­i­ni­tion of evil can be im­pre­cise. Dic­tio­nary.com makes a run at it: “morally wrong or bad.” Ac­cord­ing to whom and ac­cord­ing to what? Is evil some­thing we see only in oth­ers when we de­fine it ac­cord­ing to our sub­jec­tive stan­dards, or is it so em­bed­ded in each of us that we work over­time to hide it, not only from our­selves, but from every­one else?

Here is the dirty se­cret about the Mad­off tragedy. Bernard Mad­off is us.

Yes, he is. Do not throw down your news­pa­per in dis­gust. We are all po­ten­tial mem­bers of “Swindler’s List.” Do you know why our gut re­ac­tion is so strong and so hos­tile to Bernard Mad­off (“I hope he rots in jail,” said one of his “vic­tims”)? It is be­cause he mir­rors the flaw in each of us. We in­stinc­tively re­act to such peo­ple be­cause they strip away our fa­cade and re­veal what the­olo­gians used to call “sin,” be­fore we be­came “dys­func­tional” and in need of med­i­ca­tion, not sal­va­tion. In ex­treme cir­cum­stances, we have cru­ci­fied peo­ple who ex­posed our dark­ness to the light.

“It takes two to tango,” my mother used to say when some­one’s af­fair was ex­posed. Mad­off could not have pros­pered without will­ing par­tic­i­pants. Peo­ple who oth­er­wise ex­hib­ited in­tel­li­gence in their busi­ness and per­sonal af­fairs were se­duced by the old get-rich-quick scheme that has suck­ered hu­man­ity for mil­len­nia.

Every­one knows, don’t they, that a guar­an­teed re­turn on such in­vest­ments is im­pos­si­ble? Every­one knows, don’t they, that fi­nan­cial re­ports, with no au­dits or over­sight, and com­ing from the one with whom you have in­vested, is a pre­scrip­tion for fraud? And yet the part­ners in this “tango” were all too happy to dance be­cause their lead­ing man held them tightly and played mu­sic they loved to hear. But Mad­off’s crimes cut dou­bly deep be­cause he robbed his own.

“No one since Julius Rosen­berg has so dam­aged the im­age and self-re­spect of Amer­i­can Jews,” said Mort Zuckerman, who runs a char­i­ta­ble trust that lost $30 mil­lion to Mad­off.

“It re­ally is a shame we Jews don’t be­lieve in hell,” writes Rob Esh­man, The Jewish Jour­nal. “What kind of world is it where Jews can’t trust fel­low Jews? [. . .] There’s a name for that kind of world — hell.”

“I’d like to be­lieve some­one raised in our com­mu­nity, im­bued with Jewish val­ues, would be bet­ter than this,” said Rabbi David Wolpe of Si­nai Tem­ple in Los An­ge­les.

So would I, but greed is greed, im­moral­ity is im­moral­ity and evil is evil.

Re­call those who turned over the names of neigh­bors and col­leagues to Joseph McCarthy. What about the Catholic Church that shielded pe­dophile priests? Slaves of­ten gave up ru­n­away slaves. The Span­ish In­qui­si­tion had those whose ig­nominy helped it along. Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians turn on Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. Protes­tants turn on Protes­tants. Re­call the traitors in the Nazi death camps who turned in their fel­low pris­on­ers in or­der to curry fa­vor with the guards they hoped would spare their lives.

That evil has its en­ablers does not ex­cuse the Nazis, Catholics, the In­quisi­tors nor Mad­off, but it should give pause to all of us who de­nounce Mad­off in ways that make us feel su­pe­rior to him and in­ca­pable of per­form­ing evil acts of our own.

In his book, “The Body,” Charles Col­son writes about the trial of Adolph Eich­mann. Among the wit­nesses was Ye­hiel Dinur, who had es­caped death in Auschwitz. On his day to tes­tify, Mr. Dinur en­tered the court­room and stared at the man in the bul­let­proof glass booth, the man who mur­dered Mr. Dinur’s friends, per­son­ally ex­e­cuted a num­ber of Jews, and presided over the slaugh­ter of mil­lions more. Mr. Dinur shouted and sobbed, col­laps­ing on the floor.

Had ha­tred of Eich­mann, or hor­ren­dous mem­o­ries, caused his strong re­ac­tion? No. As he later ex­plained in a riv­et­ing “60 Min­utes” in­ter­view it was be­cause Eich­mann was not the de­monic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of evil Mr. Dinur had ex­pected. Rather, he was an or­di­nary man, just like any­one else. Mr. Dinur re­al­ized that sin and evil are the hu­man con­di­tion. “I was afraid about my­self,” Mr. Dinur said. “I saw that I am ca­pa­ble to do this [. . .] ex­actly like he. Eich­mann is in all of us.”

Fy­o­dor Dos­to­evsky wrote, “Noth­ing is eas­ier than de­nounc­ing the evil­doer; noth­ing more dif­fi­cult than un­der­stand­ing him.”

Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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