A call to return to core values

A remarkable response to the Madoff debacle

In today’s Sunday Boston Globe Ideas Section, a rabbi responds in remarkable way to the criminality, greed, and narcissism of Barnard Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.  The link to this Op Ed is below the fold.  Importantly, research shows that 91% of those of Jewish heritage contribute to charity; the highest percentage of any of the groups studied.  Many of the very charities to whom those of Jewish faith or heritage contributed were, in fact, looted by Bernard Madoff due to what with hindsight appears to be naive trust.

The article suggests that each of us ask ourselves five questions.  The way I phrase these questions is my own, and reflects my own limited understanding:

1. Were you honest in business?  To me, there is a duty to tell the truth to those with whom I deal professionally, and pay what I owe to those I hire in a timely way.  Had those in power been honest in business, you and I would not need to slog through a major recession or depression; whatever the current hard times will one day be called.

2. Did you make time to study what will make you a better person?  The Rabbi suggests “sacred texts” but there is good, and healing, and truth to be found in more than scripture.  I have interpreted this duty personally as taking time to ponder and meditate and read what causes me to be able to continue in doing good, remain kind in an unkind world, and find energy to keep going in difficult times and in good times,  even when there is little or no financial, emotional or social support for what I feel I must do.   Ethical behavior from those in power would surely be an improvement over what some powerful figures displayed recently; ethical behavior is taught and requires renewal.  It is easy to blur ethics, not all at once, but a little slippage at a time.

3. Did you do your part to nurture the next generation?  This is not only “raising children” but honoring the duty of adults to protect, support, and ensure the education, health, and safety of all children.  In our society, children have been treated as a disposable commodity, with the children of the poor deprived of equal educational resources, housing, healthcare, and their parents time as working class parents struggle working two and three jobs while the Madoffs and Wall Street Greedbags of the world batten at the expense of children.

4. Did you do your part to make the world a better place?  Frankly, each of us can ensure that the part of the world where we live is better than we found it.  This doesn’t take big bucks, but it does take time.  Just doing our own personal laundry, as it were, is not enough.  The question to be asked is “what is YOUR legacy?” – whether it is a new or cleaner park, legislation that honestly ensures good health care for children irrespective of profits for the few, or Town Meeting honestly attended, and the resources of a town honorably handled.  Your legacy matters.

5. And then there is the concept of “yirat hashem”, what the Rabbi calls “a sense of G*d’s presence”, and what as a Russian speaker, I would call awareness of the numinous.  This world and this life is not “all there is”.  As the Rabbi’s Op Ed states:

That we wake up in the morning and realize: it is not about us.  We are not the center of the universe.  We are not even the center of our own universe.

As time goes on, I find despite my own conversion to another faith, in my core values and view of the world, I remain essentially Jewish.  That means I wind up asking myself not so much “what am I worth” in financial terms as “what matters most”.  Further, I find that rather than automatically assuming either the best or the worst of someone because of their title or office, I retain a duty to evaluate each and every office holder, entity, and act in light of these five questions.  

I urge each of you to develop and use your own consciences in 2009, and suggest that the five concepts discussed above form not so much a “New Years Resolution” as a way to make 2009 a better year than 2008 has been in a deep sense.

With all due respect to Rabbi Wesley R. Gardenswartz, the above thoughts are my own which I am sharing hoping to make something good out of very trying times.  His article is at:  http://www.boston.com/bostongl…

Cross posted at BlueMassGroup

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  • Vote3rdpartynow

    Seeing as year end is upon us we should all ask if our lives have been acceptable to God or to our own set of personal values that directs our life.

    I can understand how Rabbi Gardenswartz would think Madoff’s actions an offense to the Jewish legacy.  I don’t see it that way – I simply see Madoff as a criminal and not as a ‘Jewish’ criminal.  But, seeing as Gardenswartz is a Rabbi he likely see things in a somewhat different manner.  Nonetheless, the good Rabbi challenges us with an important task – self criticism.  He asks us to take a good hard look at ourselves and decide what can be improved upon.

    For myself – though I am not Jewish I certainly agree with the five precepts discussed above and will work towards them.  But for my political life I hope and pray that I am less of what makes politics so detestable of late.  I hope I can be more understanding of other’s values and principles, while defending my own.  I also hope to be less polarizing in my commentary.  Politics is ugly and somehow I can’t deny that is has a great deal to do with people like me that are quick to ‘shock and awe’ someone with an opposing view.  I sincerely hope I can change in 2009.