Thursday, January 17, 2013

I Do Not Know How to Title This Entry...

Good evening all.

I thought about calling it "The Evil that Men Do" or "Quest for Redemption."  Nothing quite fit.

Several years back, people who conduct surveys conducted one on who the greatest athlete of all time happens to be.  The majority of votes went to Tiger Woods.  Whatever his personal failings are, and they are many, he is a gifted golfer.  That is clear.  Still, at the time, I did not think it was the right answer.  I thought that the right answer was Lance Armstrong.

At the time, my reasoning was quite sound.  He won the Tour de France seven years in a row.  It is the ultimate test of endurance.  No one questions that.  As well, we add in the improbable comeback story from cancer, and all that the organization he founded, Livestrong, has done for cancer research.  That was a true athlete.

We have watched that come apart over the last year or so, culminating with his interview this week on Oprah.

The good: he did come back from cancer.  For the vast majority of us, unless the performance enhancers involved a cape, even to think of riding in the Tour de France is at best a distant fantasy.  He came back from cancer to do that.  Even with illegal help, it is still quite a feat.  He started a foundation for cancer research.  He visited kids in hospitals.  His foundation's website is great for nutritional information.  He made cycling exciting in North America.

The bad: he did drugs.  He lied about it.  He torched people who dared to accuse him of it.  He both actively and inactively encouraged the members of his teams to do drugs.  He lied under oath.  He accepted other people's money while living a lie they helped to support.  That is stealing.  

He may now go to jail.  Whatever money he has earned will likely be taken from him in fines and lawsuits.

The question that I will ponder for a long time is this: does the good outweigh the bad?  If he helped save even one life, if he gave one person hope of life beyond a hospital bed, we cannot discount him.  On the other hand, to destroy people we cannot accept.

I know how to title this: "Fallen from Grace."

My friends, the most important thing in your house hangs in your washroom.  It is a mirror.  It cannot lie.  At the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, and several times in the middle, we must look in it.  We should be certain that we like what we see looking back.

Good night all.



  1. I love this post. Thank you, Rabbi.

  2. Really well said. I watched Lance Armstrong's interview last night and he seemed so robotic. I almost wonder if he thought that by saying the words out loud to Oprah that he cheated that he would feel better about what he did and the people that he hurt. I really didn't feel that he was sorry about what he did though and if he had to do it all over again he'd probably do it.

  3. Found you! Here is the really sad part in all of this, in my opinion.

    America loves an underdog: a risen-from-the-ashes success story; a comeback from disaster and a heart-wrencing story of regret followed by redemption. Lance Armstrong's career certainly has all of those elements. We also find forgiveness satisfying, even required by the Bible. If nothing else, when we forgive we may possibly allow ourselve to somehow feel we are the better person of the two. We may even feel a little G-d-like in passing judgment on them. Like Adam and Eve, we too have the knowledge of good and evil which tempts us to pass judgement first even before considering mercy. We ignore the fact that it is not our place to pass such judgement. We are allowed our opinions, but we have no authority to pass judgement other than on civil and criminal legality. Moral judgement is not ours to pass, tempted though we may be. Moving on.

    But what of the good done by Lance and his Livestrong foundation? If it comes out that at the time a major number of international cyclist who competed against him practiced doping and still lost to him, does that not say is is still a champion at what he achieved. How do we not consider that. The answer is of course we do consider it. It preys on our mind and tugs at our heart. Is he worthy of forgiving? His worthiness for that is not our call, forgiveness is ordained. All we can do is show mercy and forgive. So, where is the danger?

    The danger lies in our love for the second chance; a redeemed life. In our wish to accept someone's redemption, we frequently overlook the lack of a penitent heart and an unwillingness to forgive on the part of the sinner. We are just happy he has come clean and is not still living that same life. It really makes for good story-telling if followed by a come-back. Who knows? We may find ourselves in the need of such charity someday. If we deny it to them, it may be dehied to us. That part is wherein lies the problem.

    In our rush to get past bad behavior lest we might focus on our own, where do we draw the line on what is acceptable behavior. How much crossing of that line is acceptable, even permissible, because of the greater goods done. As Sybilla says to Balian de Ibelin in the film Kingdom of Heaven, "There will be a day when you will wish you had done a little evil to do a greater good." Mustn't we show mercy and forgive? Of course we should. But in doing so, must not loose sight of the root problem. Someone was disobedient of the law, be it man or G-d's. How much "little" wrong-doing or sin should we make allowance for in our lives. As to sin, there is no "little" or "big" to consider. Sin is sin.

    When we take heart in and repeat such comeback stories, are we diluting the desire and respect for obedience? What message are we sending to out children? Are we saying that in works there is redemption from sin and faith, obedience, and submission are conditional aspects of salvation and sanctification? The bad guy may have lacked character, but look at all of the good he did. Surely that must justify him in the eyes of G-d and therefore in mine too. It is indeed a slippery slope we find ourselves on.