Failure Versus Betrayal

In a December 23rd Newsweek article, Rabbi Marc Gellman penned an open letter to Bernie Madoff. Madoff is the accused swindler of billions of dollars that has effected the wealthy, the common men and numerous charities. Madoff is also Jewish. Rabbi Gellman takes Madoff to task for providing ammunition to Anti-Semitic bigots. The entire article is certainly worth reading.

An interesting aspect of the article is the distinction that Gellman makes between those who bring hurt via failure and those who do so by betrayal:

Life inevitably inflicts upon us different kinds of wounds. Very few people can live connected lives and not occasionally fail those who depend upon them and trust them. However, these are failures not betrayals. They come from trying to do the right thing and not being able to do it. A betrayal is different than a failure. A betrayal is an intentional wounding. It is born of cruelty, not ignorance.

As a man who has inflicted his share of wounds, I thought his analysis to be very helpful and insightful. Most of the wounds I have inflicted have come through failures. However, I have also deeply wounded through betrayal. I have been blessed to find joy after my betrayal. Yet the scars of my betrayal exist to this day. I know they will be there until I die, as they should. They remind me that I do not want to cause that kind of hurt ever again.

The rabbi points to the life-long curse of Madoff’s betrayal:

You, on the other hand, will lose everything—everything! From this day to the end of your life, there will be none who will trust you. To be mistrusted by everyone is an enormous curse and you have brought this all upon yourself, and for what purpose? You were supposed to be the master of risk and reward and you risked everything from everyone for what reward? You have not just made a bad calculation about how money works, you have made a bad calculation about how life works. You gave no value to what matters and all value to what does not matter at all. This is what you have done.

May his betrayal serve as a warning to others. Betrayal has serious consequences. One of the saddest aspects of Madoff’s betrayal according to Gellman is the lack of remorse or responsibility. In biblical accounts, Judas had some remorse but took no responsibility for his betrayal. Peter, on the other hand, seemed to live life mindful of his thrice denial of the Lord. Peter is certainly a better model than either Judas or Madoff.