Thursday, March 19, 2009
Last week Bernie Madoff finally went to jail. But his punishment will never befit his crime. I remember reading that Elie Wiesel (who lost all of his personal money as well as his foundation's dollars) suggested that the only fitting punishment would be if in Madoff's cell there was a TV screen with a perpetual interview of his victims. 24 hours a day, every day of the year, Madoff would have to watch an endless loop of interviews. He would have to watch the tears of pain, the anger, the feelings of betrayal. That would be the only show he could ever watch, the only story he could ever read. To that end Vanity Fair's video produced by Stephen Wilkes is worth watching. The sad truth is that I doubt this would have any effect on Madoff's soul. He is no different from the pocket thief (except in terms of dollars) who hugs someone while reaching into his pocket to steal his wallet. He laughed and vacationed with people who called him friend and then stole from them. Madoff gave to tzedakah with stolen funds. He was praised for his generosity and piety--when in fact his virtue was at the expense of others. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Koidonover, a 17th century ethical master, leveled this charge against the Madoffs of his time: Our sages have written that one does not have to guard himself against a really bad man who expresses his evil openly, but one must be on guard against the person who acts as if he were righteous, who kisses the prayer book, recites psalms and prayers day and night, yet in money matters is a “crook.” There really is no punishment that would fit Madoff's crime, although I for one think that he should be made penniless. There should be no plea bargain deals until the last of his ill gotten gains are recovered and every co-conspirator is found. That would serve justice best. Punishments I leave in God's hands. And with that I leave you with this final word from Jimmy Kimmel and Sesame Street.