Actions Have Consequences

    December 2011          
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Actions Have Consequences: B'chukotai, Bernie Madoff, and The Holocaust

By Walter D. Levy

"Actions have consequences," the rabbi said as we both waited for the start of the shacharit service He repeated, "Actions have consequences." He then added: "in any currency." I took the rabbi's reference to currency to mean not just money - but much more - health, state of mind, avoidance of perilous situations, even death.

As I left our shul's chapel that morning, I thought about what the rabbi had just said. I wondered, "Is there this pressing need for all Jews to adhere to G-d's commandments?" I then pondered how an individual Jew's actions, or inactions, would not only affect that person, but their fellow Jews, as well." My first thought about actions and their consequences was with regard to the Ponzi-scheme activities employed by Bernie Madoff who was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for collectively swindling Jew and non-Jew alike out of billions and billions of dollars.

When Madoff's scheme came to light, I felt a sense of shame. Madoff is, after all, a Jew. Yes, even though I had not been involved (nor had I invested with him) I felt that Madoff's actions had egregiously besmirched all Jews. As my mother would have said: "What will the goyim think?" Bernie Madoff is indeed paying the price. Even his family has suffered. The Madoffs' eldest son, Mark, was so distraught over his father's fraudulent actions that he took his own life. I believe, for years to come (long after Bernie Madoff is gone), his name will be synonymous with "swindler". As the rabbi stated: "Actions have consequences."

Yet, when it comes to actions and their consequences, one tragedy - above all - has always vexed me: The Holocaust. I was attending elementary school when my mother first told me about The Holocaust. At that time, she also related that her aunt (my bubbe's sister), her husband, and their two children had all been murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. As I grew older, I kept asking myself - why? Why had my great-aunt Rachel and her family been killed by the Nazis? Why were six million European Jews slaughtered? Had they done something wrong? Hadn't many been frum (pious). I often ask myself: "Why do righteous people suffer?" I was looking for an explanation.

My initial reaction was that deep-seated anti-Semitism had begun to fester both from deteriorating economic conditions and from internal and external political concerns. Yes, European History is replete with incidents in which Jews have been singled out as "scapegoats". But then I thought, "Could there have been something else? Could it have been that some Jews, particularly in Northern and Western Europe, sought acceptance and assimilation over Jewish teachings, laws and traditions?"

Well, it was then that I sought wisdom from the Pentateuch. I referred to the last chapter of Leviticus: B'chukotai. The chapter begins: "Eem-B'chukotai... "If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments..." Then, I thought, "What if we Jews don't, as stated in B'chukotai, follow G-d's commandments?" Well, also contained in the verses of B'chukotai are Tochacha (warnings). The admonitions are quite harsh and exacting ("I will wreak misery upon you..."). B'chukotai speaks specifically to ancient miseries and sufferings: "sickness and defeat, famine, wild beasts, siege and exile".

My thoughts once again shifted back to the Holocaust and European Jewry? Were their deaths just the actions of one man, the most heinous person who has ever lived, Adolph Hitler -- or was it something else? At first, I thought, "Hadn't G-d rescued the ancient Israelites from bondage in Egypt?" Why hadn't He intervened to save European Jews? I thought again about parashat B'chukotai. Hadn't it been alleged (never to my knowledge substantiated) that there was an illicit relationship between a Jew, Frankenberger, and Hitler's grandmother, then reportedly a maid in the Frankenberger household, that led to the birth of Alois Hitler (actually Heidler, his last name was corrupted), Hitler's father It has been reported that the genetic haplotype recently found in Hitler's family is common in African and Jewish populations. However, it must be stated that this is inconclusive as this haplotype is also found in non-African and non-Jewish populations.

Yet, although there is doubt as to whether Hitler had Jewish roots, there's irrefutable evidence that shows that by the end of World War II Nazi Germany was in ruins. Devastation and desolation were everywhere. Millions of its soldiers and citizens had been killed. The landscape was torn to shreds. Cities were obliterated. The Nazi leaders were tried, and in most cases, executed. The Third Reich's monstrous Fuhrer, Hitler, was dead (and, we shall never know what horrendous fate awaited him after he died). Yes: actions do have consequences.

As I pondered all this, I keep thinking, "Are we Jews held to a higher standard of conduct? Do we (as the commercial says) have to answer to a Higher Authority? Do we need to be reminded of that? What about the Jews of today? Have the poignant lessons of the past faded with time?"

That day, just as I was leaving the morning chapel service, I remember the rabbi saying to me, "Peace and prosperity are within our hands. All we need do is follow His commandments." Yes rabbi, for better or worse: "Actions do have their consequences."


from the December 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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