"I have a left a legacy of shame...to my children and grandchildren."
By now most of America, in fact, most of the world, has heard Bernie Madoff's statements at his sentencing hearing. His victims (and many others) cheered his tough sentence -- 150 years in jail -- more than a lifetime, an eternity.
It's a painful spectacle. We are absorbed in the misery and pain and degradation – certainly of the victims, and perhaps, even of the perpetrator.
From the sidelines we thank God that we didn't have the "connections" that would have led to a disastrous investment in Madoff's funds.
And we continue to read in shock and disbelief of the magnitude of the operation, the depth and breadth of that crime. We can't imagine participating in such a cruel, malicious scheme. We can't imagine being so deceitful and stooping so low. We can't imagine dealing with such awesome consequences.
We know we won't leave behind a legacy of shame.
But what makes us so sure? What are we doing to prevent it?
The Jewish conception of "hell," of a tortured afterlife, is to watch a video of our lives (You know everyone hates home movies!) It would be like Groundhog Day; we would view the same movie over and over and over again.
But it's not the monotony and boredom that would provide the pain (Celestial Netflix anyone?). It would be the content.
We would be condemned, God forbid, to see every moment of our life where we didn't behave as the person we could be, the person we wanted to be. We would see the waste of potential and our foolish or inappropriate choices.
We'll blush in embarrassment as we watch and listen to ourselves yelling at our children.
We'll be mortified to see the critical and unwarranted attacks on our spouses.
We'll cringe as we speak condescendingly to the waiter, the gardener, the housekeeper.
We'll be humiliated as we observe the wasted time -- the "chilling," the junk reading, the meaningless activities.
We'll be pained by our obsession with the material, with all the money and energy devoted to acquiring possessions that are all inaccessible to us now.
And we'll cry over the lost opportunities to grow, to connect with the Creator, to learn Torah, to grow spiritually.
So much we could have done...but we didn't.
The Torah admonishes us to learn from all experiences. The public humiliation of a suspected adulteress is meant to reinforce the gravity of the transgression and to provoke the observer to make some decisions about his or her own behavior. It's a time to create some fences and make some changes.
Just because we didn't bilk those who trusted of us of billions of dollars doesn't mean our lives are blame free. We'll still have to make an accounting. We'll still be held liable for our own mistakes. We still have a legacy we want to create, to preserve and to build. Let's make it a legacy that our friends and our family, ourselves and our Creator can all be proud of.