Thursday, October 25, 2012

Armstrong Vs Savile

Lance Armstrong and Jimmy Savile - famous names now synonymous with disgrace and reputational annihilation. While it is unfair to put these two names in the same sentence, both individuals were highly successful at the height of their careers, and built wonderful charities. One writer in The Telegraph put it like this: "Like Jimmy Savile’s charitable efforts, Livestrong provided Armstrong with a cover of respectability and decency behind which he could continue his sporting deception. No one could believe a man who did so much for good causes could be so duplicitous." Someone asked me whether one should return charity received from them, or from other dubious sources.
Fame is testing, but so is charity and kindness. In this week’s Torah portion G-d sends Abraham from the comfort of his home, from the support of family and friends, "to the Land that I will show you". Moving from place to place (before the age of mass media, Twitter and Facebook) diminished one's status. So G-d assures Abraham: "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing." Rashi Explains: "Since travelling diminishes procreation, it diminishes money, and it diminishes fame, he required these three blessings, concerning children, concerning money, and concerning fame." Which is all very well. Having G-d's blessing for family and income is reassuring. But what kind of fame was Abraham in need of? The question is reinforced when some suggest the fame was G-d letting the world know of Abraham's kindness. Why would he want this on the front pages? One philanthropist once told me he didn't want awards or recognition for his charity. "If I do," he said, "the very next day will begin my downfall." So what is the aggrandize bit for? If we look at one Midrash’s choice of words describing this blessing to Abraham, we can find a healthy balance of fame: Sheodia Tivecha Beolam, which literally means: I will make the world aware of your nature. Why the term nature? G-d here was not letting everyone know of Abraham to make him famous, or even to make his kind deeds famous. Rather, Abraham represented a revolution in kindness, it was his nature, and it was the core of who he was. This then was the start of the Jewish people’s mission, exemplified by its forefather and founder Abraham; that we are a people of kindness and charity, and that it is in our DNA. This is the message, the status, the update G-d was sharing with the world.

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