As I was watching Ruth Madoff on 60 Minutes, this Sunday, I found myself scrutinizing her visage. What I kept seeing was a woman who had lived a lavish life off the spoils of her husband’s crimes. For all the trauma she’d been through in the past few years, she still looked too well put together to possibly be contrite for whatever part she had in Bernie Madoff’s evil schemes. And, frankly, she seemed complacent. I struggled to muster a shred of compassion. Only when she spoke of her son, Mark’s suicide, did I believe that she had truly suffered, and that somewhere, behind that face, was a soul.
I was troubled by how cold my heart was to Mrs. Madoff - whatever her transgressions. I have always believed in teshuvah*, and the idea that anyone, no matter how terrible their past actions, could become a better person. So why had I eliminated that possibility for Mrs. Madoff?
The following morning, news broke that, only 72 days after her nationally televised “fairytale” wedding, Kim Kardashian had filed for divorce.
I snickered, “Duh!”
While I was silently congratulating myself on having always known that that marriage was an entirely ridiculous idea, if not just another reality TV charade, another part of me was observing just how willing I was to be brutally judgemental. Truth is… I know nothing of Kim Kardashian’s situation or what she’s going through. I don’t think it’s smart to get married to someone after only a few months of knowing them, or to play out one’s relationship in front of the media. But beyond that, what could I say?
So what was I to conclude about these two women?
Mrs. Madoff, for many years, was a highly regarded member of New York society. She was someone who had done everything right. She and her husband had “made it.” They were examples of the American Way – work hard, build yourself up, become a success. Kim Kardashian, too, is a great American success story. Four years ago, she was selling clothes in a boutique in the Valley. Today, she is one of the wealthiest, most recognized women in the world. They both epitomize success, in a society that is driven by the notion of transcending “lowly” beginnings and finding riches and public acclaim. Simply put, Ruth Madoff and Kim Kardashian are victims of greed. But so are we. We’re all trying to “make it” in one way or the other. And who knows how we would act if we had that kind of money, fame or acclaim.
* teshuvah - (literally “return”) the way of atoning for sin and making new beginnings