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Jewish Journal

The Madoff tragedy and personal legacy

December 14, 2010 | 4:02 pm

As seen in The Jewish Week

With Mark Madoff’s suicide over the weekend, we witnessed the burden of a father’s sins. The Madoff Family’s tragic narrative reinforces why a person’s legacy truly matters. To expand on this teachable moment, JInsider looked to better understand personal legacy through the perspective of Jewish wisdom. (See full video discussions on www.jinsider.com)

Pride and Self-Worth
How do I want to be remembered? What do I want people to think about me? What do I want people to say about me? What do I want my children to remember? What do I want my grandchildren to remember? I’d like to be able to give them some pride in who I was. I may not be able to give them a great deal of money, but I may be able to give them a sense of pride that this was my father, this was my grandfather, this is what he stood for, and this is what he taught. And even though we cannot give them things, we can give them something that is more immortal than things. Things break. Things get lost. The legacy that has been handed down, that’s a part of me now, because I inherited that. Maybe I didn’t inherit it genetically but I inherited it as part of my history – and that’s who I am. So I think that a legacy is important because, yes we want to leave our children things, but we also want to leave our children a sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

Rabbi Dr Abraham J. Twerski is a noted psychiatrist and the author of more than 60 books. (www.abrahamtwerski.com)

Heavenly Court’s Question

There’s an unusual passage in the Talmud in which the rabbis speculate on what are the first questions the heavenly court asks us after we die and appear before it. I like to study this passage with people and ask them, “What do you think the rabbis would think are the first questions we are asked?” And people traditionally say, “Did you believe in God?” “Did you keep the Sabbath?” Or maybe, “Did you fast on Yom Kippur?” And they’re taken aback to learn that the first question is “Nasata V’Natata B’Emunah?” “Did you carry out your business affairs honestly?” The first proof of whether you lived a religious life is not how you act towards God, but how what you’ve learned about God influences how you act towards other people…. So that’s an important thing to keep in mind when we start trying to organize the priorities in our life. Obviously being a committed Jew and the keeping of Jewish laws are important, but what the rabbis view as central is the keeping of the law between people and honesty between people – so that when people meet you, people can assume you are the sort of person worthy of trust.

Joseph Telushkin, rabbi at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, is the author of 16 books, including Jewish Literacy, The Book of Jewish Values, and Hillel: If Not Now, When? (www.josephtelushkin.com)

Reputation with My Children
If I could get into my children’s heads – to see what they think about me – they are going to reference only a few areas in their lives. First, they are going to look at whether I loved them unconditionally. Was I really there for them? Did I make the time for them? Did I have experiences with them? Are there memories that were fun and loving and also memories that made claims on them and claims about what they should be in the world? Next is: Did I actually use my talents beyond my own family? Did I stretch? Did I cross any boundaries? Did I cross any borders? Did I do things with my own talent that ensured that I would also fail, for example? Or did I take the safe route all the way through my life? What did I really contribute?


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Rabbi Irwin Kula, author, media commentator and expert in Sacred Messiness and Partial Truths. (www.irwinkula.com)

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