Just Rewards


The first question posed Monday by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of a Congressional hearing on the bank failures, to Richard Fuld, the Lehman Brothers’ chairman who made $480 million over the last eight years at the failed company, was “is this fair?”

It’s a question that hangs in the air at this particularly precarious moment in time, and we ask it not only of the incredible bonuses and over-the-top lifestyle associated with the Old Wall Street (translation: up to a month ago), but of the national bailout that seems to help big business more than the rest of us. And we’re asking if it’s fair for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to stoop to name-calling and personal attacks, especially at a time when issues like the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care, etc. are so important — and in light of the fact that both McCain and Obama pledged not to go that route.

And then there is Michael Bloomberg, the popular mayor of New York, seeking a third term, insisting that he is the ideal person for the job at a time of economic crisis. Only trouble is, term limits is the law, and he is completing his second and final term. Is it right to ignore, or at least skirt around, the will of the people?

We all know that life is unfair; it’s something we’re told, and made painfully aware of, from an early age. So is it naïve to kvetch about examples of inequity in the public sphere?

Raising these questions on the eve of Yom Kippur is especially dicey because while we praise God as Just, and call on the Creator to punish those who oppress us, we also put ourselves at God’s mercy throughout the 25-hour holy day, repeatedly appealing to God’s attributes of forgiveness.

We are unworthy sinners, we say as we beat our breasts, and do not deserve a break. But don’t judge us objectively, we plead, show us Your mercy instead.
We are created in God’s image and commanded to emulate God’s ways. But when are we to insist on retribution for wrongdoing and when should we offer forgiveness? It’s a question we should be asking ourselves not only on Yom Kippur but every time we face that inner struggle between competing impulses. And maybe the best approach when confronting these dilemmas is to think of ourselves in the other guy’s shoes.
After all, it’s only fair.

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at garyrosenblatt.substack.com.