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What Might the Torah Say About Lance Armstrong?

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I used to think that Aaron was a pretty smart person. After all, they don't make you the High Priest of the whole Jewish people unless you are a pretty capable person. But now I believe that Aaron was an amateur -- at least at the art of making excuses.

You can't compare him to Lance Armstrong or Dennis Kozlowski or Jon Corzine, or any of the other people who have shown real talent at the art of making alibis in recent years. Aaron was just not in the same league with some of these people whom we have in the sports and in the business world today.

When Moses comes down from the mountain, and sees the people dancing around the Golden Calf. He confronts Aaron, the one whom he had left in charge, and he says to him: "How could you have permitted such a terrible thing to happen?"

What does Aaron say? He says: "Please do not blame me, my master. You know the nature of this people. You know that they are evil."

In other words, they made me do it.

That is Aaron's excuse.

What does Moses say in response?

Nothing. He turns away from this feeble excuse and goes out to deal with the crisis himself.

Consider Lance Armstrong, by contrast. The man is a master at the art of making alibis. For 20 years now, he has been spinning stories in order to avoid criminal charges. To caricature his positions, he first said, I did not dope; then he said I doped, but it did not really matter; and then he said: I doped but not exactly -- and besides, I am sorry.

It has taken 20 years to chip away at his stories, and he still has not come clean. There is no doubt that Lance Armstrong makes Aaron look like an amateur in the art of concocting alibis. He would never have come up with an excuse as feeble as: "They made me do it." No way.

Or consider Captain Schettino, who is soon coming up for trial for having abandoned his ship, the Costa Condordia, when it ran aground on a rock off the coast of Italy. When you hear his side of the story you have to be impressed -- if not by his innocence, then at least by his talent at concocting alibis.

The first thing he said was that it was not his fault that his ship hit a rock. The GPS was not working, so blame the manufacturer of the GPS, not him. Second, he says that he was having dinner with a lovely woman at the Captain's Table when the crash occurred. Did you really expect him to interrupt his dinner, and go see what happened? If you want to blame anyone, blame the beautiful woman, not him.

And then came the most remarkable excuse of all. Why did he abandon ship instead of staying on board until all the passengers were safely off? He didn't abandon ship at all, he says. He was just leaning over, and he accidentally fell overboard, and he happened to land in a lifeboat that happened to be right where he fell! And once he was there, he figured he could do a better job of directing the rescue operation from shore.

I ask you: Could Aaron have come up with an alibi like that?

And is it right that cynics now call him the "chicken of the sea"?

Not nice.

There are many other experts at alibi-ing around these days. I must tell you that after seeing the creative excuses that these contemporary figures have come up with, I feel that we owe Aaron an apology.

I don't know about you, but I think that I would rather do business with someone like Aaron than with Lance Armstrong or Bernie Madoff or Dennis Kozlowski or Jon Corzine or any of these captains of industry who are in the headlines these days.

Aaron loved peace and pursued peace. Aaron stayed at Moses' side when they confronted Pharaoh, and showed no fear. Aaron served in the sanctuary, day in and day out, for 40 years faithfully and carefully. And so, if he made one mistake -- if once he gave in to the pressure of the mob and did something that he should not have done, and if he once compounded his sin by offering a weak alibi -- I respect him just the same. Everyone is entitled to make an occasional mistake, but no one gets respect for making alibis that show more chutzpa than integrity.

And that is a lesson we ought to carry with us when we leave the Shabbat and go back to the office on Monday. If Lance Armstrong or some of these other captains of industry had studied this week's Torah reading, perhaps they would have learned to say: "the buck stops here," instead of blaming others.

And if they won't learn this lesson, we should.

ON Scripture -- The Torah is a weekly Jewish scriptural commentary, produced in collaboration with Odyssey Networks and Hebrew College. Thought leaders from the United States and beyond offer their insights into the weekly Torah portion and contemporary social, political, and spiritual life.