The Lance Armstrong Tragedy

By Rabbi Benjamin Blech. Tragedy, Aristotle taught us, requires that someone prominent fall from lofty heights. It is the sudden and abrupt plunge of a hero from his pedestal that defines a true misfortune.In that sense, according to some, the Lance Armstrong story surely qualifies. According to others he is a victim of jealous competitors, the subject of a witch hunt. 

He won the Tour de France an unprecedented seven straight times, becoming one of most accomplished athletes in recent history. And he acquired almost iconic stature because of his heroic and ultimately successful triumph over the testicular cancer that threatened his life at the young age of 25. Already a world champion cyclist at the time, with but a thin chance for survival, he conquered his illness and went on to even greater victories.

Lance Armstrong was more than a winner. He was an inspiration. His adoring fans round the world revered him as role model. He was the paradigm of the human spirit refusing to be defeated by affliction and overcoming all obstacles by indomitable courage.

According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, banned substances played a crucial role in Armstrong’s amazing success. His need to win translated into a win-at-all-costs outlook. 

The USADA made the controversial move to strip the cycling superstar of his historic seven Tour de France titles, the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Olympics and all other titles, awards and money he won from August 1998 forward. He is now barred for life from competing, coaching or having any official role with any Olympic sport. Armstrong decided to no longer fight the allegations, triggering the contested punishment. He denies all guilt, and has never failed any of othe doping tests that he has taken.

I do not know if Armstrong is guilty, bu his exceedingly harsh punishment still brings with it a message that applies to us all. 

In a culture becoming more and more inured to corruption, to illegal practices, to dishonesty and to fraud in almost every area of life, it is high time to make clear a simple truth that is at the heart of Judaism: Actions have consequences.

We can certainly feel compassion for those who made wrong choices in life that led to their downfall. But to feel sorry for them is not the same as agreeing that there be no penalty for their misdeeds. If there is no retribution for our actions, why bother being honest when it’s so much easier — and certainly far more profitable — to cut corners and then simply expect to be forgiven?

The USADA’s judgment against Lance Armstrong took place during the days Jews prepare for Rosh Hashanah and stand before God who assumes His role as Judge of the universe. We, too, will be placed on the divine scale of the Arbitrator of our fate for the coming year. And God’s judgment is perfect and uncontested, unlike the ASADA. We had better internalize the message that if our life’s victories are based on fraud they will eventually be overturned.

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  1. The author’s premise is wrong: The author begins “Aristotle taught us.”

    This is inherently wrong. As Jews, the Torah teaches us. Aristotle never taught us.

    May we as Jews be Zoche to approach all aspects of our lives through the lenses of Torah.

  2. It’s all in how you parse the sentence.

    I read it like this:

    Tragedy – Aristotle taught us; requires that someone prominent fall from lofty heights.

    Translation for those w/Yeshiva English:

    It is a tragedy that Aristotle taught us & this tragedy requires a kaparrah (that someone great fall, challilah).


  3. To # 3 (and presumambly #1):
    If you use the puncuation provided by the author there is only one way to “parse” the sentence.
    I would take # 2’s advice, and next time read the whole thing.

  4. Tragedy, Aristotle taught us, requires that someone prominent fall from lofty heights.

    In other words, Aristotle taught us that tragedy requires that someone prominent fall from lofty heights.

    If you’re still not sure that such is the intent of the author, consider the following:
    School, she said, starts next week.

  5. The writier says the following: “it is high time to make clear a simple truth that is at the heart of Judaism: Actions have consequences.”

    That has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism. Judaism relies on Shulchan Aruch. Only. Many a time, there is no consequence. Especially Bain Odom l’Mokom, where Teshuva is important.

    Were do the writers Hashkofos come from?

  6. “Taught us…” includes the whole world(all of humanity) not just us Jews! And that’s what Rabbi Blech intended(although I can’t actually read his mind). And most definitely Rabbi Blech, who has written many books, certainly knows what he’s writing! And since we are talking about Elul maybe we ought to give a Talmid Chacham the benefit of the doubt.

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