Isaac Newton’s third rule of motion states that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. This rule of physics also applies in the moral and spiritual realms. The greater the potential for good, the greater the potential for evil. Nuclear energy has the potential for cheap, plentiful, reliable energy while lowering greenhouse emissions and, at the same time, has the potential to destroy the world.
This idea stands behind a rabbinic midrash that teaches the Messiah will be (or maybe already has been) born on Tisha b’Av. The day when we commemorate the great tragedies of Jewish history, including those that did not occur on Tisha b’Av, is the day renewal can begin.
The deeper we sink, the higher we can rise. It’s not by chance our tradition teaches that a repentant sinner can reach greater heights than one who has not tasted sin. When the energy used for negative purposes is harnessed for something positive the potential for good is increased – more so than had nothing negative transpired. The best person to teach the dangers of alcohol abuse is a recovering alcoholic (there’s no such thing as a recovered alcoholic).
I was thinking of the above as I reflected on the amazing retirement of Adam Laroche, former first baseman for the Chicago White Sox. He was in line to earn $13 million this year, but walked away when he was asked by the team’s management to curtail his habit of bringing his teenage son into the locker room. As the team noted, “In what profession does one have the right to bring their son to work?” While that sounds reasonable, Laroche has been bringing his son Drake to the clubhouse regularly for the last five seasons, with both the White Sox and his previous team, the Washington Nationals.
His teammates were fully supportive of Laroche and reportedly had to be persuaded by their manager not to skip their next game. It seems the son was well liked and was not a distraction. Baseball, after all, is not quite the same as other professions.
Whether or not ballplayers should bring their children to the clubhouse is not the issue that interests me. And the discussion about whether one can be asked to desist from an activity that was accepted with equanimity in the past, we will leave for another time. Laroche is, by any standards, a very rich man. He has earned millions of dollars over a 15-year career, including $12 million in 2015. Clearly, $13 million extra would have little or no impact on his life. In a decision that speaks volumes about his priorities, Laroche decided that spending more time with his child was worth more than $13 million. It is a powerful message and one very few would send.
Money enables us to do great good in many areas, and accumulating great wealth can be the catalyst for much good. Yet, at the same time, we too often witness money being the source of families breaking apart. Money can be the root of much evil. The truly rich are those who can use their wealth in pursuit of higher goals.
When we speak of ethical issues in the business world, we often focus on specific issues that arise in the course of our work: pricing policies, ethical advertising, conflicts of interest, hiring and firing workers, to name a few. We rarely focus on the broader issue of choosing a career that allows people to spend time with their family, to get involved in the community and to be in an environment where the highest value is not the bottom line.
Sadly, this is most difficult in an environment where a home under a million dollars is a bargain and the total cost of sending one child to Jewish day school can approach $300,000.
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