Do you think Bernie Madoff knew that his scheme would eventually collapse under the weight of its own immorality?

What about Charles Ponzi (whose life is immortalized by the term "Ponzi scheme")?

Even if they understood failure as a likely eventuality, there had to be some disconnect with that idea. Can you imagine someone knowingly living a life that would earn them disgrace for generations? I find it inconceivable.

Except that we do it all the time, on a much smaller scale.

How many times we do knowingly eat things that are "unhelpful" to our health? How often do we pursue a pleasure, even though we "know" we'll regret it later?

It's common.


Because there's a difference between knowing and knowing.

I can cognitively understand something, and still not feel its relevance; like when I know that hot dogs are made of junk, yet...

Knowing a concept happens when the idea hits home, when I feel the idea and connect with it.

Imagine you were told that a Nepalese person – with an unfamiliar, indigenous name – won a $100,000,000 lottery.

How do you react? You'd probably digest the information and move on with your day.

But what if it was someone you knew? Would it be dry information or exciting news?

Cognitively, you understood the facts in the first case. You "knew" what happened; it just wasn't that relevant.

In the second case, the personal relevance is what grabbed you.

In Torah language, "knowledge" (Da'at in Hebrew) is more than comprehension; it's connecting. The Torah uses the unlikely term da'at to describe Adam and Eve's conjugal relationship ("Adam knew Eve"—Genesis 4:1), because knowledge implies deep connection.

My point is that the words you've just read shouldn't just be another academic (read: interesting, but not personally relevant) concept. When we recognize a point of principle, or learn a new lesson in how to lead our daily lives, recognition is only the beginning. The next step is where character transformation begins, with strenuous internal work of knowing and internalizing the idea.

Theoretical "good intentions" pave a famous road.

Internalized knowledge slowly takes you down the path of a meaningful life.

The first path is living life on the surface. The second is living life—period.