It turned out to be an incredible irony. The week Lance Armstrong finally admitted to Oprah that he had lied about doping was the same week that we read the Torah portion “Bo,” the story of the final three plagues in Egypt. As it happens, I had written an essay on this portion, published in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, in which I praised Armstrong for overcoming incredible odds, and quoted him as saying: “Before cancer, I just lived. Now I live strong.” Clearly, living strong does not mean taking performing- enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France, nor pressuring others to take them too, nor does it mean lying about it for several years.
In his interview with Oprah, Armstrong also admitted that he had “bullied” those who had challenged his lies, which is the ultimate irony of this story. Here was a man who had inspired so many, including a naïve rabbi. Armstrong promoted himself as a man whose adversity had pushed him to greater heights, just as adversity had challenged Moses and the Israelites to emerge from their enslavement to gain freedom. But it turns out that Armstrong is not the modern-day equivalent of the Israelites; rather he is the modern-day equivalent of Pharaoh, as my colleague Rabbi Eddie Bernstein suggests, bullying others and stubbornly refusing, to “face up to the truth.” (Thank you to Eddie Bernstein for suggesting I write this blog.)
I wish I had not included the quote about Lance Armstrong in my essay. I do hope Armstrong engages in some serious teshuvah. I don’t trust that his recent confession is part of an honest desire to repent. Rather, I worry that this is an effort to ensure the viability of his future career. Armstrong would do well to read the biblical tale of the events in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. It is a cautionary tale. Pharaoh’s journey does not end well.
Suzanne Singer is the rabbi and educator at Riverside Temple Beth El in Riverside, CA.