This Shabbos email was previously published in October of 2015. There have been some developments in the case, and you can read them at the end, just before the Parsha Dvar Torah.
Martin Shkreli just bought himself a new Lamborghini Aventador, but the $450,000 supercar only cost him about 600 pills. No, the pills are not made of solid gold, platinum, or rare earth metals, nor are they a new cancer fighting drug that just came out after a billion dollar research and development phase. They are Daraprim pills, which since 1953 have been effectively fighting off deadly infections in people with suppressed immune systems (pregnant women, cancer patients, etc).
The patent on Daraprim has long expired, and the pills cost less than a dollar each in most of the world, but in the US, only one company, Impax Laboratories has regulatory approval to sell the pill. For years they charged $13.50 per pill. That all changed when Martin Shkreli bought the marketing rights for Daraprim and raised the price from $13.50 to $750, a mind numbing 5,455% increase in price!
Why did he raise the price so drastically? Because he could. No one else has the rights to sell the pill in the US. Because there’s such a small market for it (only about 8,000-12,000 thirty-day prescriptions are written for it each year), only one company bothered to get approval to make it. Until Shkreli, the whole US market for Daraprim in the US was a few million a year, and it wasn’t smart for other companies to expend considerable resources trying to get FDA approval to sell it in the US. At the new price, the Shkreli should be able to bring in $225,000,0000 a year on Daraprim, (he bought the marketing rights for fifty five million). Even if now other pharmaceutical companies would apply to sell it the US it would take years before they got approval, and in the meantime Shkreli will make hundreds of millions of dollars.
Where does all that money come from? Me and you. Insurance companies are not going to forgo their profitability just because some thirty two year old kid figured out how to fleece them out of hundreds of millions of dollars, they are simply going to raise our premiums to cover the costs. So Shkreli is taking money out of our pockets to put them in his own.
But Martin Shkreli is not the worst offender, he just generated the most news because he is young, brash, and public. A reporter asked him why he raised the price of a life-saving drug by over 5,000%, he called the reporter a moron, and soon the media was dancing all over him. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump all called him out, the Infectious Disease Society of America, the HIV Medicine Association, and many other pharma groups excoriated him. He came out on TV and said he would lower the price, but he didn’t. It’s been a lot of fun for the media.
But there are plenty of other pharmaceutical companies playing the same game. In 2011, K-V Pharmaceutical got the FDA approval to market a decades old synthetic hormone that stops pre-term births, and raised the prices from $15 an injection to $1,500! Valeant Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Syprine by 1,425%, Cuprimine by 2,849% and Glumetz by 1,016%. They just do it quietly and slowly, so the increases don’t get as much media attention.
If you ever wondered why your insurance costs keep soaring each year, now you know part of the story.
This evil profiteering at the cost of everyone else is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry. Goldman Sachs was caught in a scandal where they stockpiled enormous amounts of aluminum in Detroit-area warehouses, intentionally caused shortages of available aluminum in the world, and raised the price of aluminum all over the world so that they could make a few billion more. It may have been legal (although a Senate investigation wasn’t so sure), but is cost me, you, and seven other billion citizens of earth more whenever we bought cars, cans of soda, or aluminum foil, just so that some Goldman Sachs bankers and their shareholders could make some more money.
All that is in the legal but not-nice arena. Once we get to the fraud and illegal departments, the amount of money people are stealing from you and me (as US taxpayers) rises to astronomical levels. Medicaid and Medicare fraud costs taxpayers between fifty and eighty billion dollars a year, tax fraud costs over three hundred billion a year, and welfare fraud costs sixty billion a year. Those numbers alone tell us that we as a people are being robbed of close to a million dollars a minute, twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year!
So where did this whole thing start? How do humans callously steal from other humans? How do they exploit the system causing pain to millions just for personal profit? It all started in the Garden of Eden.
From the outside, the story of Adam and Eve eating from the fruit of knowledge of Good and Evil is one of the strangest stories in the Torah. Why would G-d tell Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree that would tell them what is good and what is evil? Wouldn’t that knowledge be from the most important tools mankind would need? And why does G-d say that eating the fruit would cause death and destruction, I would think that knowing what is good and what is evil would yield longer lifespans and greater harmony?
In order to understand this, we need to look at the nomenclature of the tree more carefully. The Torah calls it Eitz Hada’as Tov V’ra, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I think I know what good and evil is, and I’m fairly confident that I know what a tree is, but what exactly is da’as, knowledge?
Knowledge from a Torah perspective is the total mixing of two things. The Torah, when describing Adam and Eve connecting on the deepest level, says (Genesis 4:1), “And Adam knew his wife Eve.” When Adam and Eve connected on that level, they became enmeshed as one, two separate people becoming like one. When I know something, the information becomes totally enmeshed in me.
The Torah has many words to describe the absorption of data; wisdom, understanding, knowledge, etc. I may understand the theory of relativity or patterns in human relationships, but I KNOW that fire burns. That information is so hardwired into my brain that I would never try it out just to test the limits. I understand that overeating is bad for me, but it’s not so hardwired into my brain that you would never find me going back for a second helping of that seven layer cake. I understand many things, but I know far less.
When G-d told Adam and Eve not to eat from the fruit of KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil, He was telling them not to eat of a tree that would make Good and Evil totally enmeshed to the point that it would be hard to discern one from the other. What do we call someone who totally can’t discern good from evil? A sociopath. But you can also call yourself a sociopath, because I’m sure there were times that you looked at something that was very bad for you, yet it looked so good, or times that there was something that would be so good for you, but you looked it like it was bad and burdensome… (I know, I’m also a sociopath!)
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not a tree that would help mankind separate good from evil, but rather the one that would enmesh good and evil. If Adam and Eve at from it, it would look good to raise the price on a lifesaving drug from $13.50 a pill to $750 because it is good for my bank account and I can’t see the pain it would cause to everyone else. It would look good for me to defraud the government to get benefits I don’t deserve, or to charge it for patients I never saw, because good and evil are so confusing in the post eating-from-the-fruit world.
It would look burdensome and terrible for me to put my phone away for one day each week even though it would actually be amazing for my sanity and my family’s healthy development. Giving charity would be a struggle because all I would see is the void in my bank account and not the enormous gift of giving. It would look difficult to carve out more time for family even though that is one of the best investments one could make.
It’s a strange world that we live in, this post Tree of Knowledge world, and mankind’s greatest job is to endeavor to make it back to a pre-Tree of Knowledge place. It’s our job to spend time contemplating the things we do, because it’s hard to know if we’re on track or off track.
If there is anything we can learn from Martin Shkreli, it’s the importance of buying low and selling super-hig. There are a lot of good things out there that almost no one is doing, and we can buy in for relatively little but reap tremendous rewards. No one else is offering to take the children of that recently widowed mother out to dinner once a week so their overwhelmed mom can have a few moments of peace and quiet, no many people are making sure to call that elderly man down the block once a week to simply wish him well. Not many people are spending a minute a day thanking G-d for all the good He sent them that day. Those are areas where we can buy for $13.50 a pill and reap profits far greater than 5,455%. If we can just learn to see where true good lies, there are some amazing deals out there where everyone profits, and no one is hurt. That is a pill I can swallow quite easily!
So where is Martin Shkreli right now? He is currently on an extended stay at Club Fed, as Federal inmate number 87850-053. He was arrested on December 17, 2015 just a few months after this Shabbos email was published (do the authorities read my Shabbos emails? Evidence indicates yes, but it is currently inconclusive…). He was indicted by the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York on multiple counts of securities fraud. He was defended by celebrity lawyer Ben Brafman, but he was hard to defend especially because he kept making fun of the Eastern District Federal court on social media, calling them “Junior Vasrsity,” compared to the Southern District which handles most securities fraud cases. On August 4, 2017 a trial jury found him guilty of two counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. He was sentenced to seven years in prison, and was ordered to forfeit $7.3 million in assets. He appealed but the appeals court unanimously upheld the jury verdict.
Shkreli made a request for compassionate release on April 22, 2020. In his request, he said he should be allowed to live at his new fiancée’s apartment in New York City. His request also stated his firm needed him to develop a remedy for COVID-19. In denying the request, Judge Matsumoto characterized Shkreli’s request as an instance of “delusional self-aggrandizing behavior”. When he does get out, he will still be a very rich man, with his net worth calculated to be north of fifty million dollars.
Parsha Dvar Torah
This Parsha is the most fundamental of all Parshios. Just as every physical trait a person has is coded in his DNA at the moment of conception, so too, the summation of the human experience is coded in this week’s Parsha, Bereishit. One could spend an entire year studying this Parsha and its copious commentary, and still not finish even a fraction of what it contains. In it we find; Creation, the first man and woman, the first sin, the first Repentance, the first murder, the first degeneration of society as a whole, and much more. But perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this Parsha is the first sin.
G-d put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and gave them everything they could possibly need (it was always spring weather, food grew ready to be eaten on trees, there was no sickness…). G-d spoke to them (an incredible experience in its own right), and requested only one thing of them: Don’t eat from the fruit of one tree. Yet, before their first day was over, they disobeyed G-d! How can we understand this original error which impacted the world more fundamentally than any other single action in history?
One way to understand Adam’s mistake is to realize that he thought he knew a better way to serve G-d, even though G-d indicated otherwise. Adam felt that to serve G-d simply by not eating a single species of fruit, in a place where G-d’s presence was palpable, was not the most he could do. He was capable of sacrificing so much more for G-d! He was willing and able to serve G-d in a world shrouded in darkness, where it would be much more difficult to see G-d and appreciate the importance of serving Him. Adam knew that if he ate from the fruit of the tree, it would be like turning off a celestial light switch, and G-d’s presence in the world would become much more hidden as a result of sin which had entered the universe. Certain that he could still serve G-d in such a difficult world, and confident that it would result in a far greater glorification of G-d, Adam ate the forbidden fruit.
But this was a colossal error, one that until today continues to challenge us! The truth is that when a person thinks like that, he is using his ego and believing that he know better than G-d. G-d said serve me by doing X, but I say that I can serve you better by doing Y. The truth is that there can be no greater service of G-d than doing exactly what He asks from us!
Today, we find this idea particularly difficult. We try to tell ourselves that G-d didn’t really mean that we should do everything he asked of us in the Torah, or that if He would see the modern world, He would certainly cancel a number of the “outdated” mitzvot. We feel like we can decipher what He really wants of us. The truth is that if we want to serve G-d, and not ourselves, we have to lower our ego, trust that He knows best, and realize that the best way to serve Him is to follow what He asks, not what we think He should have asked! If we do that, we will be able to reverse the effects of the primordial sin and bring the world back to the utopia it was before sin arrived on the scene!
Breishit starts off with the Creation of the Universe and all that is in it. G-d completed all His work in six days (this was way before zoning laws and building codes). Here is a quick rundown on the daily creating schedule for those first six days. On the first day He created light and darkness. On the second He created the heavens and separated the lower waters (oceans, which at that time covered the globe), from the upper waters i.e. the water found in the atmosphere.
On the third day G-d pulled the waters back to reveal dry land and created all vegetation (yup, Tuesday is when cauliflower, sprouts, and lima beans appeared on Mother Earth). On the fourth day G-d created all the celestial bodies, including the sun, moon, and all the stars. On day five G-d created all the flying creatures and water-based creatures. He even blessed them that they should multiply and be fruitful.
The sixth day of creation is special because not only did G-d create all animals of the land on that day, He also created mankind in His image. This special gift gives us an infinite amount of abilities that are unique to man, such as the ability to create, to give to strangers (generally, animals only take care of their own), and the power of speech. On the seventh day G-d ceased from all the work that He had done, and in order to emulate G-d we also rest on the Shabbos, and spend that time evaluating our week and seeing how we can grow in the coming one.
G-d obviously didn’t need the rest, He didn’t feel worn out from a week of creation, but rather for us he ceased to work to help us understand the concept that there are two distinct modalities, working toward a goal, and experiencing the goal. Shabbos is a time where we experience the arrival at the spiritual locus of our week, and we can experience it fully, while still engaged in the creative process.
When G-d created Adam (the first human being), He gave him everything he needed and only asked one thing of him – that he not eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man gave names to all the beasts and found no mate. After this experience, which taught man that without women he is totally lost, G-d created Eve (the first woman) out of one of Adam’s ribs. G-d didn’t create woman out of Adam’s head, lest she feel she could dominate him, nor out of his feet, lest he feel he could trample her. Instead, He created her out of his rib, right next to his heart, so that he would protect her, love her, and treat her with equality.
While still enjoying their honeymoon, Adam and Eve were led into sin by the serpent, which was the external representation of evil at that time. Through a manipulation technique still used by sleazy salesmen today, the snake enticed both Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. G-d punished them by making humans mortal, by giving women birthing pains and by forcing men to work for their sustenance (prior to that fully prepared pastries would grow on trees! Weight Watchers would have had a real crisis!)
Adam and Eve gave birth to two children, Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. They both decided to give gifts to G-d but, while Cain gave inferior fruit, Abel gave the best of his flocks. G-d accepted only Abel’s gift. (Quick lesson: G-d wants you to mean it when you give to Him, so save your week-old pancakes for your brother, and give to G-d with all your heart. He doesn’t need a lot, but He wants to see you putting up your best effort!).
Cain got angry and jealous, and quickly became the world’s first murderer by killing his brother. Back then there were no good trial lawyers, and Cain had to deal directly with G-d, who didn’t take his excuses but rather told him that there are two paths one can take after sin – repent and be forgiven or don’t improve yourself and sin will constantly hound you.
The Torah then goes on to mention the ten generations of mankind from Adam until Noah. After that description, the Torah tells us how human beings lost all morality, and people did whatever they pleased. It got so bad that soon only Noah was righteous from his whole generation. Next week, will tell us more about where the world went (hint: think underwater) and more about Noah (hint: think above water), but before we stop, one last tidbit about Noah: he invented the plow, thus saving mankind billions of man-hours in the field planting by hand!
Quote of the Week: The proper function of being is to live – not to exist. ~ Jack London
Random Fact of the Week: Your thumbnail grows slower than any other fingernail!
Funny line of the week: How come wrong numbers are never busy?
Have a Stupendous Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham