In the 1930’s, there lived one of the most notorious gangsters who ever shot up the streets of New York City, he was called Two Gun Crowley. He was also known as Crowley, the cop killer. The Police Commissioner at the time described him as one of the most ruthless, hardened killers, who ever walked the streets of New York. He would kill at the drop of a feather.
Two Gun fired his last bullet in a shoot-out with police in an apartment on West End Avenue. Surrounded by 150 policemen who used every thing from tear gas, to machine guns mounted on surrounding rooftops, he still managed to hold them at bay for over an hour. Ten thousand onlookers watched as the streets of Manhattan sounded with the explosion of machine gun fire. Finally after being shot in the chest he wrote his last message, a note, drenched in his blood, which read:
“To whom it may concern:
Under my coat lies a lonely heart, but a good heart, a heart that would do no man harm.”
And he signed it!
Only hours before, he was in the park sitting in a car with his girlfriend. A police officer passing by asked him for his license and registration. At which point, Two Gun, reached into his coat pulled out a revolver and shot the cop dead. He then jumped out of the car, pulled out the officer’s service revolver, added another bullet for good measure, and then drove off. He could have just as easily have driven off, without shooting the officer, but why take any chances. “A Kind heart, one that would do no man harm.”
Our story doesn’t end here. Two Gun Crowley managed to live through the shoot-out. The police broke in, arrested him and he stood trial. He was sentenced to death. On his way to the Electric chair, he was overheard saying, “This is what I get for defending myself.”
What makes this story significant for us is that I don’t think that Two Gun Crowley was insane, or that his self perception was so off that he was demented. His behavior seems to be quite common for the criminal element. In one of his book’s, Dale Carnegie, writes that he had an ongoing correspondence with the warden of Sing Sing prison, who explained to him that not one of his inmates thought he was guilty. Every one of them had some reason why he had to be quick on the trigger, or why he had to live a life of crime. I think it is true across every station in life. No one thinks of themselves as bad, or evil or even that they do things that are wrong.
When I was on staff at our local Jewish High School, one of the students was caught stealing. These were all fine boys, from the best of homes, so I was quite surprised to hear that one of them would be preying on his own classmates and friends. As it turned out, I knew the young man quite well, I had been counseling him for some time and we were very friendly. He was a lovely, respectful, well liked fellow who was quite popular in his class. I was perplexed. I couldn’t understand how he could bring himself to steal from his friends. I sat him down to talk about the incident, and in the course of conversation it came out. With out a touch of remorse, he said to me, ‘Rabbi, you have to understand, everybody needs money. Some guys get money from their parents, other guys have jobs. This is how I make money.’
What amazed me was that to him, it wasn’t a crime. In his mind it wasn’t stealing–this was the ‘way he made money’ It seems that this type of thought process is common amongst thieves. The mental viewpoint of most criminals is: ‘Everyone would steal. The only reason that other people don’t steal is because they aren’t as bright as I am— they just aren’t as bold. But believe me, if they were as sharp as me, they would be out there stealing all day long.’
This phenomenon is an essential component in man. We may call this rationalizing, we may call this a defense mechanism, but there is a fundamental reason why we human beings do this, why we have to do this. And it has to do with our very nature.
When HASHEM created man He took two very different components and synthesized them to create man—his Animal Soul and his Spiritual Soul. The Animal Soul contains all of the base desires necessary to keep the human species in existence. The Spiritual Soul functions in a completely different realm. That part of man, the pure G-dlike part, is so perfect that it can do no wrong. By its very nature it can only serve others and be generous. That part was preprogrammed for perfection. If man was created only with these two competing parts man would do ‘good’, in fact he would do only ‘good’; but not because he chose to, but because he had to, because that was his very nature.
When HASHEM put man on this planet it was with a very specific task: to allow man to grow. To give man the opportunity to perfect himself; by fighting the battles of life, by actively choosing correctly, thereby shaping himself into what he will be for eternity. By definition that means there has to be a challenge, there has to be a real reason to want to go against his better nature. For man to be responsible for creating the person he becomes, it has to be something that he did, something that he consciously chose, not something that he was preconditioned to do. For that to happen man has to be able to choose good or evil, with both sides being equal to him; his will alone determining which he chooses. So to allow for free will, there was another component that needed to be added to man. That component is rationalization–this incredible ability for man to create entire fanciful world that might have no connection to reality—but man is fully able to believe.