November 06, 2011
Politics & Parsha: Honesty
By Howie Beigelman
Howie Beigelman has formerly served as the Director of State Affairs for the OU's IPA (Institute for Public Affairs). Each week, he takes a look at the parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.
These articles now appear on Mr. Beigelman's new Politics and Parsha Blog, and have been reprinted with permission. Archives of Mr. Beigelman's articles from the past year are still available at http://advocacy.ou.org/category/blog/
It was a daring military operation that Abraham and his handpicked squads pulled off under cover of night, unrivaled until at least Joshua’s spies led the assault on Jericho. With King Chardaleomer defeated, Lot – and their majesties – rescued, Abraham returns home a victor. The King of Salem, as Jerusalem was then known, and who the Jewish tradition identifies as Shem, son of Noah, appears to offer thanksgiving to G-d for the victory. Shem was – at least until Abraham arrives on scene – the leading religious light of that generation. Abraham treats him with appropriate reverence and offers tribute to him, in the form of a tithe on the spoils. But Abraham’s tune changes when the King of Sodom offers him, sans his own subjects, all the booty. Let’s leave aside that under the rules of war then (& really for most of human history, prior to the Great War) in effect these were justly earned spoils for Abraham. Foreshadowing the Judaic prophetic tradition, Abraham speaks blunt and dare we say, hasty words of rebuke, declaring he will not take even one shoelace from Sodom, lest people gossip that it was Sodom that enriched him.
Already Abraham’s wealth was legend – and the envy of many, including the Pharaoh, the servants of Avimelech and the source of the rift between the shepherds of Lot and those of his uncle. It was the key to Abraham’s poignant plea for a child – he heartbreakingly asks G-d if all he has will be inherited by a servant. Would anyone really have made a straight faced claim that Sodom was a key to Abraham’s material success?
Appearances count. They matter. That’s Abraham’s lesson to the Sodomites. In the words of Mark Twain (writing as Pudd’nhead Wilson), “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”
In politics, if it looks like pay to play and walks like pay to play, and there’s a favorable governmental decision (grant, contract, legislation, regulation) at the end, it doesn’t really matter that the decision was made solely on the merits and it was the best option. Sometimes even when a bribe isn’t a bribe, to John Q. Public, it is. And if you can’t explain it away in a thirty second sound bite or the 140 characters Twitter allows you, it doesn’t really matter that you’re right.
While elected officials, candidates and staffers need to remind themselves of that, it something all of us could remember as well. In our interactions with family, peers, colleague and community, it’s important we keep in mind that people speak, write and believe almost anything. Nothing today is inconceivable.
It wasn’t back in Abraham’s day either. And his example is a good one.
Words to consider. Ideas to ponder. Politics & the parsha.
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