Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

False Gods

We live in a world of sheker, falsehood. There's no question about that. But if the general world is false, the world of politics is sheker on steroids. That is why political campaigns in some of our communities have become so difficult for me to follow - and swallow.
“All politics is local,” was the wise insight shared by former House Speaker Tip O’Neil. In some ways, the dirtiest politics and the most hypocritical campaigns in our communities are the local ones. As the Orthodox community grows in size, its influence as a voting bloc becomes more and more consequential. This is certainly true in smaller communities, such as Lakewood and the Five Towns, but it is also true in the largest of cities, such as New York.


What can I say? The newest movers and shakers – or “askonim,” as they are sometimes mislabeled – attach themselves to politicians like leeches or become “advisors” to secular politicians. They stick their faces into every picture with prominent politicians who seek office. Seeing them bring some of the seediest political figures to prominent admorim and rabbonim for brochos in advance of an election has been one of the most disheartening aspects of their activities. It is especially troubling because, very often, those movers and shakers who tell us how good that particular politician is are only doing so because they are being paid by that particular politician. If the opponent hires them during the next election, they will once again sell us the Brooklyn Bridge, telling us how good the person who was terrible for us last year is great for us this year.


I almost pine for the time when our community was smaller and did not garner the interest of prominent politicians the way it does today. I also pine for the time when we didn’t have tens, if not hundreds, of self-appointed “spokespeople” and “advisors,” many with little or no moral scruples, purporting to represent us, despite the fact that no one asked us if we would like to be represented by them.




What came to mind was the Kli Yokor’s explanation on the posuk we recently read in Parshas Devorim, “Penu lochem tzafonah.” The Kli Yokor explains that the word tzafonah,in addition to implying north, also connotes tzofun, hidden. He explains that the Jew in exile must constantly seek to hide himself and not stand out. This idea is even more openly stated in the Torah when Yaakov tells his sons, “Lomoh tisrau? Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?”


Yes, I know that playing the political game and electing the right guy can pay big dividends for our communities. There are all kinds of government services that we need. Being friendly with politicians who make sure that we rightly get our piece of the pie, and perhaps an extra piece for good measure, is important. I don’t mean to minimize that in any way.


However, we must understand that being well-connected politically is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Certainly, receiving vital government services can help us serve Hashem. It can help us financially. It can help us neutralize designs that threaten our way of life and our adherence to halacha andminhag.




When cultivating candidates for public office who have engaged in immoral and decidedly creepy behavior, and when courting politicians who engage in lifestyles that our Torah deems disgusting, and when courting politicians married to non-Jews, are we not sending a terrible message to the world, to our children and to ourselves?


We are saying that nothing is sacred any longer except the dollar. We are saying that having influence with these characters is more important than our values and the values we teach our children. When we lose sight of the true end game, politics becomes an end unto itself, not just a means to an end.


When I confronted a member of a certain community who was courting one of these politicians, he could not even understand where I was coming from. “Everyone knows that this is the way politics work,” he said. He seemed to imply that the only message we are sending is that all politicians are the opposite of role models, and everyone knows that we only court them because we need them and they need us.


I cannot accept that. The moral climate of the country and the morality – or lack thereof – of a candidate are important. It is more important than getting a few extra dollars at the public trough and gaining a bit more influence.


How can we, in good conscience, support politicians, regardless of what they promise us, if they have been exposed publically as being extremely morally deficient, even by today’s standards?


We read in the Aseres Hadibros this past Shabbos about the prohibition of having false gods. If there is a false god today, it is the god of money. For government dollars and influence, we are sacrificing our dearest, most cherished values. In the process, we are desecrating the Name of Hashem. How can we do that?


“Follow the money,” is a popular aphorism that became famous during the Watergate scandal. It means that if you want to get to the bottom of a scandal, follow the money trail. Tragically, it seems that the “follow the money” approach applies here too. There are those in our communities who, scandalously, are drawn by the money rather than the Torah and the moral code that they should have been taught since childhood.


It’s a shame. It’s a scandal.




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