Friday, 6 August 2004
Amongst society's most despised characters, more despicable than a crooked cop, more loathed than drug pushers to schoolchildren,
even more reviled than umpires, are corrupt judges. A magistrate is appointed by the public to arbitrate in a spirit of total
impartiality. The merest taint of impropriety, the suggestion that justice can be bought, is enough to send tremors shuddering
throughout the legal system and, by extension, cause an immediate loss of faith in the social order.
One of my father's cynical observation is "everyman has his price". He reckons that every person striding this
earth would, for the right price, sell his or her opinion, persuasion or birthright. I don't fully agree. I believe that
somewhere, out there, there must be some honest individuals who cannot be swayed from their chosen path by any blandishment
you may offer. Nonetheless, it is an unavoidable conclusion that, apply enough pressure or leverage, and most people, at least,
can be induced or coerced into swapping sides or adopting a foreign opinion. I guess the only major exceptions, as a class,
are politicians, whose principles cannot be bought ? at best you can only rent them for a while.
Tomorrow we read about G-d as Judge. In a parenthetical statement to Moshe warning us to keep the Torah and Mitzvos we
find: "For the L-rd your G-d? will not ignore (sin) nor accept bribes." (Ekev 10:17).
So Hashem can't be bribed. Big deal. A bribe can be defined as the offer of some material benefit to a judge to persuade
him to pervert justice unfairly in your favour. What would it take to bribe Hashem; a whopping big donation to a worthy cause?
Make out the cheque "to G-d" and postdate it to the day after you die? Do you honestly believe that you can spend
a lifetime wallowing in sin like a swine in the mud and then buy your ticket into heaven from a scalper at the gates? G-d
doesn't work like that. You can't use good deeds as a "bribe" for Hashem to forgive and forget. You'll be rewarded
for the good you've accomplished here and cop it for the bad choices you indulged in.
But as my dad would probably say, even G-d has His price. There is one sure-fire currency with which to buy forgiveness.
They might not accept American Express ? in heaven but the Visa to paradise is Teshuva. True repentance is always accepted
and Hashem is always ready and waiting to forgive penitents.
Teshuva isn't bribing G-d. To undertaking teshuva is turn over a new leaf so completely that you become a new person.
When Hashem sits in judgment, He's not exculpating you for the sins you committed, rather the person being judged is a new
you, one far, far removed from the sins of the past.
Friday 13, August 2004
What can I do for G-d?
Ever heard a little kid bargaining
with Hashem: "Hashem if I pass this test/get the Barbie doll I want/don't get into trouble I'll brush my teeth every night/walk
around the block 16 times without stepping on a crack/hold my breath and count to 100". Ridiculous? Small-minded? Immature?
Well, are our desires any more mature, our deals any more intelligent? So you promised to stay in Shule the whole service/read
a Jewish book/say something nice to your mother-in-law, are you any more likely to be guaranteed a positive answer to your
hopes and aspirations?
There is one offer that Hashem doesn't refuse. Charity.
We'll read in the Torah tomorrow that
we have the responsibility and privilege to support the poor. It is traditional to increase our charitable donations especially
at this time of year, (Elul, the lead-in month before Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur). However, isn't this just a particularly blatant
attempt to bribe G-d? Does it really work? Why tzedoko more than any other Mitzva?
A wealthy Jew had been a long time
financial supporter of the famous Reb Zushe. He used to provide the household running expenses and was content to receive
in return regular blessings and advice. Once he showed up in Annipoli, Reb Zushe's home town, only to find Reb Zushe's wife
"Where is the Rebbe?"
"He's gone to visit his Rebbe".
"My Rebbe has a Rebbe?"
The rich man was
no fool; "If I've been doing so well from the blessings of the disciple, imagine the jackpot that awaits me if I were to transfer
my support to his master?
He abandoned Zushe, and became a follower of R' Dovber of Mezritch, Zushe's Rebbe.
later, after a series of calamitous business failures, he was back in Hannipoli, totally bankrupt.
"I accept that my failures
are punishment for deserting you," he cried to Zushe, "but why, what was wrong with my logic?"
"There was nothing wrong
with your logic per se" Zushe answered, "just in the application. Till now, when you gave tzedoka without assessing the worthiness
of the recipient, Hashem looked after you, irrespective of whether you truly deserved it. Once you started cross-calculating
where you could get best bang for your buck, Hashem had a good look at how deserving you are, and you obviously came up short."
I submit that this is why it is traditional to increase in charitable giving at this time of the year and that is why
we always read tomorrow's section the week Elul begins. We're committing to change, to improve. We pray that Hashem accepts
us favourably, but who among us can be truly comfortable with the year that was? Ill decisions made, promises broken and wrong
forks taken. Our only hope is that Hashem take us back, warts and all, without looking too closely whether we deserve it.
And, just setting the example to G-d, if you will, we too hand out help with an open hand to all, until, please G-d, this
year we will all receive the greatest gift of all, the final redemption.
Friday, 20 August 2004
We live in an age of irreverence. Gone are the days when us regular folks were willing to admire politicians
from a safe distance, trusting them to do their jobs and content that their private lives should remain just that. Now there
is the attitude that if the greater unwashed public had the grace to elect you, they own you. Paparazzi chase them, their
phone conversations are
monitored by ham-radio enthusiasts and just let a governor try being rude to an airline stewardess
and see how quickly the ensuing scandal makes it to the front page.
If it were just to the extent of ‘keeping the
b---s honest,’ this wouldn’t be so terrible. Public service is a position of trust and if they can’t keep
their grubby hands out of the collective hip pocket of the nation, then they deserve the censure and ridicule that eventuates.
I’m even willing to argue that a politician’s private life is relevant to his performance evaluation. If a person
were willing to violate his oaths of marriage, for instance, for
a short-term indulgence, who is to say that when temptation
comes calling, he wouldn’t place his personal gratification over the national benefit?
What worries me however, is
the sense of diminishment that high office has suffered in the seemingly endless cycle of political scandals, muckraking and
innuendo, which constantly roll over the communal consciousness.
Tomorrow we read of the mitzvah to anoint a king over
ourselves. In our egalitarian age we tend to associate the concept of Majesty with funny looking under-achievers with big
ears and other hereditary disorders, living totally irrelevant lives of ribbon cuttings and receiving lines, serving no use
other than public titillation.
The Torah concept of Majesty is far removed from this flippant foolery. A king was expected
to be “head and shoulders above the nation” an exemplar of the best, most noble existence, representing a standard
of ethics for all to aspire to. A king was not just some figurehead of pomp and pageantry; he was the focus for the nation
in their individual attempts to approach the Divine. The awe and esteem accorded to the king was an approximation of our feeling
to G-d and the king served as an intermediary between ourselves and Hashem
Sure, even in an imperfect world there is
need for leadership. Even an imperfect politician can serve some use. Even with all the cattle trading and attendant compromises
inherent in modern day politics; even after all the broken promises, distortions and superficialities, society functions,
more or less, and law and order are maintained. The ballot box remains an expedient method of ensuring that any politician
subjected to temptation during his turn at the trough doesn’t overreach himself.
But sometimes, don’t you just
find yourself wishing for more? Imagine a system where there would be no need for suspicion; a time when voters wouldn’t
need to wield the weapon of electoral dissatisfaction to ensure
good governance. Imagine a world where the political leader
of the day isn’t just some career policy wonk or megalomaniac with a lust for power. Imagine someone serving the people
as a moral compass, setting direction for a G-dly inspired, truly enlightened society- and guess what, you are imagining Moshiach.