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Doing the Right Thing – Despite Orders from On High

“Put not your trust in the great (“princes”), in mortal man who cannot save,” says the Psalmist. Alas, it’s not the only advice we tend to ignore. For example, we often ascribe to politicians, especially those whom we support, qualities they don’t possess. When we discover how wrong we were, we appear to be shocked. And I’m not writing now about Trump.

Israelis can look back on at least one prime minister who behaved in exemplary fashion in his personal life. Whether or not we agreed with things Menachem Begin was responsible for, we knew that he lived by the standards he advocated. I think the same may be true of Sweden. Throughout my years there, Tage Erlander was its prime minister. By all accounts, he lived as modestly and behaved as honestly as he expected others to do, unless, of course, one day some researcher will dig up facts that challenge my impressions.

I don’t know about Sweden today, but I know that Israeli politicians don’t always live by the policies they advocate. The fact that several of them, including a former prime minister, have served prison sentences and that the current prime minister has been indicted for serious crimes is an apt and sad illustration.

The corona crisis has confronted Israelis with at least three instances of leaders flaunting rules that they have set and which they expect others to obey. First, we hear that Minister of Health Ya’akov Litzman has attended services in one of the synagogues of his Gur Hasidim sect, though the government of which he is a member – and at the recommendation of the ministry he heads – forbade us to do so.

Second, contrary to rules that prevented us to celebrate the Seder with our families, Israel’s president had invited members of his family to be with him on the Eve of Passover. When found out, he apologized by saying that since his wife died, his daughter and other family members would accompany him. The government of the country of which he’ s the titular head doesn’t provide for such exemptions and apologies don’t prevent risks.

Thirdly, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who in persuasive speeches explains why strict rules must be imposed for the safety of citizens, was photographed sitting at the table at home with one of his sons who doesn’t live in the same house. And he hasn’t even apologized.

These are wholesome reminders that we shouldn’t be lulled into emulating “princes” we vote for and see as our leaders. I recall that Isaac Bashevis Singer, the great Yiddish writer and Nobel Prize laurate, averred once that, “Even if I lived across the road from Tolstoy, I’d read all his books but I wouldn’t try to have tea with him.”

There’re probably very cogent reasons for following the rules set out by the authorities to protect ourselves and others from the pandemic. Following the examples of politicians (and perhaps other “important people”) isn’t one of them.

Jerusalem 12.4.20                                                                                                              Dow Marmur

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  • Phyllis Wintraub

    Rabbi Marmur: It is hard to have any conversations these days without, even should we not wish to, invoking the dreaded name–Trump.

    Apparently Trump’s conveniently converted to Judaism’s daughter Ivanka, the wife of the equally despised Jared Kushner, HAD to drive with her children to New Jersey to be with her in-laws for Passover. To accomplish this visit didn’t just involve the Kushners, but also the requisite involvement of police and Secret Service apparently due a child of a sitting President.

    So despite the fact that millions of hereditary Jews managed to be separated from their extended families at Pesach this year, Ivanka inconvenienced and endangered the service and health of many first responders to attend her husband’s family’s Seder.

    Another instance of why we should not put our faith in princes but also not in faux princess’s either.

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