by Rabbi Daniel Freitag
Our country’s current election predicament leaves many
people feeling quite uneasy. It is very unsettling to
be caught in what feels like the election process of
M.C. Escher. The seemingly endless twists and turns
of what used to be a simple, painless procedure has
caused more than its share of sleepless nights.
As I watch the scenario unfold, I am reminded of my
days on the sandlot of my Yeshiva Cheder (Elementary)
School in Monsey, NY. I vividly recall the disputes
that arose during those childhood ballgames a rabble
of young boys, shouting and gesticulating; a chorus of
"Safe! He was safe!" mingling with "No way! He was
out!" After some time on the second-grade sandlot, I
realized that I was witnessing a unique sociological
phenomenon (though I didn’t describe it as such at the
time). Somehow, all of those who felt that the runner
was safe happened to be on the runner’s team, while
those who believed that he was out were invariably
those on the opposing squad.
The situation in Palm Beach County, Florida seems very
similar. Apparently, a confusing ballot was used,
which has led to claims of voter misrepresentation.
While Bush supporters ridicule this assertion, and
Gore backers demand a recount of the "obviously"
flawed ballot, I am reminded of age-old sandlot
What if we polled these two groups with the following
question Do you believe that the ballot in Palm Beach
County was flawed to a degree that it warrants a
re-vote? Is it more than likely that the respondents’ answers
would divide along party lines? A recent national survey of just that
question received responses in exact proportion to votes received for
each party. Apparently, visual
acuity is cultivated differently depending on one's
The American political system recently offered us a
similar sample of this sociological peculiarity at
play. When President Clinton was investigated for
perjury and obstruction of justice about a year ago,
the House of Representatives voted on the issue of
impeachment, and the Senate soon after voted on his
possible removal from office.
While some representatives crossed party lines, the
majority of Democrats felt that the president’s
actions "Did not rise to the level of impeachment,"
while their Republican colleagues believed just the
Partisan politics really find their roots in biblical
sources. The Torah tells us that "Bribery blinds the
eyes of the wise, and turns aside the words of the
righteous." Bribery affects not only those of
questionable character, but the most pious amongst us
as well. And it is not confined to monetary
enticement, but involves any action that promotes
self-interest. Every person will defend some behavior
or position - whether culturally, personally or
otherwise acquired -- at the expense of rational,
objective analysis. Truth is available only to those
who seek it wholeheartedly.
A midrash tells a story of a man who, while plowing his
newly-purchased field, uncovered a box filled with
treasures. The jewels’ ownership was fiercely
contested. A great king witnessed the case as it unfolded. The land's
owner asserted that, since he had sold the land
without knowledge of the jewels, and had
wholeheartedly relinquished the property, the jewels
rightfully belonged to the purchaser. The purchaser,
however, countered that, since he had had no knowledge
of the jewels at the time of purchase, he certainly
had not considered them as part of the sale, and they
therefore should awarded to the original owner. The
judge resolved the dispute by arranging a marriage
between the children of the two parties.
Noticing that the king was crying, the judge
approached him. The king explained, "In my country we
would kill the two parties and keep the jewels for
ourselves." But his reaction must have been inspired by more than the
judge's insight; it was the incredible impartiality of the parties
involved which gave way to the king's existential crisis.
Every individual senses that truth is a necessary
virtue; no one intends to be duplicitous or
subjective. We must realize, however, the prevalence
of bribery around us, and that the strength to resist
its powerful grasp comes only with hard work and a
willingness to overcome our natural drive of
self-promotion and preservation.
Rabbi Daniel Freitag is the director of the Owings Mills Torah Center.