Traditional Jewish commentaries explain the command of “Kedoshim, t’hiyu,” “You shall be holy” to require separation of sorts. Holiness really means to set apart – and holiness requires that whatever is holy be kept separate. It need not be kept secret, but certainly safe.
One of the novel interpretations of this, by Nachmanides, is that people should either moderate or refrain even from that which is permitted to them. (Note: this does not say they should abstain. Jewish tradition teaches that in Heaven, they hold us to account for all the pleasures permitted to us of which we fail to avail ourselves. G-d says, as it were, there aren’t enough things I forbid that you need forbid more on your own accord. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the great modern German Jewish leader once wrote “When I shall stand before G-d, the Eternal One will ask me: Did you see my Alps?”)
Still there’s abstention, participation, and overindulgence. Nachmanides teaches us to partake but not too much.
There is a modern political lesson here. Elected officials and candidates, not to mention staff often do things that are legal, but nonetheless rub people wrong. They charge meals to campaign accounts that have little to do with campaigns, or they abuse official travel or other perks.
It’s not that these things are wrong, but, if you are trying to live a life of leadership, it helps to not overindulge. It is a fine line to draw – and people need to recognize some perks of office are rather needed in order to function effectively. Some, like security for elected officials and their spouses and children (and legislative leaders, cabinet members and even appointed staff who are in the line of succession) are nonnegotiable. The public needs to recognize that as well.
But it would be good to find that middle ground.
This works as well in our own lives, both those of us who work for or have volunteer leadership positions in the community, but even for wholly private individuals, whether at work or home.
Words to consider; ideas to ponder. Politics & the parsha.
Howie Beigelman began writing his Politics & Parsha blog while serving as the OU’s Director of State Affairs. When he left the OU for a corporate communications gig, the blog came with him. Archives of past blog posts, prior to Noach 5772, can be found here as well as @ the Orthodox Union’s Political Advocacy site.