Judaism: Ego, Shame, Disgrace - So What?
Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
Part of the collateral damage being inflicted upon our current Western democratic society by the loosening of all moral and legal restraints on speech, assembly and sexuality is that there is apparently no longer any meaning to the concepts of shame and disgrace. Unbridled arrogance and inflated personal ego rule the world of politics, religion and public life.
A convicted felon serves as one of the representatives of the religious world in the Knesset and as the head of a religious party. He speaks in the name of Torah though Torah requires humility and a healthy sense of shame and embarrassment not brazenness and deviousness. But that is not really his fault, for great rabbis back him and are openly subservient to his power. There is no moral voice that is allowed to protest this desecration of Torah. Where there is no sense of shame present originally, only a disgraceful sense morality can follow.
In New York state two prominent former office holders who were forced to resign their public and powerful offices because of their sexually immoral behavior (unfortunately both are Jewish) are again running for major public offices in the upcoming New York City elections.
Ego knows no limits and lust in all of its forms, including lust for power and publicity, is its unchecked product. One’s own family and eternal memory are willingly offered up on the altar of one’s own egotistical and narcisstic view of one’s entitlements and position in life. How sad it is to view such self-destructive behavior. And how sad it is for society generally to be abused by such scenes, and punished by such shameless attempted leadership.
The imbroglio regarding the selection of the chief rabbis of Israel also illustrated the lack of shame that permeates our society. Nepotism (both new chief rabbis are sons of two former chief rabbis who both still wield considerable power and clout), the political deal between them, attempted rigged legislation and electoral committee-stacking all ruled the day. To say nothing about the arrest of the current Ashkenazic chief rabbi on charges of corruption and money laundering; in my opinion, all this makes the prize of becoming a chief rabbi a rather dubious honor.
There are many calls from different parts of Israeli society to abolish these positions completely and to reform the granting of religious services in the country in a more transparent and efficient manner. Though the abolishment of the institution of the chief rabbinate as it is today is unlikely to occur in the very near future, the clamor against its deficiencies and the public discussion of its relevance and necessity has constantly grown over the past decades.
It will take only a few more scandals to arrive at the tipping point – and then possible extinction. And since no real sense of shame and humility has been exhibited by any of the factions involved, it is inevitable that further scandals will now only wait in the wings for public disclosure. How sad it is that those who purport to represent Torah are engaged in trampling its good name under their ego-driven feet.
However, one should not despair. Much of this is simply a reflection of the realities of the weaknesses of the human condition. Jews, even those who should have known better, may stumble and fall, for after all we are only human. But Judaism, Torah and the lofty values and ideals that are the warp and woof of Jewish tradition remain unsullied. And one of the basic requirements of the Jewish value system is a vibrant and healthy sense of shame.
The prophet condemns Israel for not possessing the shame that a thief experiences at being caught red-handed in his moment of thievery. But this metaphor is weakened in a society where the thief shows little or no remorse regarding his actions and behavior. At the very minimum, we, the public society of Israel and world Jewry, should demand that our leaders exhibit a sense of shame and a propensity to avoid disgrace.
If this is true regarding our political and governmental leaders it is doubly true and necessary regarding those who purport to be our religious and spiritual leaders. For a sense of shame brings forth probity and propriety in behavior and speech and eventually engenders wisdom in actions and performance. And I think we can all agree that this is what we hope to receive from those who aspire to lead us into a brighter future.