Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

Israeli Politicians: The Shame and the Pride

Last Sunday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went to jail to serve a 19 month sentence, for charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. Olmert is the first ever former Israeli Prime Minister to serve time in prison. Olmert serves his sentence in the same prison in which former President of Israel, Moshe Katzav, is also incarcerated. In recent years, the Israeli Minister of Treasury spent time in prison, as did the Minister of the Interior, as well as several members of Knesset, including one member of Knesset named Omri Sharon, who is the son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. And this is just a partial list.

On the one hand, many Israelis feel depressed about the sordid charade of their leaders being locked behind bars one after the other. But on the other hand, these events also paradoxically highlight the prominence and independence of the judicial system in Israel. In Israel, the rule of law reigns supreme. In the United States, when President Nixon committed a felony, he was immediately pardoned by President Ford. Also, when President Jacques Chirac of France remained silent in police interrogations, the authorities ended up hurriedly closing the case. But not so in Israel. In the Jewish State, no one is above the law, and there is no impunity. This steadfast Jewish commitment to justice, irrespective of one’s ethnic and socio-economic background, has its roots and basis in The Torah. In the Book of Leviticus, the Torah commands us: “Do not aggrandize a great man when he is standing before you in a court of law, for you should judge your fellow with justice (Leviticus 19:15).

In Judaism you can be “the biggest big shot”, but it won’t save you from accountability. Even the great Moses paid a heavy price for his moment of failure, as did King David and King Saul. No one is above the law. Perhaps this is what Albert Einstein had in mind when he spoke with pathos, pride and admiration about our people’s “Almost fanatical love of justice”. When the perpetrators of the French Revolution endeavored to usher in an era of universal justice, their vision and slogan was to create a society typified by “Liberty, fraternity and equality”. In Judaism, we achieve all three of these cardinal values. We find spiritual “liberty” from the shackles of our mortality and tyranny of the mundane, when we embrace G-d in the intimacy of prayer. We achieve “fraternity” by living up to the Talmudic dictum that “All of Israel are guarantors for one another”. We watch each other’s back, by supporting, loving, welcoming, embracing and protecting every Jew across the planet, including our brothers and sisters in Israel. And lastly, we also achieve the ideal of “equality”, by holding everyone accountable for their deeds and misdeeds. So let us also find solace and pride, and not just disheartening shame, in the darkness of political corruption, empowered by the knowledge and the certitude that in the Jewish State righteousness reigns supreme, and the mitzvah of “Justice Justice you shall relentlessly pursue” is not some ivory tower opaque and evasive utopian ideal, but rather – a living steadfast judicial and societal reality.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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