Across Israel, Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs.
His tragic saga was all too familiar. His mesmerizing talent rapidly captured the world’s attention. His impeccable image of integrity gained him the respect and affection of multitudes. His solid control of the media was remarkable.
Suddenly, though, reality caught up with Tiger Woods. His illustrious image exploded, his once-shining light dimmed, and all because of one singular sin: infidelity.
Tiger Woods is just one of many public figures who recently have fallen from grace for the identical reason. The question, of course, is why their hearts lead them astray. Were they miserably married? Was it the great influence they’d gained? Was it the abundant wealth they’d accumulated? Was it the national stage they’d conquered?
Why would a seemingly happy, seemingly moral, unquestionably prosperous individual consciously bring irreversible destruction to the essential fundaments of his life?
It appears the climb to power brings along a frightening yet indissoluble friend: solitude. People with power are indeed lonely. The distance they are forced to maintain by virtue of their lofty positions enwraps their world in an uncomfortable sense of solitude that is very difficult to handle.
The innate nature of a human being drives him to interact with society on a regular basis. This phenomenon is evident when children are afraid to sleep alone at night, or when adults spend an exorbitant amount of time and financial and emotional resources to create bonds with strangers for the sole reason of escaping the threat of loneliness.
Aristotle put it best: “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.”
Yet if solitude stands as a contrast to the basic human characteristic of social interaction, how can people cope with it efficiently? Should we battle it and strive to eliminate it? Should we compel ourselves to continuously engage in social activities and hope that our state of solitude eventually dissipates? Or should we embrace our inner lonely state, regardless of its sense of discomfort?
History has shown that both paths are misleading. Those who have chosen the path of social detachment have often fallen into the traps of futility, hopelessness and despair. Because when one chooses to be alone in the world, he rejects the mission God has given each and every human being: to make the world a better and more divine place, specifically through social interaction. This idea led the Talmudic Sages to exclaim (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 23b: “Either friendship and peer study or death.”
By contrast, the second path encourages a person to battle solitude by actively interacting with society. The followers of this path hold that a man must fully interact with his surroundings. Yet, despite the superiority of this approach, there lies within it two prominent dangers.
First, society can influence a person’s conduct negatively. As Maimonides wrote, “It is natural to be influenced, in sentiments and conduct, by one’s neighbors and associates.”
Second, if one is not morally and emotionally equipped, it is very easy to fall for the illusion of love offered by the opportunists in our midst. Tiger Woods’s plunge epitomizes the vulnerability of human beings when faced with seducing exploiters who wear fake masks of love and care. Unfortunately, by the time Woods and so many others discover the real faces behind the masks of their exploiters, it is all too late.
So what is the secret formula to human interaction? How can we mingle with society without being influenced or exploited by it? Perhaps the answer is found in the fascinating biblical story of Joseph.
When Potiphar’s beautiful wife tried to seduce Joseph, he hesitated. But at the last minute he overcame the immense temptation thanks to an omnipotent revelation that suddenly captured his sight: “The face of his father, Jacob, appeared before him,” Rashi’s commentary states.(According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Horayot, chapter 2) Joseph also visualized the face of his mother.)
It was the vision of his saintly father that pulled Joseph back to his roots and values. This sheds light on the exemplary education Joseph received. The image of one’s father does not appear to him by mere happenstance. It can only appear and have such miraculous effects if it has been established in a person’s mind, over a long period of time, as a loving authority that shiningly personifies God’s values and ethics.
Joseph’s triumph was a powerful testament to his father’s extraordinary education, and a strong reminder to all parents and educators that education is not about the words you preach or the love you cultivate. Rather, it is about the ethical values you embody and the authority of divine morals you inculcate in your children and disciples.
A few years ago, a talented young man sought the advice of my dear mentor Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz on how he should grow and succeed.
“My wife says you’re skilled,” Rabbi Steinsaltz complimented the young man, a rising rabbinic leader. “But be cautious of the illusions that you may encounter. People will invite you to speak and provide enjoyment and pleasure. They will even smile at you and pay you a decent compensation. But, at the end of the day, many of them really care for their pleasure more than they care for you. Therefore, always surround yourself with a base of people who really love you and care about you. And it is that base that you must cultivate and trust.”
The Tiger Woods saga should compel each of us to face the challenges of solitude by dedicating ourselves uncompromisingly to the ethical morals and divine values of the Torah, and by nurturing our relationships with those who truly care about us – parents, spouses, children, etc.
It is our embodiment of these values that will appear in the minds of our dear children when they face life’s arduous tribulations and seductive temptations. Our everlasting image will then enable them to thrive where Woods and others have tragically failed.
About the Author: Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a popular educator, lecturer and author of many essays and writings on the Judaism and social analysis.
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The answer is an emphatic no.
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