“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” This is the question you ask when trying to engage a child but don’t quite know what to say. I’m sure all of us were at the receiving end of this query a myriad times throughout our childhoods. I know I certainly was.
My answers ranged from the typical – a mommy – to the slightly more outlandish – a professional astronaut. But never, not once, did I express a desire to be a politician. Let’s be honest. Politicians do not necessarily enjoy the best reputation. After all, during the course of how many election cycles have we heard candidates say, “I will bring back honesty and integrity to Washington” (or Albany or some other state capitol)? But do they ever really do so once elected?
Of course, to say that every single politician is dishonest is like saying that every little boy wants to be a fireman. (Although, truth be told, if my four-year-old son returned from kindergarten one day and told me he wanted to be a biostatistician, I may be more than mildly surprised.) But time and again, we see politicians doing exactly the opposite of what they promote.
They advocate drastic measures to save our planet from climate change but travel on diesel-guzzling, carbon-emitting private planes to spread the message. They advocate a “wealth tax” of 90 percent but simultaneously – yet discreetly, of course – create loopholes so that their own substantial assets won’t be subject to the very laws they’re drafting.
Isn’t this behavior dubious, at best? Utterly dishonest, at worst?
But, since we’re discussing honesty am I really so different? While I certainly don’t travel on a private jet or investigate my off-shore banking options, don’t I fall short, too? Am I really a living, breathing representative of the chosen people? A people whose every action is guided by the moral compass of the Torah’s 613 mitzvos that I profess to accept and follow? Or do I also pick and choose what I keep and how I keep it?
Integrity manifests itself in many ways. Does the life I live truly reflect my values? When I walk into the office, do other employees change their language and conversation or do I become immersed in their culture? Can I walk through the street and be recognized by my behavior as being committed to a higher cause? Or am I just like the average politician – saying one thing, doing another. Living a double life. Going to shul regularly but catching up on the latest gossip instead of opening a siddur. Doing the barest minimum instead of aiming for higher, better.
Many of us have heard the story of the father who pays his income taxes regularly and would never, ever commit a crime, yet claims his son is a year younger than he really is at an amusement park in order to receive a discount. The son, not yet schooled in the ways of selective honesty, asks his father loudly in front of the cashier, “But Dad, I thought I was already nine!” Fast forward 10 years, and that son is thrown out of college for repeatedly cheating on his exams.
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt”l, was the embodiment of truth. Anything less than perfect honesty was anathema to him. It is said that a certain yeshiva in the middle of a building campaign asked him to sign a fundraising letter. Rav Yaakov refused since the letterhead contained an architectural rendering of what the school would look like when construction was completed. It contained a few trees and other embellishments that did not actually exist (and probably never would). Rav Yaakov felt that he could not sign something that wasn’t 100 percent honest and straightforward.
It’s not for nothing that we are warned to distance ourselves from falsehoods. We are warned that if we skirt around its edges (What do you mean – the law/boss/contract never said I can’t actually do that?), we will likely breech them and jump headfirst into the mires of dishonesty.
So, the next time I read media reports that a climate-change-promoting politician spent $30,000 on greenhouse-polluting Ubers (instead of taking the subway just down the street), I will deem it a perfect opportunity to remind myself that I, a card-carrying member of the chosen people – even more than her – must pledge to tell and live the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.