4 min read
Contrary to what we may tell ourselves, it could be us splashed across the front pages of every newspaper.
Ever since the beginning of the creation of man and the infusion of a soul, a spiritual self into our body, our material selves, we have been engaged in a struggle: the desires of the body versus those of the soul. The struggle is ongoing. We have the potential to soar to spiritual heights or sink to base depths. That’s what makes our choices so meaningful.
Sometimes the body drives are very crass and overt. Like the cake in Alice in Wonderland, many foods that are not good for us scream loudly, “Eat me!” And we frequently oblige, often to excess. The body is powerful and its drive overwhelms us, but at least in those cases the temptation is clear; we know who our enemy is.
But sometimes the temptation is much more subtle and insidious. That’s when it gets really dangerous. The appeal to Eve in the Garden was different than the one to Adam. We each have our buttons that can be pushed (just ask your adolescent children!); we each have our price. When I read about the recent college admission scandal, I immediately heard the snake hissing, “There’s a front door and a back door but I can get you in the side door.” It was a unique appeal to a particular set of parents with particular resources, options and goals.
But lest we get complacent, lest we indulge in Schandefreude (that wonderful German word for the pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune), we should stop and take stock. Because contrary to what we may tell ourselves, it could be us. We could, God forbid, be splashed across the front pages of every newspaper. We could, God forbid, lose our careers. We could, God forbid, make a serious mistake in our desperate desire to give our children a leg up, smooth the path for them, give them an advantage, fair or not.
Scandals are a cautionary tale. We can all get confused and cross a line when that snake is hissing in our ear.
And we shouldn’t delude ourselves otherwise. When it says in Ethics of Our Fathers that we shouldn’t be sure of ourselves until the day of our deaths, the example given is of a high priest who lost his way at age 80. If it could happen to him, no one is immune. So while the temptation is to gloat and gossip and shake our heads in disgust and wonderment at the behavior of “those Hollywood types”, the more appropriate response is to search ourselves, to turn the magnifying glass inwards.
Because we are all susceptible, we all have a price, we all have a yetzer hara, a negative inclination lying in wait, ready to pounce if we give it an opening. And we may not always see it. It’s not always that extra cookie (or two). Maybe it’s “Everyone else is doing it.” Maybe it’s “We can’t afford to live in a neighborhood that offers the same good schools so we have to find an advantage another way.” Maybe we had one bad break in business and we do something “just this once” to get things back on track, to take care of our families. Maybe it was just a “little” loophole. Maybe we think the IRS already takes too much of our money. Maybe our spouse really doesn’t understand us – you see where I’m going…
We all make mistakes. All the time. The Almighty doesn’t expect perfection. He expects us to take responsibility and to try to learn and change. But that means we have to be hyper-alert. We have to watch for the pitfalls. We have to acknowledge our honed ability to rationalize. We have to read these stories and instead of gloating, we should be grateful. “There but for the grace of God” and all that.
These scandals are a cautionary tale. We all can be tempted; it’s just a question of what, when and how. While our bank accounts and life styles may differ from the main players in this story, we are not so different. We can all get confused and cross a line when that snake is hissing in our ear. So instead of indulging in more discussion of who is going to replace Lori Loughlin on the Hallmark channel, we should be building fences. What decision am I going to make to ensure that I don’t fall prey to this type of seduction? What action am I going to take to prevent my crossing a line for my children? What strategies am I going to use to heighten my immunity to the provocations of the yetzer hara?
Instead of worrying about or wondering over the behavior of others, let’s worry about our own.