Sunday, October 30, 2016

Entitlement and the Billy Graham Rule

Left wing columnist and author, Ari Shavit
When speaking of entitlements in the current political climate, one may think of government programs that offer free services or money to individual groups of people which are paid for by the taxpayer. Medicare for the elderly is a prime example of that. Although a worthy entitlement program that deserves to be supported, one may argue that giving people something for nothing - even in noble cause - is an untenable enterprise. It will ultimately be unsustainable. Put another way, there is no such things as a free lunch.

But there is another kind of entitlement that is far worse. And it often accompanies celebrity. Which at the end of the day exposes the moral failings of people once seen as virtuous .The truth is that true virtue is incorruptible. A truly virtuous person will not take advantage of their celebrity when the temptations of the flesh occur.

The Gemarah actually deals with temptations of the flesh: Ayn Apitropus L’Arayos – there is no guardian for matters of the flesh! Everyone has their own personal ‘devils’ that are difficult to fend off when they present themselves. There are in fact discussions in the Gemerah about various sages that had their temptations and overcame them only with great effort. They had virtue. They are our role models. But celebrity is a strong devil. It is an enabler that few who achive it overcome, no matter how virtuous they may be in other ways.

In a surprising turn of events, left wing author and Ha’artez former columnist Ari Shavit recently admitted that he was the individual described by journalist Danielle Berrin, that sexually assaulted her during an interview in 2014. He apologized but claimed his advances were misunderstood. He claims he was only trying to ‘date’ her. But the actions described by Berrin can hardly be described as an attempt at courtship. What is ironic about this is that Shavit has been a champion for women’s rights. Turns out he is a sexual predator preying on the very people whose rights he claims to champion.

That sense of entitlement people like Shavit results in shedding any inhibitions they might otherwise have. They feel entitled to do whatever they want and indulge themselves thinking they are invincible. No one expressed this sense of entitlement  better than Donald  Trump in an off the cuff conversation with former Access Hollywood host, Billy Bush:
(W)hen you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," 
In a similar vein, is what former US senator and Presidential candidate, John Edwards said in a public apology after getting caught cheating on his sick wife. The sense of power and celebrity he achieved as a public figure led him to a false sense of invincibility. Like Trump, he too thought he could do anything.   

When celebrities get caught their true character gets exposed. Just think of all the prominent people this applies to. Some of whom were once viewed as paragons of virtue:

John Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, Moshe Katzav, Moti Elon...

And that – by far - is just a partial list. (Note that there are no women on this list. There are of course women that are guilty of this kind of behavior, too. Sexual harassment works both ways. But I believe that in the vast majority of cases – men are the most likely culprits.)

I’d like to believe that most of us would resist such temptation were we to become celebrities. But as mentioned above - the Gemarah tells us, Ayn Apitropus L’Aryaos. If the sages could be tempted, it is reasonable to assume that those of us that are not sages could be tempted too.

The question arises, if my analysis is true, what are we to do with all this information? Is there anything we can do to prevent this phenomenon? I think that the concept of Ayn Apitropus L’Aryos is instructive. Halacha actually deals with it in a way that would help prevent this kind of behavior. A way that is not lost on one non Jew who uses it himself. It’s called Hilchos Yichud. One should never seclude themselves with a member of the opposite sex. Even for the most innocuous of reasons. Even though most of the time nothing will happen, those times when it does make it imperative that we strictly observe this very important Halacha.

Evangelist preacher Billy Graham once said that he was never alone with a woman that was not his wife any kind of secluded area. I hate to use a Christian preacher that may have been an antisemite as a role model. But on this issue, he was right.