How did the messiah become the pariah? This is a question many people are asking about President Barack Obama. How is it possible that a person can squander so much good will in such a short time? There is the obvious answer and that is that many people are hurting because of the slow pace of economic recovery and they blame it on the president and Congress. But there is more to it than that.
In 2008 Barack Obama and by extension the Democrats made claim to a new type of politics. They were going to change Washington and leave the special interest out and just do what needs to be done for the sake of doing the right thing. This claim is very attractive to most people. Someone who can achieve doing this deserves a very lofty title--although messiah may be too lofty even for that.
In fact, this is what religion--at least the Jewish religion--is supposed to be about. In the Torah, in Genesis, we find Abraham talking to God at the entrance to his tent when suddenly he saw three strangers coming towards him. He asks God to wait while he runs towards the three men and invites them in for a meal. It turns out that these three men were angels and messengers from God. One of them was sent to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Here is where it gets interesting. God said, "Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing (to Sodom and Gomorrah)?...I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:19). What is this “Way of the Lord” that Abraham was keeping to and instructing others to follow? The answer: “To perform righteousness and justice.” What does this really mean in practical terms?
The answer, I believe, is given in the story itself. It starts with Abraham interrupting his preoccupation with the Divine to provide hospitality to strangers. What type of special interest could be more important than giving time to God when He appears to you? However, when faced with the choice of either helping others in need or attending to one’s own interests, no matter how lofty, one who follows the principles of, “The way of the Lord” and of “Justice and Righteousness” will put the interests of others first. This is contrasted with the next part of the story which illustrated the immense selfishness and greed of the people living in Sodom.
Clearly the point of religion is to teach the individual to overcome and rise above their own animalistic and self centered instincts and act in an altruistic manner. Mastering this takes a tremendous amount of inner work and dedication. It is called the “Way of the Lord” because the ability to do what is right without an ulterior motive is not a human trait, it is Godly. When humans overcome their instinct to act with self interest and instead act altruistically they become Godly.
Obama rose to power on the promise of an altruistic type of politics. While governing, however, he failed to convince people that this was truly his nature--it seemed to be just words. There are few things people hate more than inauthenticity. Obama and the Democrats are being punished for portraying themselves as Godly while in truth they were just ordinary mundane politicians.
In the final analysis it seems that people would rather vote for a group who are what they say they are--no matter how awful that may be than for turncoats who portray themselves as something they are not. Something tells me that there is a lesson for us all in this.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts
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