Morally Reprehensible Behavior

For some of us in New Jersey and New York the last couple of weeks post-Sandy have been very difficult. Tensions have been high among those who have endured considerable disruption in their lives. Some people have suffered terrible losses.

Every time I heard complaining about the stresses of living without power or heat, without fuel for our cars or mass transit, I thought of the many people who were living in dark apartment buildings without elevators or heat. I thought of the poor and infirmed, and I thought of those who had no family or friends to help them.

I was reminded of the tremendous challenges of income inequality and the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots in our country. Will this storm’s aftermath teach us to create a more equitable society? Will we remember the outpouring of compassion in the days post-storm and work to help those who are struggling in the months ahead? Will the hard hearts of the self-protected be softened?

Many people in my area are talking about installing permanent generators onto their homes. The “new normal” for the middle class who can afford it will now include storm preparedness. But what about those who can’t afford it?

These thoughts consumed me as we struggled to return to normalcy in my area this week. But that is not what I heard as the lead story on the news this morning. The airwaves were filled with the scandalous story of our CIA director’s affair.  With every possible angle of analysis being discussed on the radio, I became more and more agitated as I listened. The personal tragedy of the Petraeus family is sad. But it is just that – a personal tragedy.

When one commentator emphatically exclaimed that Petraeus’ indiscretion was “morally reprehensible!” I winced. It is not that the general’s extramarital affair wasn’t a sin. Of course it was immoral. But for goodness sake, if we are going to invest such intense emotional energy in decrying “morally reprehensible” behavior, why not direct it at the greed and insensitivity to human needs that is so rampant in our culture?

I was reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah, which we read on Yom Kippur. “Is this the fast that I seek? … Do you call that a fast,

A day when the Lord is favorable?

6 No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

To break off every yoke.

7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him,

And not to ignore your own kin.” 58:8

Petraeus is this week’s sacrificial offering. He may have earned derision, but there is more to it than that. For all the attention paid to his private misdeeds, we are neglecting the real issues that require our sacrifices. How about some anger and some passion for creating a more just and equitable world?

That would be the best news in a week when so many of us are struggling our way out of the storm.

Posted on November 12, 2012

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