Integrity Right Now, Not Thoughts and Prayers

There’s a story about a troubled mother who had a daughter who was addicted to sweets. One day she approached Gandhi, explained the problem to him and asked whether he might talk to the young girl. Gandhi replied: “Bring your daughter to me in three weeks’ time and I will speak to her.”

After three weeks, the mother brought her daughter to him. He took the young girl aside and spoke to her about the harmful effects of eating sweets excessively and urged her to abandon her bad habit.

The mother thanked Gandhi for this advice and then asked him: “But why didn’t you speak to her three weeks ago?”

Gandhi replied: “Because three weeks ago, I was still addicted to sweets.”

And there’s the lesson: We must do more than just point out the right road to others, we must be on that road ourselves. For this reason, the integrity of our private lives and private morals, down to the smallest detail, is the real power behind our words.

In describing the construction of the Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, in this week’s Torah portion, the Torah instructs, ‘v’tzipita oto zahav tahor, mibayit umihutz t’tzapenu- overlay it with pure gold, overlay it inside and out.”

It is easy to understand why the outside of the ark should be covered with pure gold, for it impresses the beholder with its magnificence. But why put gold on the interior, where no one will ever see it?

Our Sages answered this question as follows:

“Just as the Holy Ark is covered with gold on the outside, so, too, it must be covered with gold on the inside, in order to teach an important lesson: ‘a human being must be as pure on the inside as her is on the outside.’”

When a person appears to be kind, he should feel kindly; when he appears to be charitable, hospitable, or well mannered, his conduct should match his inner feelings. Our Sages utilized architectural details of the Tabernacle to set standards for our behavior. And, in this case, they are criticizing, what we would call, hypocrisy.

The words, “hypocrisy” and “hypocrites” are so often and so freely used, that it may be helpful to understand their origin. The word, “hypocrite,” is derived from the Greek words, “hypo krisis,” which originally meant, “to play a part.” It was a term taken from the ancient Greek practice of having actors wear masks denoting the character they were portraying. This gave rise to the accepted definition of the word, “hypocrite” as a person who pretends to be what he is not, or a person who expresses what he does not feel.

We tend to disapprove of of hypocrisy in any form. We disapprove of the devoted husband who cheats on his wife. We look with disdain on the pious person caught in a dishonest deal.

But, there are many types of hypocrisy that are widely practiced with little awareness that they constitute a form of hypocrisy. Take, for example, a host who makes up a guest list and invites people whom he neither likes nor respects, because he thinks they will add prestige to the social function.

Or, how a person will gushingly compliment another, and disparage her behind her back. Of course, it is easier to recognize this type of hypocrisy in others, than in ourselves.

There are also other types of hypocrisy which people commonly practice without even being aware that they are forms of hypocrisy.

Consider for instance, the element of hypocrisy implicit in the simple word, “but.” What do people really mean when, as in the following case, they use the word, “but?”

A person says,

“I’m not really prejudiced against Blacks, but I don’t like them living next door.”


“I think people should take a more active role in community affairs, attend synagogue more regularly, give more generously, but I….” and you can fill in your own reasons for not doing what you said should be done- by others.

The word, “but” represents a disguised form of hypocrisy that enables a person to hold one position verbally, and to act in just the opposite fashion.

Judaism, when it explained why the Holy Ark had to be covered with gold both inside and outside, was telling us,
“Let us speak what we think. Let us do what we feel is right. Let us make good what we promise. And, let us be what we appear to be.

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but also, Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago city block.

Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son whom he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had clothes, cars and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was. Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; he couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example.

One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scarface” Capone, clean up his tarnished name, and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great.

So, he testified.

Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he could ever pay. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:

The clock of life is wound but once,

And no man has the power

To tell just when the hands will stop

At late or early hour.

Now is the only time you own.

Live, love, toil with a will.

Place no faith in time,

For the clock may soon be still.

And now this brings us to tonight and another horror-filled week. And such a lack of integrity. Such hypocrisy!

We all know the drill by now:
As news of the killing comes in, cable channels give it wall-to-wall coverage.
The NRA ducks its head down and goes dark for hours or days, in its Twitter and other social-media outlets.
Politicians who have done everything possible to oppose changes in gun laws, and who often are major recipients of NRA contributions, offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims, say they are “deeply saddened,” praise the heroes of law enforcement and of medical treatment who have tried to limit the damage, and lament the mental-health or cultural problems that have expressed themselves via an AR-15.

“Thoughts and prayers” are of course admirable. But after an airline crash, politicians don’t stop with “thoughts and prayers” for the victims; they want to get to the bottom of the cause. After a fatal fire, after a botched response to a hurricane, after a food-poisoning or product-safety failure or a nursing-home abuse scandal, “thoughts and prayers” are the beginning of the public response but not the end. After a shooting they are both.
These same politicians say that the aftermath of a shooting is “not the right time” to “politicize” the tragedy by talking about gun laws or asking why only in America do massacres happen week after week after week.

The right time to discuss these policies is “never.”
The news moves on; everyone forgets except the families and communities that are forever changed.
The next shooting comes, “thoughts and prayers” are offered, and the cycle resumes.
If this summary sounds too cynical, think back to what has happened since a gunman killed or wounded more than 900 people in Las Vegas less than five months ago.
Nothing has changed.
Support NRA
I don’t think so.
Thoughts and prayers.
They are not enough.
I want integrity.
I want honesty.
I want action.
What do you want?
“Just as the Holy Ark is covered with gold on the outside, so, too, it must be covered with gold on the inside, in order to teach an important lesson: ‘a human being must be as pure on the inside as her is on the outside.’”

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