Think Again: Prefer the collective good

The Chazon Ish can help explain our leaders' blindness.

chazon ish 88 (photo credit: )
chazon ish 88
(photo credit: )
Is there a connection between the corruption and venality of the current government and its disastrous conduct of the war in Lebanon? Before jumping to answer affirmatively, we would do well to remember that history is replete with examples of outstanding leaders whose private lives were far from exemplary, and the opposite. Even virtues do not automatically translate from one realm to another. Israel's most decorated soldier - a man of outstanding bravery and clear thinking under fire - proved a cowardly and confused prime minister. Still the ethical lapses of the present Kadima-led government inevitably raise the question of the connection between private and public conduct. At the top of the pyramid of those under investigation or indictment is the prime minister. According to Haaretz's Ari Shavit, Ehud Olmert and his wife will soon be summoned by the state comptroller to explain why a developer sold him a new apartment for $1,500 less per square meter than it cost him to develop, and for little more than half the per-meter price of other apartments in the building. The state comptroller will want to know whether the half-million-dollar windfall is related to the highly unusual zoning variances granted the developer by the former mayor's cronies in the Jerusalem municipality. Justice Minister Haim Ramon has already resigned after being indicted. MK Tzahi Hanegbi, head of the powerful Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense and one of the first to jump from Likud to Kadima, will reportedly soon be indicted for using the Environment Ministry in a manner that would have done Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall proud. And the state comptroller is investigating illegal campaign contributions from American billionaire Daniel Abraham to vice premier Shimon Peres. (The ubiquitous Abraham purchased Olmert's former apartment for almost twice the price per square meter as his new apartment, even though the latter is in a more expensive neighborhood - the kind of favor not soon forgotten.) Illegality is only part of the issue. Whether or not Ramon's stolen kiss was consensual, what could have possessed someone who came into office brimming with good ideas for major reforms to risk his entire public career for the most fleeting of pleasures? And on July 12? There was nothing illegal about Olmert's appointment of Amir Peretz as defense minister. But both knew that Peretz was totally unqualified for the post, and that Israel is not a Benelux country that can afford a defense minister on training wheels. Forced to choose between his own ego gratification and the national interest in matters of life or death, Peretz chose the former. Nor did Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz break any law when he sold shares three hours after Hizbullah attacked Israel. That he had time to think of his stock portfolio while planning a war in which 160 Israelis would die and a million citizens were forced to flee their homes does not, however, sit well. The overweening ambition displayed by our politicians is unique. They shamelessly rush to proclaim to all and sundry their superior qualifications for the highest position currently available. HAD OUR leaders guided us to victory, the media and likely the justice system would have forgiven their private failings. But the government prosecuted the war like the gang that could not shoot straight, without even trying to achieve its own announced objectives. Israel has always sought quick victories before the UN could step in to save our enemies. This time we pursued a lackadaisical battle plan, as if waiting for the UN to step in and save us. After three days, it was clear that trying to take out Katyushas from the air is akin to shooting a mosquito with a blunderbuss. Yet it would be more than four more weeks before the IDF undertook large-scale ground operations in the areas where most of the Katyushas were located - and then only after the UN was poised to vote a cease-fire. The government squandered a blank check from the Americans to destroy Hizbullah, the fortitude of residents of the North, and the bravery of our soldiers to entrust the security of our northern border to UNIFIL. RABBI AVRAHAM Yeshaya Karelitz, universally known as the Chazon Ish, can help explain our leaders' blindness and lack of resolve. Today the Chazon Ish is known to the secular public, if at all, for his famous meeting with David Ben-Gurion. Yet I never spoke to anyone who knew him who did not consider him the greatest human being he ever met. Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz once asked the Chazon Ish why he did not hold a certain Torah scholar in the same high esteem that others did. The Chazon Ish replied that the person in question was incapable of rising above his personal self-interest. "A person can have any number of shortcomings and still be considered a great man," explained the Chazon Ish. "But being in thrall to one's self-interest is different. It is not a single fault, but an all-encompassing blemish. His teaching of Torah will be tinged with self-interest, his davening will be tinged with self-interest, even his acts of hessed will be tinged with self-interest." If one never learns to control one's desires and ambitions (and apparently jogging does not provide the necessary discipline), one's thought processes will inevitably be tainted by self-interest. The lifetime habit of viewing each situation through the lens of "What's in it for me?" corrupted our leaders' thought processes and left them unable to focus exclusively on national objectives. Not accidentally perhaps did the prime minister make his fortune at a time when Knesset rules permitted MKs to maintain private legal practices - an open invitation to using one's public position for private gain. For the moral rot of our leaders, we have paid a high price.