It may be a twist of fate that Eliot Spitzer faced his downfall a few days before Purim, the Jewish holiday that entertains how people are often not what they appear. Spitzer appeared to be someone who defended and upheld the law of the land. He was known as a ruthless attorney general. Now we know it was all a mask.
Spitzer’s sin was not only that he cheated on his wife. He also cheated on the people of New York who voted him into office as governor to uphold the laws of the land.
I can’t tell you how many Jewish friends and colleagues have told me they cringed when they heard the news about another Jew involved in a shanda (shame, scandal). We are averaging about one a year. Jack Abramoff’s lobbying scandal in 2006. Paul Wolfowitz giving his girlfriend a cushy job at the World Bank in 2007. Now Spitzer in 2008.
What is it with these guys? Have they no sense of shame? Or, as Rabbi Stern implies, do they just think they can do whatever they can get away with? This dynamic is also discussed by the rabbis in Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot). They wrote: Know that a seeing eye is above you and everything is written. The point is: we shouldn’t do things because we think we won’t get caught; God sees everything and records all. Obviously others can see too, as Spitzer sadly discovered, a bit too late.
Anthony Weiss, in an analysis for the Forward, points out that the Jewish community had embraced Spitzer as a favorite son even though Spitzer held himself somewhat aloof from the Jewish community. Intermarried, with little contact with the organized Jewish world, Spitzer nevertheless claimed that Jewish values inspired his liberal outlook and commitment. Too bad he could not also apply those same Jewish values to his interpersonal and professional life: values such as honesty, the sanctity of marriage, and following the law of the land.