Of all the peoples of the ancient Middle Eastern world, only the Jewish people today can claim a culture that has survived continuously for 3,000 years. There are no more Jebusites or Moabites, Ammonites or Hittites, but there are still Jews. No one really knows the "secret" of the survival of the Jewish people, but it certainly makes sense that one factor is the moral code promulgated in the Torah.
It's not a big surprise that the Torah has a rather different view of human morality than American pop culture. The show "Survivor" suggests that survival is based on individual strength and ruthless competition. Each person must do everything possible to thwart others. It is ironic that even in the show, this strategy is obviously flawed, and those who make alliances clearly improve their chances. In the American pop-culture pageant of survival, these interpersonal agreements must be kept secret. In Torah, mutual aid is held up as a value.
Deuteronomy teaches, "If there is a needy person among you in any of the land Adonai your God gives you, do not harden your heart. ... Rather, open your hand and lend what your neighbor needs" (15:7-8). The tribal world of the Torah isn't a dog-eat-dog competition. The "primitive" society of the ancient Hebrews is interdependent--all members of the community jointly support each other and their religious and political institutions.
"Survivor" implies that life is a war, and that war is a relentless struggle without pity or compassion. The Torah, on the other hand, explains that even in times of war, compassion is a key to ethical survival. According to Deuteronomy, when the tribal Israelites fought, certain people were exempt. Anyone who had recently built a house or planted a vineyard or married was left behind to pursue these more peaceful endeavors. In addition, those who were fearful, far from being shamed and humiliated, were sent home.
But the truth is that, like the characters of "Survivor," we don't really know the authentic personalities of most politicians. Success in such a popularity contest based on public image will not reward merit or integrity, but rather the ability to be superficially appealing and to manipulate the emotions of others. In contrast, the Torah strives for a system of equity: "You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality" (16:19).
The Torah commands the appointment of officials whose primary focus is fairness. If these leaders experience a situation that is difficult, the Torah suggests humility. They are directed to look to God for help. It is difficult to imagine most of the characters connected with "Survivor" having humility or turning to God.
What is the purpose of surviving if only to pursue money and fleeting fame? I venture that those involved with this sad portrayal of human venality will not find their lives enriched in any meaningful way. A year from now, no one will look to the program "Survivor" for inspiration, but I have complete faith that in 3,000 years people will still look to this Torah portion and read its stirring words about what is really important in life: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof--"Justice, justice shall you pursue."