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Ki Tavo. Am I a Hypocrite?

Please discuss:

  • What do you think of hypocrisy? Yes... hypocrisy has a negative connotation, but is it legitimate to have different ethical or religious standards at work and at home, in a communal setting and in private?

  • Why do many people find hypocrisy particularly offensive? Why is a “double-standard” perceived as dishonest?

  • One might say that we ALL have a double-standard; many of us act in a slightly different manner when we are away from the gaze of others. Is this reasonable or unreasonable?

Our parsha instructs Israel to convene a national gathering, a covenantal ceremony, at the mountains of Eval and Gerizim. There, twelve pronouncements - twelve “curses” – are invoked against those that break God's law: from idolatry to incest, bribery to assault, parental affront to misleading the blind. Are these twelve sins of particularly severity? Why are these crimes singled out?

Looking at the list (Deut 27:15-26), one specific word jumps out. It is the word, “ba-seter” meaning “in private” or “in secret”. Twice this phrase comes up:

"Cursed be anyone who makes a sculptured or molten image, abhorred by God … and sets it up in secret…. Cursed be he who strikes down a fellow man in secret…" (v.15,24)

These are people who do things in private, and then pass themselves off as upstanding citizens in public.

This notion of sins performed "Ba-Seter - in secret" is rather intriguing. After all, idolatry is a capital offense whether in public or in private. Similarly, you cannot attack another person no matter where you are. Does it matter whether it takes place in broad daylight or behind closed doors? But of course, these are crimes that people do in private, and then pass themselves off as upstanding citizens in public. Only God can curse the offender; because we will never know!

“It is sins which as a rule escape the attention of the human courts, which are here placed under the Rule of God-dispensation of ‘blessing’ and ‘curse’....

...All blessing is denied to him who outwardly plays the pious man devoted to God, but in secret denies the exclusive existence of One God and His Rule; who outwardly is respectful to his parents but inwardly considers himself vastly superior to them (v.16), who in the eyes of men preserves the reputation of an honest man but where unobserved does not hesitate to injure the rights of his neighbour to his own advantage (v.17), who is full of enthusiasm for the welfare of his neighbours in the presence of clever and intelligent people, but pushes short-sighted and blind people into misfortune (v.18); who grovels before the powerful, but denies the weak and helpless their rights (19); pretends to be a respectful member of society, to wallow in sexual licentiousness in his intimate privacy (20) ...” (R. Samson Raphael Hirsch)

Our private lives are under scrutiny no less than our public conduct. Furthermore, this passage asks us to examine our personal behaviour “in private”, and stimulates us to ask the uncomfortable question as to whether we are putting on a façade, presenting ourselves in public as having more integrity than we really have. And further still it challenges us by stating that if our Jewish communal life is hypocritical, if people act religious in public, but fail to uphold their religion in private or away from the communal eye, our Judaism is a failure. We are a Jew in every area of our lives, and not just in the public domain. As we say in the Yom Kippur liturgy:

“You probe all the innermost chambers and test the thoughts and emotions. Nothing is hidden from You and nothing is concealed from Your sight.”

Shabbat Shalom!

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