On My Immunity to Politics, or Why Trust Me?

Click Here to Vote in Zehut International PrimariesThe two most unctuous words a politician can say to a voter are, “Trust me.” Politicians can never be trusted.

But I’m not a politician.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from the 1987 classic The Princess Bride. The Man in Black challenges the Sicilian Vizzini to a battle of wits to rescue Buttercup. The Man in Black tells Vizzini that one of two wine cups is poisoned with iocane powder. Vizzini switches the cups when he’s not looking, and waits for the Man in Black to drink his own cup first. He does. Vizzini then drinks, certain that his cup was not poisoned.

In the end, Vizzini dies, and the Man in Black lives. How?

“Both cups were poisoned,” the Man in Black says to Buttercup. “I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”

This, my Zehut International friends, is politics. The most pure-hearted with the best possible intentions go in idealistically, and invariably come out dirty. If you go into politics and you want to stay clean, you have to know that every cup is poisoned and you must spend years building up an immunity to it.

I spent the last few years building up an immunity to politics, and that’s why I choose to drink the cup.

How am I immune? Let me tell you a personal story. Years ago I was working in Tel Aviv in marketing. My manager and I actually were quite friendly and we got along well. We’d argue a lot, him a secular Tel Avivi, me a dati American Oleh, immigrant. One day we argued about Ma’aser, giving a tenth of our incomes to tzedaka.

I told him that while I do slip up in other areas of religious practice from time to time, I am super machmir, very strict, about giving Ma’aser. This is my mitzvah, and if there’s one mitzvah I am going to do right, it’s this one. I make sure I give a tenth of my income every month to the Tzedaka of my choice.

Why am I so strict about this Mitzvah specifically? It’s not because I’m some pious man of faith or anything. In fact, my faith and religiosity are quite lacking. I am strict about Ma’aser for quite selfish reasons actually. Because this is the only Mitzvah that we are halachically permitted to test G-d on, and I needed to test Him. In other words, we are allowed to give Tzedaka as a test to see if G-d returns the money to us in some way.

In many ways, my faith in G-d is anchored in this practice, and it has been ever since I started earning my own living. But what really cemented it as the basis for my own faith in G-d is the challenge I made to my boss in 2012. He told me he didn’t earn enough to give Ma’aser every month, though he tries. So I said the following to him, perhaps irresponsibly, but I said it. (Sometimes I’m too confrontational.)

“I bet you that before the end of the year, I’m going to get a better job and you’re going to be laid off.” He laughed. that was our type of banter. But I was serious.

In the meantime, I applied to a new job that I wanted, one that would let me stay home and write about economics. On my birthday that year, I got the new job, and went out to a nice breakfast to celebrate with my wife before I went to work. I was going to tell my manager that day that I was quitting, but since I was coming in late, he actually called me first.

He called me at breakfast and told me the company was shutting down. I was absolutely dumbfounded. And I remembered the wager I made him, but didn’t bring it up. I told him, what a coincidence, I was just going to tell you that I’m quitting.

Here’s the point though. I have been a libertarian since 2012, even before that crazy day. But ever since that day, I became religious about it. Blending religious libertarianism with halachic Judaism has not been without its challenges I admit, but my life philosophy – my immunity to politics essentially – is this:

The Gemara in Shabbos 31A says that the first question we will all be asked when we die is נשאת ונתת באמונה? Were you honest in business? Did you steal money? Did you avoid paying debts? Did you swindle people?

I am not the most machmir – halachically strict – of observant Jews, and I have my own religious shortcomings. But I have chosen this aspect of halacha as my forte, my personal mitzva that I have chosen to fulfill as perfectly and as strictly as I possibly can.

It is the bedrock of my personal Judaism and I am a fanatic about it. When I am no longer here and I have to answer that question, I will answer it with absolute confidence. I am honest with money, I am a religious Jew and a religious libertarian and I believe in redemption, geulah. These are the pillars of my life on Earth that G-d has given me and I take them seriously.

I will not be bought, I will not be corrupted, bribed with position or anything else, and I will not be bent.

I will always vote not for what will secure my political career (I don’t even want one truthfully), but for what I know is right. I will be honest with money, so I will never vote to increase taxes or government spending, but always to shrink it, in any way that becomes available to do so in the Knesset, in any realm, in any part of life, for anyone in Israel, period.

I spent the last few years building up an immunity to politics. That immunity is the basis of my identity, both as a Jew and as a human being in general.

That’s why I’m telling you, trust me, and vote for me. Because I’m honest, because I’m immune, becauseI’m not a politician, and because I will do what is right.

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