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Rabbi Irwin Kula Headshot

A Rabbi's Letter To Rep. Weiner

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Dear Rep. Weiner:

While you have not solicited me for advice on the mess you have gotten yourself into I can't help but offer, as I too have impulse control issues, the following counsel -- especially as you are a fellow member of the tribe.

First of all let me say that I am not one of those religious moralists with obsessive concerns about other people's sexual lives. Actually, the Biblical character that comes to mind most often when I hear about these stories of politicians who fall from grace is the story of King David whose name means beloved because the God character in the Bible loved him so much.

This may come as a surprise to you and will surely be so to our hyper-sexualized, deeply hypocritical, insanely voyeuristic, disproportionately sexually dysfunctional, sensationalist fellow citizens but King David intentionally committed adultery and murder. Yet, he remained not only the greatest king in the Bible but his son Solomon -- the product of David and the wife of the man he had killed -- built the Temple in Jerusalem. Pretty good comeback! Moreover, with a special reminder to our religious folk who specialize in fear of the erotic and in judging others, this adulterer and murderer was good enough, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew, to be the ancestor of Jesus Christ!

All this should be of some comfort to you as King David is not a bad role model to have at this moment. While I am sure you are thinking, "I am no King David", by the same token, all but the most prudish amongst us would agree that tweeting some sexually suggestive photos is rather tame relative to what King David did.

There is actually something important to learn from the King David story -- besides that it is good to be the King -- about rehabilitating oneself. When King David was confronted about his transgression by the prophet Nathan (not to confused with Andrew Breitbart) his immediate response was just one word: chatatee "I sinned" and then he remained at home for awhile, quiet, reflecting and accepting the consequences of his behavior before going back to work.

Taking King David as a model you might want to take some down time thinking about the three different promises you compromised: the promise to your wife (and family), to your staff and your constituents, and to your Self. Try not to confuse rebuilding trust with these people with securing your political office or future political career. Saving your career will not be something you can control but could well be a consequence of genuinely and honestly addressing what you did wrong.

The key to the next period of your life will be to understand what you actually did wrong in your own eyes. I want to emphasize "your own eyes" and not what you did wrong in the eyes of deeply pathological politicians who lie to take us to war at the cost of thousands of deaths or in the eyes of corrupt leaders who protect some industry's profits at the expense of our most vulnerable or in the eyes of a cynical media, who for billions of dollars because we watch, titillates, objectifies, and sexualizes at a far more offensive level than tweeting an inappropriate photos in some expression of arrested development.

To locate what you did wrong you first need to ask yourself why you are embarrassed about what you did. The fact that you did not want what you did to become public means you knew, somewhere inside, that what you were doing was wrong. You allowed some character flaws -- flaws many of us have -- to drown out the voice that you surely heard call out, however faintly, "No, I really shouldn't do this." Getting at those character flaws is key and like King David in Nathan's parable they have to do with confusing power, position, and status that come with the gift of public office, talent, charisma, sexual energy, with the right to act in ways one knows deep down is wrong but thinks one can get away with. (But do remember getting away with tweeting crotch and chest is far less serious than getting away with murder.)

I would do the above in serious conversation with your wife, as she is the most important person you have hurt and the relationship you need most to try to repair.

As you work on understanding your behavior you will probably need to apologize personally to your staff and most trusted supporters. More than a few of these apologies will need to be one on one as public apologies are often ways of escaping accountability. Here the apology has to center on your lying, as the tweeting is not really that significant except as a reflection of some personal sexual issues and narcissism. But blatantly and publicly lying for a week and having your most trusted supporters lie for you is a serious breach. Also, genuine apologies are more than I am sorry. They recognize that trust has been broken and needs to be rebuilt. Similarly, you need to spend time in your district apologizing for lying and for squandering the power and influence you had that your constituents depended upon to represent their interests. You need to work very hard to regain their trust all the while maintaining an awareness that you might not succeed.

After getting a handle on your character flaws and beginning to work on them which should include (if you indeed are serious) some discernible personality and behavioral shifts around arrogance, certitude, the need for media presence, who you follow on twitter ... you ought to slowly reemerge in the public eye with an appropriate combination of self-reflection about what you have learned about yourself -- though no over exposure is necessary -- and wisdom about where America is in relation to sex, politics, and power. Humility will be a key virtue.

To summarize I suggest you use the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides' four R's of renewal: Recognition of what you really did, Regret for what you did, Repair of your own character and the relationships you damaged, and Reconciliation which will only happen at the end of the process of your doing the work combined with a bit of grace.

Let me add that in addition to offering this unsolicited counsel I intend, while speaking on this subject, to remind myself while especially reminding those judging you about your inappropriate tweets, a teaching from an early Rabbi: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

It does not take tremendous psycho-spiritual development to recognize how almost all of our fascination, interest, and nasty judgment of you is a deeply damaged self-judgment of our own very distorted culture and our own hidden secrets. Yes, you made a stupid mistake and then you lied, which made something stupid much worse, but our reaction says much more about us than you. You would do well to ask what was it about King David's character which enabled him to so immediately come clean about what he did rather than lie and we would do well to ask what about our culture makes sexual transgressions so popular these days and coming clean so much more difficult for our leaders (and for us) than King David.

This too will pass.


Rabbi Irwin Kula

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