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March 4, 2016 4:35 am

Donald Trump and This Week’s Torah Portion

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Republican Donald Trump, pictured, said he will not pick sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Donald Trump. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

There was a very weird exchange on CNN this week during an interview with Donald Trump. I have watched the clip several times just to try and get my head around it, but I still cannot make any sense of it.

The interviewer told Trump that his candidacy had been endorsed by David Duke, a well-known white supremacist, antisemite, former KKK Grand Wizard and failed politician, who has also been convicted of financial fraud. The interviewer asked whether Trump would unequivocally condemn David Duke, and reject his support, as well as the support of any other white supremacists who might endorse him.

Trump was incredibly evasive, refusing to answer the question directly, or even indirectly. He claimed not to know David Duke, nor the group Duke belongs to, and would not condemn anyone, or disavow himself of any group, unless he had thoroughly investigated who they were. After his response generated a media storm, Trump made the ludicrous claim that his earpiece had been faulty during that part of the interview, which resulted in his not being able able to hear the questions properly. To know that this is a lie, you just need to watch the clip of the interview. But that is not what troubles me. What troubles me is how Trump hesitated to condemn David Duke in the first place.

The idea that Trump does not know who David Duke is makes no sense whatsoever. Of course he does, and, as numerous news outlets subsequently pointed out, Trump had already repudiated David Duke’s endorsement a couple of days earlier. Further, in 2000, Trump ran for president on the Reform Party line. After his candidacy failed to gain momentum, Trump dropped out, citing David Duke’s involvement with the Reform Party as part of his justification. All this makes his evasive response during the CNN interview even more puzzling. The only explanation for his cagey answer was his need to acquire as many votes as possible on Super Tuesday. By giving a neutral answer Trump probably believed he would make himself popular with white supremacist voters in the southern states and win those primaries. Sadly, it is likely this assumption was correct.

Not a day goes by without someone from the GOP distancing himself from Trump, or announcing he will actively battle against his candidacy. Besides Sarah Palin and a glum-looking Chris Christie, most senior Republicans have studiously avoided any contact with Trump. It seems no one likes him, and no one wants him, and yet he continues to win states and be the frontrunner. The situation is literally unprecedented. At this stage of the race, Trump should have dozens of mainstream endorsements as it becomes apparent that not only is he a successful campaigner, but also a successful vote winner. Surely Republican heavyweights want to win in November, so why are they not backing a winner?

I think the David Duke incident really brought it home to me. It exposed Donald for what he is — an amoral individual who will do or say almost anything to get elected. He is an expert deal-maker who knows the art of eleventh hour bait-and-switch tactics to get a deal done, and prevaricating about David Duke was exactly what he needed to do to get the racist vote. But although this kind of shenanigan has made him a very successful businessman, people who care about the “party of Lincoln and Reagan,” as Marco Rubio put it this week, instinctively do not want such a person to represent them. Sometimes it is not about success, or about winning — it is about your good name.

There is an interesting Midrash on this week’s Torah portion that perfectly illustrates this point. Moshe informs the nation: “God has called by name Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Chur.” With reference to this, the Midrash quotes a pasuk in Kohelet: “A good name is better than a good oil,” and explains that although one can detect the scent of a good oil from quite a distance away, a good name travels much further than that. The Midrash then asks a seemingly random question. How far should someone remove himself from contact with shatnez — the prohibited mixture of wool and linen? The Midrash answers that even if one is wearing 99 layers of non-shatnez clothing, the 100th layer must also not be shatnez. So what exactly is the connection between shatnez, Betzalel and a good name?

It is noteworthy that every time the Torah introduces Betzalel, it is with the following unique expression: “I’ve called him by his name.” It turns out that Betzalel was not chosen to build the Mishkan as a result of his architectural prowess or his design skills. He was chosen for the simple reason that he had a “good name.” His reputation was completely unblemished, and everyone knew it. The Midrash uses shatnez to explain how Betzalel obtained such a fantastic reputation. A good name is not achieved by doing the right thing, or by being right; it is achieved by avoiding even the slightest hint of impropriety. Even the hint of contact with someone or something irregular will shatter a good reputation forever.

People with good names are those who are above reproach; they are completely removed from any taint of scandal or transgression. And while one can become very wealthy or successful by playing close to the edge or bending the rules, that is not the way impeccable reputations are achieved. Donald Trump may be very successful, and many of the things he says may be correct, but by refusing to dissociate himself from David Duke, even if in reality he despises white supremacists, he is still contaminated by association. In the final analysis, it must never just be about winning, because it has also got to be about a good name.

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  • Michael Fox

    Take a step back and take a breath angry American Republican voters. The very thing you hate about President Obama stands directly before you and you have accepted him as your political savior. He is no less a fraud, con man, flim-flam snake oil selling salesman then Obama. He knows what you want to hear and he feeds it you. You suckle on it like mothers milk. You are no smarter than the zombies who danced to Obama’s hypnotic message, “Change you can believe in.” Like Obama, Trump is simply an opportunist driven by a grandiose inflated ego and a severe case of a narcissistic complex.
    When Trump rattles off a list of his supporter and mentions amongst them “….the educated and the uneducated, especially the uneducated,” he is mocking you but what would you expect from a man who believes he could go out on 5th avenue in NYC and shoot someone and you would still support him.

  • Chaya Goldstein

    I like a good dvar Torah tied to current events as much as the next guy … but that was really a STRETCH.

  • Emanuel

    I guess my original comment was worth censoring? The author should be ashamed! Trump is not a racist period and if you think he is, you probably are racist yourself. We judge people by their actions Trump is human, not perfect but a good person. By bashing Trump you encourage people to vote for Clinton who by her actions will defer to anti semites in all Israel policy decisions, shame on you! I would rather make peace with Hamas or kiss a Nazi, the author here is no better than they are.

  • stevenl

    Many times before, DT disavowed the KKK. How many times is enough? One time must be enough!

  • Judith Kurinsky

    Nuremberg, a historic medieval city, was widely known in the 1930s as the most pro-Nazi city in Germany. Last December it was also the origin of a wonderful seven day cruise on the Danube River for my wife and me. Conscious of its historical significance, we had come early to see the city, especially to tour its World War II sites.

    Nuremberg was the site of gigantic annual rallies celebrating the Nazi Party and its Führer, Adolf Hitler. Our tour guide Tom, a native of Nuremberg, began to open my eyes anew to the fanatical power and charisma of Hitler. Tom took us first to the vast parade grounds and reviewing stand before which in 1934 an astounding one million people assembled rank on rank. To address his followers the Führer descended to the speaker’s platform from a doorway above, “like an angel from heaven”, said our guide, to proclaim “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer” (one people, one nation, one leader).

    Donald Trump announced last June his candidacy for the Presidency, descending to similarly orchestrated acclaim on an escalator at Trump Tower. Although the number of followers on that occasion afford no comparison with Hitler’s masses, I did think of comparable egos. Campaigning in Iowa in January, Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

    We next visited Nuremberg’s Documentation Center, a new museum whose four floors thoroughly document the crimes of the Nazi era. As you go through the museum the Nazi posters, newsreels and photographs of the era, recordings of interviews with prominent people and the sound tracks of pumped up Nazi rallies give you a feel for the incredible fervor of the time. Ordinary Germans, interviewed in the 1960s and 1970s, admitted being swept up in the emotion. “Being at the Nazi rallies was the thing to do,” said one. As Tom explained, the Nazi Party message was: “Put yourself totally in our hands and you will be taken care of.“ Unless you’re Jewish, communist, trade unionist, homosexual, gypsy, or mentally or physically deficient, in which case…

    How could the German people become so swept up, so willing to be put on such a barbaric history track? Historians still struggle to explain. But the punitive reparations demanded by the victorious allies after World War I along with the severe economic depression of the 1920s and early 1930s left Germans bitter and demoralized. Together with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, the Nazi ideology began to provide millions of disillusioned and desperate Germans with an explanation for their plight, a focal point for their discontent, and hope for the future.

    There seems to be a similar mood in America today among many people who have been left out of an incomplete economic recovery, scared of increased threats by ISIS and others, and threatened by the increased presence and voices of people of color, immigrants, and those of other religions. And the pace of economic and technological change is too fast and bewildering for many more of us.

    In such a climate Donald Trump develops his presidential campaign with astounding success. His themes are strikingly similar to those of Hitler and the Nazis of the 1930s:

    On Mexican people: “They are sending people that have lots of problems…they’re bringing drugs, crime and rapists”.

    On Muslims entering the United States, Trump would propose a total and complete shutdown. In South Carolina on Feb. 19, Trump told a bizarre story, probably apocryphal: that Gen. John J. Pershing shortly after the Spanish-American War (1898) used bullets dipped in pigs’ blood to execute dozens of Muslim prisoners in the Philippines. Said Trump, the moral of this story is that “We better start getting tough, and we better start getting vigilant or we’re not going to have a country.”

    Trump cheers at a rally when his supporters physically tackle an African American protester, saying next day that “Maybe he should’ve been roughed up”. On Feb. 27 he declined to disavow the support of white nationalist and ex-Ku Klux Klan supporter David Duke.

    In 1938 on Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) hundreds of Jewish synagogues and thousands of Jewish businesses throughout Germany were destroyed along with many Jews beaten or killed by Nazi SA thugs.

    Trump mocks a disabled reporter for the New York Times at a Nov. 25 rally.

    Regarding our military: “We’ve gotta make our military so strong, so big, so powerful, that nobody’s going to mess with us (a line he frequently uses).”

    At a rally in South Carolina Feb. 17, Trump defends torture, saying “Waterboarding is fine but not nearly tough enough.”

    He said also, “I think apologizing is a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will apologize if I’m ever wrong.”

    Does some of this sound like Germany and its leader in the 1930’s

    Pastor Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, is said to have spoken these prophetic words after the war:

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

    The Nuremberg tour and my contemplation of the Nazi horror confirmed for me in a visceral way the dangerous situation we are facing in our country. More and more people seem inclined to accept the words of this vicious and ego-driven man, whose perspective on our nation and world have little relation to the values and vision of the founders of this country.

    A few weeks ago Pope Francis, responding to Mr. Trump, indicated that Christians along with others should be building bridges, not walls. Whether or not one sees in this dangerous demagogue an incipient fascism, it is urgent that we heed Pastor Niemöller’s warning, and decisively raise our voices in support of the Common Good, and for justice and compassion for all.

    Richard W. Gillett


    Richard W. Gillett is a retired Episcopal priest, writer and labor activist. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

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    • William C. McKee

      Judith, Trump is indeed looking ahead to “building bridges”, thus his refusal to take sides between Israel and Palestine — with his expressed intent to form a great regional contract, not [merely] suggesting peace — but like God going through the path formed by split animals, a smoking pot and a burning torch, a very deep investment for [all] parties. The implication with such a contract, is that if you break it (or don’t even form it), that it is expected for you to die.

      The people in this region of the world (if they take no action to unify on [an] important matter) will in fact die exactly as the split animals of the Abraham Contract. Split, then they die, united they don’t. The important matter is void of abstraction, and very easy to understand.

      Do a Google search on the article:
      “Persian Gulf could see unbearable 60-degree heat by 2071, study claims” by Nicole Mortillaro.

      60-degree C heat is lethal for humans. The upper limit for [long term] heat exposure, that isn’t lethal is about 35-degree C. Between these ranges of temperature, the enzymes that allow plants to grow and manufacture food, basically shut down. For several reasons life in the Middle East would become impossible.

      Only Donald Trump would have the courage and intellect to formulate and sign on the peoples necessary to save this portion of the world from death.

      The Iranians could chip in with their 150 billion dollars of “restored fortunes” as well suggested by Jeremiah Chapter 49, to do something so pleasing to God, that as in those verses that they might recover as Moses put it “their good name”. Proof: God actually promises in that chapter to put his very throne from Heaven onto their land.

      Israel could on a limitless basis supply their technology that has the potential to make it regularly rain even in the dry places, such as the Sahara desert. Proof: The prophets spoke of perpetual celebration of The Feasts of Booths, on a planet wide scale. Where that was done it rained. Where that wasn’t done, the rain would be shut off. Rain in the deserts could draw down the excess CO2 into newly made farm-lands and gardens. In a 50 year time period about 35 kg/m^2 of CO2. {Solving numerous world level problems. And feeding billions of people.}

      The Palestinians could supply the millions of people necessary to man the Israel supplied technology. And build and occupy the Trump designed cities and highways. They would have their much longed for land. A land of about 10 million square kilometers in area (the recovered Sahara desert). Proof: Matthew 5:5 (of The Beatitudes) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit [the land]”.

      The investment of money, technology and workers in the field, is large and expensive — but only trivial next to the [real] problem. Treating other people as “others”.

      Moses taught that “You should [love] your [neighbor] as yourself. And a little further on, he defined exactly what he meant as your neighbor: [your fellow Jew]. That instantly made a definition of “other”. Mohammad did no less than Moses, in defining “others” not of his group.

      Trump has to destroy, with his life saving contract, the definition of “your neighbor” of both Moses and Mohammad. If the Middle East is to band together in such a great project, then only the definition of who your neighbor is, as defined by Jesus (and his numerous examples) would allow you to survive. Split apart, then you are like the animals in the Abraham contract. And against the forces that have your “good names” on the wall, you simply won’t last very long. In 60-degree C heat, likely no longer than the animals would have.

      Other than money, Iran would supply what they directly learned about the reality of “Original Sin”. Moses didn’t speak about the meaning of the two trees in the Garden of Eden, thus Jews ignore them concerning “Original Sin”. Mohammad went further, he eliminated the reason that God asked Adam and Eve to leave the Garden — the sin of willfully eating of a certain tree — and thus learning of death. And placing an angel with a sword of fire to guard against their return. For if they ate of the “Tree of Life” without “A Lamb of God” as in the Abraham story to cure them (he is helping big time above) — then they would live forever — but in eternal sin. Not for no reason at all do Iranians (Shea) use whips and chains on themselves, in acts of penance, once a year. They believed for their failure to God (over internal Islamic matters), that they made Heaven on earth impossible. And they forever grieve over it. A forgiving God, who would love what they ultimately do — would demonstrate his heart, by as Scripture clearly says, placing his throne (from Heaven) onto their nation.

  • stephen freedman

    Hi. I enjoyed your article. We can only conjecture about this but here is my thought on Trump’s puzzling response:
    He has such disdain for the press that he is willing to say almost anything – even bordering on absurdity – to upset them. It’s very safe to say that Trump is not a white supremacist. To get hung up on this is just what the Democrats are hoping for.


  • its

    This article is more troubling to us than the facts you claim to present in the name of Torah. What you are saying is that you do not like Trump playing good old fsshion POLITICS. Well how do you like Clinton who lies before congress and Jews get killed. Then caught with her facts down (like her husband) tries to wiggle out of it by saying others did the same thing. This does not fly in any law abiding society. Stop trying to pass off opinion as a news article. If you want to express opinion write an editorial.
    There is enough yellow journalism with our jews adding to it. (Editors….shame on you for letting this go on in a respected publication)

  • Alan Gilmore

    Very interesting.
    Sadly, there are no GOP alternatives currently.

  • Perhaps another detail to think upon is how oil is most often used in the lamp. Shall it burn clean and bright in the holy place of the heart? Deceit may be difficult to detect yet G-d knows the heart of man and governs in the hearts of kings. As for the matter of the shatnez, “let your yes be yea and no be no and nothing be confused.” Whon will G-d willingly use but one wholly sold out to Him. Remember the Captain of the army’s of the heavenlies at the Jordan crossing! Circumcision for them who knew not His holiness. Pjh

  • Danny Koffman

    Would that all politicians could match this standard.
    Unfortunately few, in any country, can.

  • Zucker

    Unfortunately some may believe that “Trum will be good for Israel as President”. This will far removed from reality considering that the person is an opportunist limited to a reasoning which is for board meetings. Politicians running for offices should be judged by their ethics rather than by their perceived corporate success.

  • William C. McKee

    Does Marco Rubio have this “good name”? If he did, then objectively wouldn’t the people of his own state support him in his bid to be president? They would presumably know [what for them at least] goes into making a “good name”. Right?

    One thing more, if you happen to have a “good name” and someone and in fact a lot of someone’s, are actively trying to remove your “good name”, for evil reasons (perhaps to continue to be “puppet masters” owning the souls of politicians) — then wouldn’t that go under the words of Moses, connected with giving “false witness”? And wouldn’t Moses have said “those are the ones to stone”? There — that should help you with your self admitted confusion of what you saw.

    Credit Trump with being able to recognize what he wants: the support of righteously angry people, that want the correcting of wrongs vs those that inflict wrongs out of false righteousness. Read Jeremiah Ch 49. Iran eventually gets a blessing from God, the throne of Heaven placed upon their land. But almost everyone everywhere believes Iran to have the very opposite of a “good name” and that their name is so bad that it can not be restored. Apparently everyone but the infinite God. Food for thought.

  • Watson Clerk

    When you say “No one likes Trump” – you really mean the Ziocons don’t like Trump.

    • Jack Waserman

      Enough of the puerile and offensive neologisms, especially esp. those where there’s no internal coherence. Do you mean Zionists don’t like Trump? Do you mean conservatives don’t like Trump? By your “logic”, conservatives who support Israel don’t like Trump! Then again, what YOU REALLY meant to do was appear clever and introduce “Ziocon”, a term without meaning, but which served to vent your (antisemitic?) spleen.

  • Tzipporah Cohen

    I find it offensive that you use the Parsha to justify your biases. I went to Youtube to see this video. The Media and all Politicians are trying to destroy Donald Trump. The media and most Politicians are no friends of Israel. They all collaborated to give Iran a free pass. Iran is not our friends.They are the biggest sponsor of Terrorism against Israel and the US. Don’t get your news from CNN or FOX. Iran is offering rewards to Palestinian Terrorists’ families for killing Jews. The media sympathize with our enemies. They portray Abbas as Moderate. They are doing nothing to stop the biases of the UN against Israel. David Duke also has a video saying he has never met Trump and is not endorsing him. David Duke is an antisemite who supports Palestinians against Israel. Trump has a daughter who married an Orthodox Jew and had an Orthodox Conversion. He has Jewish grandchildren. He is being unfairly accused and we should stand with him. Halting unlimited Muslim Immigration and Securing our Borders is his priority. He stands against the deal with Iran. Look at what is happening in France today. If Hillary becomes President you can expect more of what we have seen with Obama. She supported Morsi, The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and helped to arm ISIS in Libya. She was a disaster as Secretary of State promoting the Arab Spring. She hugged Arafat’s wife. You might not like Donald Trump but I think he will make the world a safer place.

    • Emanuel

      Amen X 10000000!

  • name me one politician who has a good name.politics is a dirty business.every politician who gets elected or becomes a dictator is always involved in “dirty tricks”

    • Jack Waserman

      Why do you lump FOX (News) with CNN or other outlets?
      I watch regularly, and find FOX News atypical media.

  • The writer of this article will have, of course, no problem voting for the Democrats as double standards seem to reign supreme, unfortunately even at the widely respected “The Algemeiner”:

  • Peter Diffenbacher

    Who is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Get me Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Get me someone like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Get me a younger Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Who was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

  • Tone Lechtzier

    the establishment cartel of thieves,liars,clowns and traitors are scared *issless Trump may bring justice and reform for the good of the US. The thing with David Duke pales in comparison in the big picture.

  • Allan Richter

    Donald Trump was honored by the Algmeiner not too long ago. He has no history of being racist. He has repeatedly distanced himself from Duke.

    In the Clinton Obama primary Bill Clinton was accused of being a racist also. Vicious and false negative attacks is a feature of American politics.

    Trump is an outsider who is bypassing the Republican party establishment. There are legitimate policy differences.

    The use of Torah in a “political attack” is inappropriate.

  • howiej

    I do not understand why Donald Trump did not recognize who David Duke was and condemn him and Duke’s followers. I also do not understand why questions have not been asked of Sanders and Clinton for their courting of Al Sharpton? A double standard?

  • enufizenuf

    I’m not a Trump supporter but the truth is when he was saying “I don’t know David Duke” what he really meant was ‘I don’t know that Duke or any of the “groups” you mention are even supporting me.’ There’s plenty of negative stuff to say about Trump and assuming things about his moral nature is akin to bearing FALSE WITNESS.

  • Elisheva

    I think you along with the media are looking for a reason to discredit Donald Trump. If you use this standard to measure Mr. Trump then use the same standard for every politician running for office today. I totally disagree with your conclusions. I think we should give him ever benefit of a doubt.

  • Nath

    I am afraid that the voting American public are extremely naive and somewhat stupid.

    Trampoline is first and foremost a showman, and is making wild promises to the potential voters.

    He is a totally loose cannon , and cannot be trusted to lead this country as its President.

  • Howard

    While the comparison of Trump to someone with a “good name” is apropos, the comparison to a “pea in the mattress” is odd. Even more odd is the thought that Bezalel was chosen without regard to his specialized skills. That is like choosing someone with a “good name” but no real skills to perform heart surgery. Now, of course, the “fact” that the Israelites were slaves but somehow wound up with the Egyptian’s gold is rather strange as well. And to think that Bezalel an Israeli slave was so skilled in the art of jewelry is also odd. So maybe the success of Trump is simply due to his closeness to the Creator. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. N

  • Cynthia

    If you watch CNN for your news, it is unfortunate. None of the sources and numbers or facts they use are ever verifiable. It would be better to investigate these allegations yourself to know what the actual Truth is. He denied David Duke repeatedly, the commentator on CNN used an old bait and switch technique in journalism to confuse Mr. Trump because of the associations used he got the effect he wanted. We need to do our own research and stop listening to the commentators on most if not all of the current news entities out there. Be smart!