THE LORD'S PRAYER, of all things, has been in the news.
The familiar supplication, which begins "Our Father, who art in Heaven," comes from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew, and has been recited by Christians for many generations. According to Catholic news sources, Pope Francis has officially approved a change to one phrase of the prayer — the one traditionally rendered "lead us not into temptation." The papal tweak, assuming it goes into effect, will slightly adjust the wording for Catholics, making it "Do not let us fall into temptation." (So far no change has appeared in the wording of the prayer as it is posted on the Vatican's English website.)
Francis has argued for some time that the customary translation is not quite suitable. In 2017, he spoke approvingly of a change adopted by the French church, which replaced the phrase "Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation" (meaning, roughly, "Do not subject us to temptation") with "Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation" ("do not let us give in to temptation"). It was a subtle change, said the pope, but theologically necessary, for God does not lead people to sin.
Rabbi Shimon Schwab (L) anticipated by 25 years the concern Pope Francis expressed about asking God "Lead us not into temptation."
"It is I who fall," Francis explained. "It is not God who throws me into temptation to see me fall," he told an Italian TV interviewer. "A father does not do that. A father helps you to get up immediately."
Everything this pope does ends up fueling debate; no doubt this will too. I have no dog in the fight, since I am not a Christian and I don't recite the Our Father. For what it's worth, however, I'm with the pope on this one — because the pope is with the Talmud.
The Lord's Prayer may seem the very quintessence of Christian devotion, but it contains no sentiment that could not be expressed wholeheartedly by the most Orthodox Jew. Indeed, there is a comparable blessing recited by traditionally observant Jews each morning that was already well-established by the time the Talmud was compiled 18 centuries ago. Was that blessing, or an earlier version of it, recited by Jesus when he woke every morning? Certainly it contains similarities to the "temptation" passage in the Lord's Prayer:
May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, that you make us accustomed to your Torah and attached to your commandments. And that you do not bring us to the hands of sin, nor to the hands of transgression and wrongdoing, nor to the hands of temptation, nor to the hands of disgrace. And let not the evil inclination rule within us . . .
In one section of his commentary on the Jewish liturgy, the renowned German-American Orthodox Rabbi Shimon Schwab discusses the array of morning blessings. And on this very passage — the prayer not to be brought to the hands of sin and temptation — he raises much the same point that would bother Pope Francis a quarter-century later:
"Unfortunately, these words have been wrongly translated in the English version of [a certain prominent prayerbook] as 'Do not lead us into sin.' This is absolute heresy! The Holy One, Blessed be He, does not 'lead' people into sin."
Human beings have free will, Schwab insists. In his phrase, the "doors are open." Individuals must choose for themselves whether they will yield to the lure of doing wrong, or push against it. "So we ask God to help us overcome our temptations, and not make it easy for us to do the sin."
Neither Judaism nor Christianity places much stock in praying not to be tempted. There is no avoiding the temptation to do wrong; that's an unavoidable part of being human. But repelling temptation is a key component in the formation of character. In the words of Ben Zoma, an ancient Jewish sage: "Who is mighty? He who can conquer his inclinations." Morality and integrity have to be honed and practiced, etched into our character one good deed — or one resisted temptation — at a time. Praying for help in that department is never a bad idea.
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The scandals Biden forgot
Joe Biden, who is running for president as the candidate of an Obama-style restoration, frequently touts his close connection to "Barack," and fulsomely praises the last Democratic president. Biden's desire to wrap himself in the mantle of the 44th POTUS is understandable. But he has been going beyond hagiography to out-and-out claptrap — one particular gobbet of claptrap in particular.
"The proudest thing about serving with him," Biden said of Obama at a campaign event in New Hampshire last month, "was there wasn't one single, solitary hint of scandal all eight years."
He made the same claim during an appearance on ABC's "The View." What he and Obama are "proudest of," Biden told the panelists, is that there was "not one single whisper of scandal" during their two terms in office.
He said it again in Iowa on Wednesday, slowing his delivery down for extreme emphasis. "There wasn't one. Single. Hint. Of a scandal. Or a lie."
Joe Biden can't remember 'one single whisper of scandal' during the eight years of the Obama administration.
If by "scandal," the former vice president is referring to flagrant sexual or marital misconduct, or to the shameless exploitation of the White House for financial gain — then yes, it's true that the eight Obama years were not tainted by scandal. Neither were the preceding eight years of George W. Bush's administration.
But other than in that narrow sense, the Obama administration was the very opposite of scandal-free. On the contrary, it abounded in scandals. Let's recall a few of them:
The Benghazi cover-up. When Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed in a terrorist attack on the US consulate in Libya in 2012, administration officials falsely blamed their deaths on an irrelevant YouTube video. That wasn't an innocent error, it was coldblooded deceit. In public, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attributed the attack to "inflammatory material posted on the Internet." She went so far as to tell the father of Tyrone Woods, a Navy SEAL who lost his life in the attack, that the California filmmaker who produced the video would be "arrested and prosecuted."
Yet in private e-mails to her daughter and the Egyptian prime minister within hours of the terrorist assault — e-mails not discovered until 2015 — Clinton acknowledged that the Americans had been attacked by "al Qaeda-like" Islamists. The "anti-Muslim video" claim was a brazen and scandalous lie.
The Veterans Administration meltdown. On Obama's watch, tens of thousands of veterans were denied proper health care at VA hospitals. Their names were added to phony waiting lists and they were stonewalled for months or even years. More than 300,000 veterans may have died awaiting medical treatment that never came. According to the Veterans Affairs inspector general, thousands of veterans' health care enrollment applications were deleted or buried. So shocking were the revelations that the FBI opened a criminal investigation. Eventually VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in disgrace.
The 'Lie of the Year'. Biden may insist that there wasn't "One. Single. Hint" of a lie during the Obama years, but even PolitiFact — the Poynter Institute's decidedly liberal fact-checking operation — would find such a claim preposterous. In 2013, PolitiFact labeled Obama's endlessly repeated vow that Obamacare would not force anyone to give up a health insurance policy they liked as the most egregious " Lie of the Year." Over and over and over, he had assured voters: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it." From Day 1, that was a flat-out falsehood, as even Obama's loyal supporters eventually conceded.
Biden may be counting on friendly media outlets to back up his historical revisionism about the supposed dearth of Obama-era scandals. After all, Obama was an overwhelming favorite among journalists, many of whom were often willing to downplay the misfeasance, incompetence, and corruption of his presidency. But rules that applied when Obama was in the White House may not apply now, not when nearly two dozen Democrats are determined to prevent Biden from winning their party's 2020 nomination. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris — and their friends in the press corps — may decide there is more to be gained from refreshing voters' memories of the Obama scandals than from continuing to pretend they didn't exist.
Besides, not all news media are left-wing.
"Hey Joe Biden, Here Are Some Scandals You Forgot," wrote The Federalist's David Harsanyi the other day in a historical refresher of some lies and scandals that seem to have slipped Biden's mind:
How many Americans knew, for instance, that "Operation Fast and Furious" put around 2,000 weapons into the hands of narco-traffickers (and an Islamic terrorist), leading to the murder of hundreds of Mexican citizens, and at least one American, a border agent named Brian Terry? Not enough.
There must have been at least a sniff of scandal . . . because even after a federal judge rejected Obama's assertion of executive privilege in efforts to deny Congress files relating to the operation, the administration wouldn't budge. Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to cooperate in the investigation, becoming the first sitting attorney general in American history to be held in contempt of Congress — a vote that included 17 Democrats.
That's odd, because today asserting executive privilege is exactly like Watergate. And ignoring courts? Well, Obama did that all the time.
Then again, Obama could secretly send planes filled with cash to pay ransom to an Islamist terror state responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen (using money that had been earmarked for terror victims), and most reporters would still regurgitate echo-chamber talking points. You remember Ben Rhodes bragging about how the Obama administration could trick 27-year-olds whose "only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns" because they "literally know nothing?"
Politico's Josh Meyer, who did know something, would write a deeply sourced piece — featuring numerous real-life, on-the-record administration officials — about the Obama administration's efforts to undermine investigations into a drug-trafficking ring run by Hezbollah operating in the United States, and most major news organizations never even mentioned it.
President Trump's incessant attacks on the news media as "enemies of the people" is outrageous and contemptible. But as Harsanyi points out, though Obama never engaged in Trump's anti-media rhetoric, he resorted at times to considerably more threatening anti-media behavior:
Today, President Trump's Twitter attacks on CNN reporters are threats to the future of free expression. Back in 2012, the Obama's Department of Justice spied on the Associated Press, tapping around 20 different phone lines — including cell phone and home lines — that captured at least 100 staffers who worked for the outlet. The government kept records of all outgoing calls "for both the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters" and the main line used by reporters in the House of Representatives.
The Justice Department had already spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, looking at his personal emails, and tracking his movements. Holder, by the way, shopped the case to three separate judges, until he found one who let him name Rosen a co-conspirator in the crime of reporting the news. If only this episode had gotten a fraction of the breathless coverage of a William Barr letter.
There is, of course, so much more. Obama's CIA director, John Brennan, oversaw an operation of illegal spying on a staffer of the legislative branch of the U.S. government. At least five agency officials under his watch broke into Senate computer files, viewing drafts of a report on torture and reconstructing emails of at least one staffer. Brennan would attempt to cover up the agency's actions by doubling down, blaming the Senate, and pushing to fire at least one staffer charged with investigating his agency.
Then there is Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who brazenly lied to Congress about spying on American citizens.
Biden might not remember that Internal Revenue Service leadership aggressively targeted conservative groups to undermine their voice in elections. The IRS admitted as much in an apology letter. . . . There were cronyistic green projects that enriched political allies. There was the Secret Service's many embarrassing breaches and general debauchery. There was Hillary Clinton's infamous attempts to circumvent transparency — more than likely to cover up favor-trading.
No scandals and lies in eight years of the Obama administration? Oh, yes, there were — and more revelations are almost certainly on the way.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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