Mudslinging – attempting to advance one’s own political standing through the denigration and derogation of one’s opponent – finds its origins in the Hebrew Bible. King David was the victim of mudslinging – both metaphorical and literal! While the king and his attendants “went by the way,” a detractor, Shimei ben Gera, “went along the hillside opposite him, and cursed as he went, threw stones at him, and threw dust” (II Samuel 16:13). David bore a grudge against Shimei for his “outrageous insults” throughout his life, articulating a vendetta against him with his dying breath (I Kings 2:8).

This Presidents Day, Rabbi Eliezer offers us a far more constructive approach to dealing with others – detractors, opponents, and rivals included: “Let the honor of your fellow be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger” (Pirkei Avot 1:15). Mudslinging may be a term closely associated with the political arena, but the inclination to insult and disparage rivals (real or perceived) is a moral failing to which we are all at times susceptible.

Like Shimei ben Gera – we, together with our political leaders, would do well to heed the advice of both Rabbi Eliezer… and the insightful, two-time Democratic presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson II, who observed, “He who slings mud generally loses ground.”

(Rabbi Joseph Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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