Let's table the discussion" is a new Adath Israel Shul initiative where a story or thought is presented in order to stimulate exciting and constructive discussion around our Shabbos table or among friends and children. (Dedicated to the Refuah Sheleima of Shalva Adina Bas Sarah Chana & Eliyahu Aharon Ben Yocheved Yetta Ettel).

After years of vigorous denials, on January 14, 2013 Lance Armstrong admitted in a television interview with Oprah Winfrey that he "doped" in each of his record seven consecutive Tour de France victories, confirming the findings a few months earlier by the US Anti-Doping Agency that he had orchestrated "a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history." Until that moment with Oprah, Armstrong had consistently and strenuously denied using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), blood transfusions, or other artificial enhancers to compete in the grueling, three-week race throughout France. He verbally thrashed, bullied and threatened legal action against riders, journalists, race officials, and anyone else who had suggested he had cheated.

Tyler Hamilton, a member of Armstrong’s team was one of the best cyclists in the world.  Hamilton became a star for his ability to climb the most difficult mountains. He began taking testosterone pills in 1999, and later shared a trailer with Armstrong in order to facilitate their cheating during the Tour de France.  Later, it was Hamilton’s testimony that cast aspersion on Armstrong and ultimately brought him down.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Rose and his research associate Noah Fischer wrote the case study Following Lance Armstrong: Excellence Corrupted,  which was taught to all incoming Harvard MBAs at the beginning of their graduate studies.  The goal was to get them to think about their own values and the obligations they have to shape the culture of an organization. Regarding Hamilton’s role, Rose noted that had he not chosen to dope, Hamilton may not have achieved the victories he did. But the cost of following Armstrong was personal disgrace.

 “There was one Armstrong, but there were lots of Hamiltons,” Rose says. At some point, we are all Hamilton. While few of us will reach the heights of achievement that Armstrong did in his career, all of us will have the experience of following a leader. And we will all have to weigh our actions in light of what we—not they—feel is right.”

When Moshe appeared before Pharaoh at the beginning of Parshas Bo, one gets the impression  that the average Egyptian had already changed his mind and that the majority wanted to end the “cheating game” that kept them in the power position and Bnei Yisrael slaves to them. Why then, does Hashem continue to punish them along with Pharaoh? If THEY had seen the light, why punish them because he didn’t? Moreover,  Rabbeinu Bachaya notes that Hashem had told Moshe that not only had he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he also hardened the hearts of his subjects. If they were breaking down, how was this to be seen?

The Kessef Nivchar and Imrei Noam explain that if one looks carefully at their complaint to Pharaoh, the Egyptians asked him to reconsider sending “Es HaAnashim”. However, throughout his campaign, Moshe had asked Pharaoh to send ”Ami” – the entire nation. Kessef Nivchar suggests that the average Egyptian was not interested in doing the “right thing” in letting the Jews go. He merely wanted to get rid of the Jewish threat which was hurting him personally and economically. Thus, although offering exception to Pharaoh’s stubbornness, they too remained stubborn and were deserving of continued punishment from Hashem – not for Pharaoh’s misdeeds but rather for their own lack of morals and inability to make ethical choices.

Our ethical Torah requires each of us to stand up for our own moral values – values we are expected to derive from the Torah itself. When we see or observe that which is not in concert with Torah values, we need to stand up for what we believe in – even if we are challenging supposed “leaders.” By questioning the people and holding the values dear, we can make sure that the true Torah spirit reigns supreme and we, bound to it, the best representatives of the word of Hashem.

Would you question actions of leaders that appear to not be in concert with Torah values?

Are you prepared to stand up for true Torah values even if these turn out not to be popular?

 Let’s  “table” the discussion – by discussing it with our children, spouses, families and guests and open an exciting  discussion into our homes and communities