Gov. McDonnell, Abraham and Lot: “If you go left, I will go right”


by Gary S. Creditor

Buried among the convictions of Gov. Robert and Maureen McDonnell lies a critical dynamic that could have changed the course of their personal history and fortunes of Virginia. It deals not with the charges against them but with the essence of their lives. It provides a mirror for reflection for those seeking high office. McDonnell faced a moment of choice. It would determine all the events to follow with no escape.

Poignantly there is a biblical text that contains such a clear parallel. Amid the personal details in their trial came the knowledge that Maureen McDonnell did not want her husband to run for attorney general. She felt that the pressures upon her and their family would be too much. McDonnell’s service in the House of Delegates did not cause significant separation or strain. Yet he chose to run for a statewide office often seen as the stepping stone for the governorship. Eventually it led to his being considered for the Republican national ticket.

What was Robert McDonnell thinking? How did he evaluate his ambitions against the negative forces that it would create in his marriage? Was it more important than his wife? If he had put his wife and family’s welfare as primary, perhaps this sad saga would never have occurred. Perhaps he would not have put her in an untenable position that would ultimately ensnare them, their family and the state in this tale of woe.

This is a cautionary tale for all who seek positions that involve their spouses and partners. Who or what comes first? What could be sacrificed? What should not? Before marriage, I had already decided to become a pulpit rabbi. As the years progressed we decided to seek larger congregations, which indubitably created greater demands upon me, her and our children. Could I create the necessary balance to fulfill the demands of one while honoring the needs of the other? If I found that I could not maintain that balance, which would I give up?

For 40 years I was ever aware of this matter of choice. With my wife and family’s support I worked hard to fulfill my obligations and be a model for our children. Two of them chose the rabbinate, one a pulpit rabbi, the other as chaplain in the United States Navy. An episode in the Torah is an excellent parallel. The tension between the needs of Abraham and Lot’s flocks became untenable. A decision had to be made. Abraham says to Lot: “If you go left I will go right; if right, then I will go left.” When Lot chose to go to Sodom, he set loose the dynamics that would lead to his wife’s death and degradation of his daughters. What was Lot thinking as he stood high above the plain? How did he set his priorities? Did he not realize that he held the future of his whole family in his hands? Such a parallel between Richmond and the plain above the Jordan River. Such a cautionary tale for all who face such a moment of decision.

Gary S. Creditor is rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth-El in Richmond.

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