by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Joe Biden’s speech on Thursday night seems to have hit a home run among voters. But to people in Canada that were listening – there was something vaguely familiar, according to reports.
Biden ended his speech with the words, “For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark.”
Jack Layton was the leader of Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party and died exactly nine years ago – to the day.
As he lay dying in 2011, he wrote the following words to his followers and friends:
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”
There seems to be a prevalent notion out there that plagiarism and cheating isn’t really wrong. It is wrong, and if a person is brazen enough to do it during a speech in which the whole country is listening – well, it does not bode well. It is also halacha, by the way. Melania Trump’s speech was also not original at the RNC in 2016. It took much of the content from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech.
Let’s start with Shlomo HaMelech: In Mishlei 22:22 he writes: “Rob not from a poor person – for he is poor.” Chazal tell us (Yalkut Shimoni Mishlei 560; Midrash Tanchuma BaMidbar 27) that Shlomo HaMelech is referring to plagiarism – to reciting a statement without attributing it to its source.
Just as a poor person has no protector – no guardian to right wrongs and injustices, the same is true with intellectual property. An earlier thinker came up with an idea. Just as the poor person has no protector, so too does the thinker have no protector. Shlomo HaMelech is appealing to our conscience – do not steal from a poor person – for he is poor – he has no protector. Do not cheat or plagiarize for they too have no protector.
We move forward down the timeline to Queen Esther (Megilas Esther 2:22). Two guards – Bigson and Seresh had plotted a coup d’etat. Mordechai, proficient in seventy languages, overheard and told the Queen. Queen Esther didn’t take credit for the information. She told the King that she got the information from Mordechai.
Esther was amply rewarded. It is for this action that she merited to be the conduit of the salvation of the Jewish people. Because of Esther it is said, “Whoever says something in the name of its originator – brings salvation to the world.”
WOULDN’T SHE HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED?
What was really going on here? Esther certainly was a righteous woman. Can’t we assume that if she thought it better for the king to have assumed that the information came from her, then surely she would have been fully justified?
It would seem not.
It would seem that even though, it may have been in the Jewish interest that Esther gain the king’s favor, there is something inherently wrong in not attributing the information to the true source. She knew this. Esther could not stoop to do something that is inherently wrong. It was for this realization – that we are but mere foot soldiers in a campaign and our primary responsibility is to follow Hashem’s bidding in what is right and wrong – she was so amply rewarded.
ETHICS OF THE FATHERS
We now move on to Pirkei Avos 6:5. Naming the original source of the information. Avoiding plagiarism. It is in a list of one of the 48 ways in which Torah is acquired.
The Yalkut Yoseph (Kivud Av V’Aim chapter 9) cites a few more sources. The Shla in Meseches Shvuos says that it is an enormous sin – and should be looked at as if one has kidnapped human life.
He further cites the Sefer Chasidim (224): Whoever says something in the name of a deceased Tzaddik earns his favor and is prayed for by that Tzaddik.
Conversely, the Chida writes (Bris Olam) that if one writes a book from Torah that was stolen from others – they curse him, and he dies halfway through life.
NOT THE FIRST TIME
This incident was not the first time that candidate Joe Biden has plagiarized. In September of 1987, newspaper stories reported that he had plagiarized a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock and had not attributed it. A few months earlier, on March 15th 1987, given to a Welsh Labour Party Conference, Kinnock had said the following words:
“Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Kinnock pointed to his wife, sitting in the audience:] Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?”
According to an article in the New York Times on September 12th, 1987, written by Maureen Dowd, Biden’s speech given earlier that week, essentially plagiarized Kinnock’s speech. Biden also made reference to himself and his wife Jill in the same manner as Kinnock did and included the lines:
“I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? [Pointing to his wife sitting in the audience:] Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?”
In 1987, Biden also duplicated other parts of Kinnock’s speech. According to Wikipedia it included their forebears’ ability to read and write poetry, their strength in working for hours underground in a mine only to come up and play football afterward, and their being limited by lack of a “platform” upon which to stand.
Here, however, Joe Biden also made up different facts and attributed it to his own family so that he could say these words.
No candidate is perfect. However, in this particular candidate, unfortunately, we have all three elements.