Like many Torontonians, I was shocked and saddened to hear that our mayor, John Tory was resigning after having had an affair with a former staff member. This is a tragic ending of a career of one who heretofore steadfastly stood up for his principles during his varied and distinguished career.

In an age of polarization and extremism he was a model of moderation who brought people together. Entering politics after a successful business career he was dignified, accessible, a steadying hand during the pandemic, one whose passion for this great city could be seen by all.

For the Jewish community this is especially painful as it was Tory who, while running for the premiership of Ontario, proposed extending funding to all faith-based schools, thereby ending the ongoing discrimination wherein the Province of Ontario only Catholic schools are funded. He held firm to this position even as it was clear this was extremely unpopular and a losing proposition – and one that led to his resignation as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

Reading what I wrote in 2010 for the Canadian Jewish News in regard to his decision not to enter the mayoral raise is almost painful. “I was tremendously moved by the comments of John Tory announcing his decision not to run for mayor of Toronto. I was in the car and heard an excerpt from his press conference, yet sadly I have not seen his remarkable words mentioned elsewhere. Asked by a reporter if he was not running for fear of losing yet once again, he responded by stating, and I paraphrase: ‘In life one cannot dwell on the past. While I wish things would have turned out differently it was not to be. I noticed that I have been described in the media as a man of integrity who stands up for what he believes. When the time comes to look back on my life, I cannot think of a more important message to leave my children. That is so much more important than any political office could ever be’”.

After four tumultuous years at city hall under Mayor Rob Ford, Torontonians were all too happy to elect him as mayor, re-electing him for a third four-year term just three months ago in a landslide victory.  

And yet, "During the pandemic I developed a relationship with an employee in my office in a way that did not meet the standards to which I hold myself as mayor and as a family man," Tory said during a brief statement at city hall. "I recognize that permitting this relationship to develop was a serious error in judgment on my part. I am deeply sorry and apologize unreservedly to the people of Toronto and all those harmed by my actions, including my staff, my colleagues on city council and the public service for whom I have such respect,"

"Most of all, I apologize to my wife Barb and to my family whom I have let down more than anyone else. While I deeply regret having to step away from a job I love, in a city I love even more, I believe in my heart it is best to fully commit myself to the work required to repair these most important relationships," he said. "As well, I think it is important for the office of the mayor not to in any way be tarnished and not to see the city government itself put through a prolonged period of controversy, arising out of this error in judgement on my part, especially in light of the challenges we face as a city."

Imagine how the world would look if all politicians, elected to serve the public, would resign after having an affair. Imagine if our “leaders” understood that for public officials what one does in private has public implications? Can we trust one who cheats on their spouse to make decisions in the best interest of the public even if that is not in their personal interest? If only our leaders understood that they set a moral climate for society[1].

Not surprisingly, many, including the Premier of Ontario have called on the mayor to remain in power. After all, he is a good mayor and his personal issues are not our concern. Thankfully, John Tory did not listen – making him, in a very oxymoronic way, the type of person I would want as my mayor.

Our tradition understands that people sin, including grave sins. Yet sin – even one as grave as adultery for which one must give up one’s life rather than transgress – should not define a person. Rather amazingly, the Mishna teaches that an adulterous woman, can, due to her many merits have her divine punishment delayed. In the only case of a divine promise to exact punishment, the Torah promises that if there is good reason to suspect that a woman committed adultery and yet she claims her innocence she is to drink the “Sotah waters” to determine the truth of her claim.

Despite the fact that the Torah says that if guilty, “her belly shall distend and her thigh shall sag; and the wife shall become a curse among her people” (Bamdibar 5:27) our Sages note that “If she has merit, it delays [punishment] for her. There is a merit that delays one year, there is merit that delays two years, and there is a merit that delays for three years[2]” (Mishna Sotah 3:3). 

Great merit and sin – even great sin – can and often do co-exist in the same person. People are complex beings. Admitting one’s sin unequivocally and expressing regret for one’s sin is a major step towards teshuva. And G-d extends His hand to those who begin the process of teshuva, one of the many traits of G-d we are to emulate.

[1] I have written often on the terrible sin of politicians acting in their own personal interest and not for the sake of the public if and when they are in conflict. See for example here  

[2] See here for further elaboration of this idea .