THE STATE OF ISRAEL could take a T lesson from the travails of Cardinal John P. Cody. The Chicago prelate stands accused of using church funds to help support a friend in the sort of manner that led once, although some time ago, to the Reformation. Do not be deceived though. The issue this time is neither money nor religion. It is pretense.

It is on these grounds that the good cardinal may be in trouble. This is the fate of anyone who proclaims a higher than ordinary standard of morality for himself and then winds up behaving like the rest of us. It is especially the fate of nations that pretend to a higher morality than most other nations.

This is what has happened to Israel, but also to the United States. For instance, nothing the Soviet Union does can ever be as bad as what the United States does. One is tempted to say that this is the case despite a foul record on human rights and a tendency, from time to time, to invade neighboring countries -- Afghanistan being just the latest example. Actually, though, it is because of this record that the U.S.S.R. gets off easier than the U.S.A. No one really expects it to act otherwise.

With Israel, it is quite different. Its every transgression is treated much more harshly than similar, not to mention greater, trangressions by other nations. No one writes about torture in Iraq because just to do so could be a full-time job. Torture in Israel, alleged or real but certainly rare, is, though, a major story.

This double standard greatly troubles Israel's friends and supporters. They see it as logically inconsistent, downright unfair and just maybe anti-Semitic. It is at the core of the argument recently made by William Safire, The New York Times columnist, that Egypt, and particularly Anwar Sadat, get away (maybe literally) with murder, while Israel, and particularly Menachem Begin, can hardly ticket an Arab for jaywalking without the United Nations rising in indignation and condemnation.

Safire has a point. And when he made it in The Times, Sadat, usually so unflappable and so Etonian in his Savile Row suits, threw a fit. He denounced Safire (Oh, the wonderful ignominy of it all) and cracked down on the foreign press in Egypt. Two correspondents were booted from the country.

All that Safire did was point out that Menachem Begin is the elected head of a democracy while Sadat is a dictator. Not only that, but Sadat in his capacity as dictator recently jailed 1,500 people, including leaders of the Christian Coptic Church. Had Begin done the same to leaders of Israel's Christian or Moslem sects, a cry of anguish would have gone up from around the world to drown out even the rantings of Muammar Qaddafi.

All this is true. It is hypocrisy, not love, that makes the world go round. But hypocrisy is only a part of the equation when it comes to Egypt and Israel. The other is pretense.

Egypt, and especially Sadat, has its pretenses. But it does not owe its very existence to a moral claim it made upon the world. It was lucky. It was always there, and it did not need to come into existence by virtue of a United Nations vote.

Israel had no such luck. It owes its existence to the moral assertion that after thousands of years of persecution culminating in the holocaust, Jews deserved to return to the biblical land of Israel. They not only deserved it, they had earned it. It was this argument that moved the United Nations, that motivated little kids to canvass their neighborhoods for the Jewish National Fund and that, in the end, persuaded much of the world.

So it is not really unfair to hold Israel and Begin to one standard and Sadat and Egypt to another. The world, after all, has no absolute standards of right and wrong, morality and immorality. Double standards are regretable, but necessary. Congressmen who campaign with their families, ought not to entertain lady lobbyists in vacation cabins. Marxists should not own stock.

There are different standards for different people. With Cardinal Cody, for instance, the standard he is being held to is one he set for himself when he became a priest. It is the same with Israel. The standard it is being held to -- the one that under Begin it sometimes fails to meet -- is not the world's and not even Egypt's. It is its own.