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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Admitting mistakes is a sign of worthiness to lead

When I opened the web pages after the Sabbath, the headlines screamed: 'Peretz won't give up Defense portfolio' says the Jerusalem Post. 'Katzav as a victim of the establishment' is the inviting link in HaAretz. And then there's the 'Peres law' designed to ensure that Slimy Shimon won't lose yet another Presidential election. What kind of crazy country is this?

This evening, my wife and I were invited to Melave Malka (a post-Sabbath meal) at the home of old friends together with another couple. The male member of the 'other couple' is the author of a popular series about the commentaries of Rashi on the Torah. Rashi - Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki - lived in Medieval France and is the pre-eminent commentator on the Torah. Our fellow guest had something very interesting to say about one of Rashi's comments on this week's Torah portion, and I'd like to share it with you.

This week's Torah portion, Bo, includes the Jewish exodus from Egypt. As every school child knows, Pharoah is awakened in the middle of the night by the cries of people dying, and runs out in his pajamas (as the popular song in both Hebrew and English goes) looking for Moses and Aaron to tell them to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. On the verse that has Pharoah awakening in the middle of the night (Exodus 12:30) Rashi makes a one-word comment in Hebrew that means three words in English: "From his bed." What is Rashi trying to tell us?

Despite the fact that Moses had warned Pharoah that this was coming and that the first-born of Egypt were going to die, Pharoah was stubborn and had to show that life was "normal." He could not admit that he was mistaken. To 'prove' that he was right and that Moses (and God) were wrong, Pharoah went to sleep, as if to say, "nothing is going to happen tonight.

Throughout the history of the Jewish people, we see that being capable of admitting when one is wrong is a mark of leadership. When Judah lived with his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38), and then was going to have her burned at the stake as a harlot when the fact of her pregnancy was discovered, Tamar sent Judah his own staff and seal and asked him to recognize them as his own. Judah could have denied that they were his. He also could have played the magnanimous leader and decided to pardon her. But Judah did neither of those things. He said (Genesis 38:26) "she is right; she is pregnant by me" (or according to the Medrash, he said "she is right" and a voice from God added "it was from Me"). Because Judah admitted his mistake, the royal Davidic house came from Judah (and from Tamar).

King David was also capable of admitting that he was wrong. When Nathan the Prophet reproached David for having lived with Bat Sheva (who looked like a married woman, even though the Talmud proves that she technically was not one) King David's response (2 Samuel 12:13) is "I sinned." Nothing more and nothing less. And because of his response, King David remained King of Israel.

Compare that with King Saul, who failed to fulfill God's command to wipe out the people of Amalek (1 Samuel 15) and made excuses for his failure, blaming the people for his own inability to lead them. Saul was relieved of his throne by God in favor of David.

Look at the 'leaders' of Israel today. Which paradigm do you think they fit?


At 2:06 AM, Blogger ShumBaayaMyLord said...

Carl, the male of the "other couple" you mention at the Melave Malka is, I presume, the author of the "What's Bothering Rashi?" series. If so, let me just say that it's a very worthy series indeed.

Not that the Am'ei Ha'aretz running the current government could ever bring themselves to assimilate the lessons contained in Rav Dr. Bonchek's books.

After all, in their (the Cabinet members') worldview, by being an American religious oleh--one with a strong professional pedigree and who propounds classic Torah learning and virtues--by definition Rav Dr. Bonchek is a "freier" and not worth paying any attention to. Such is the predominant sentiment in our self-anointed ruling classes in Israel.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger M. Simon said...

As long as Israel's current leaders are not relieved neither am I.

Don't we need a miracle or people in the streets or something?

A secular miracle or a religious one. I'm not fussy.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger ziontruth said...

Carl, as soon as I heard of Katzav's rant in the news, the contrast with King David was the first thought that sprang to my mind. In the spirit of kol da'aved rahmana, l'tav aved, I'm trying to see this as HaShem readying His people to accept the Torah as the only source of true justice (for which see also something I hold to be a much greater scandal, the injustice toward the self-defending farmer Shai Dromi: [1], [2]).

Just a word of caution, though: there are among our anti-Zionist enemies who, playing upon this theme of "Admitting mistakes is a sign of leadership", say Israel as a whole should admit its "mistakes of occupying Palestinian lands, apartheid, ethnic cleansing" etc (afra l'fumaihu, all of them). They're adept at twisting the words of G-d to their own ends. We need to be prepared for such things, and be ready with an answer to them.

G-d bless.


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