We can't identify with perfection

Today I went to Michal Horowitz's parsha shiur. She spoke about Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's take on the Avos and other Jewish leaders. He makes the point on Bereishis 12:10 on the question of Avraham's directing his wife to say she is his sister. The Ramban identifies this as a lack of faith on the patriach's part, but R' Hirsch offers a rationale. 

In ancient Egypt, it would have been safer to appear as  single woman escorted by her brother than as a married woman with her husband. That's becuase anyone who wanted to take the married woman would kill her husband, and the woman would be left defenseless and dishonored. That's what Avraham explains, "and they will kill me, but you they will keep alive" (12:12). That expression, “keep alive” is the same one used in Shmos in which the Egyptians plot to kill the Israelite baby boys but keep the girls alive for their own carnal purposes. By acting as her brother, Avraham would be able to negotiate and keep escalating the bride price to buy time in  the hope that the famine in Canaan would end and allow them to reuturn before any deal would be consummated. 

 However, R' Hirsch is emphatic that this does not mean that we are to perceive the Patriarchs or our leaders as perfect:
 The Torah never hides from us the faults, errors, and weaknesses of our great men. Just by that it gives a stamp of veracity to what it relates . . .  Take for instance Moses’ modesty (Bamidbar 12:3). Did we not know that he could also fly into a passion, his meekness and modesty would seem to us to be his inborn natural disposition, and lost as an example. Just his Hear now you rebels” (Bamidbar 20:10) gives his modesty its true greatness, shows it to us as the result of a great work of self control and self ennoblement which we all should copy because we all could copy.
Rabbi Hirsch’s position is that  it is the revelation of our Biblical heros' faults that makes them achieve credibility and their lives serve as relatable models for our own. 
Mrs. Horowitz drew a connection to the fact that there are four people who never sinned identified in Shabbos 55b as Binyamin -- Yaakov's son, Amram -- Moshe's father, Yishay --David's father, and Calev -- David's son. She observed that great though they are, they did not achieve the same leadership as people in their families because great leaders are not perfect people. 
That made me think of what Chazal expalin in Yoma 22b why the kingship was transferred from Shaul to David:
אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל
מפני מה לא נמשכה מלכות בית שאול מפני שלא היה בו שום דופי
דאמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יהוצדק
אין מעמידין פרנס על הציבור אלא אם כן קופה של שרצים תלויה לו מאחוריו שאם תזוח דעתו עליו אומרין לו
חזור לאחוריך
Rav Yehudah quoted Shmuel in saying "Why did the kingship of the house of Shaul not endure? Because he had no flaw. [this is a problem for a ruler] as Rebbe Yochanan said in the name of Rebe Shimon ben Yehotzadak: We do not appoint a leader on the community who does not have a box of creepy crawlies hanging behind him [or we say in English, "a skeleton in the closet"]. That way, if he gets haughty, we can say, "Look behind you." [to arouse humility].
Due to a superhero's education, we all know that "with great power comes great responsibility." Yet, to get to that level, one has to rise above, not just float up effortlessly. That's the idea of finding the perfect leader is one who is imperfect.
I was mulling over this and considering whether or not I'd write it up when I heard this on 1010 WINS in the car.  A Jets player named Brandon Marshall was asked about his take on Trump's win. His take was so close to this idea that I felt I had to include it. Obviously, I'm not equating Trump with great Jewish leaders, and I'm not saying that people necessarily have to agree with all his views. That's not the point. What is the point is that even an athlete today (and I'm so not a sports fan) seems to have an appreciation of this concept that Chazal taught so many centuries ago. 
To be sure I got the quote right, I looked for an online source and found one here.  This is what Marshall said: 
The good thing about it is we have a flawed man in office leading our country who's had some really public, nasty things go on,....I think that's a good thing because we put certain people and certain positions on a pedestal and we expect perfection. And that's not the case. And I think if we all look in the mirror, we will all see someone who also has their own issues.

Comments

You really ought to read reviews Moshe Eisemann's book/essay on exactly this topic. I think you would love his passionate and scholarly way of writing.
Ariella Brown said…
Thanks, I'll have to see if I can identify and locate it.

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