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08/08/2023 06:53:42 PM

Aug8

True civility is about recognizing the divinity within us all

A Dilemma: Your friend is passionate about a new religious organization she has discovered. The focus of the institution is the charismatic leader, a gifted speaker, and a passionate teacher. When you attend a worship service, you are charmed by the larger-than-life personality of the leader but also concerned about the overt adulation of the person and the clear danger of abuse by such a spiritual figure. When you share this concern with your friend, she accuses you of cynicism. “Not every religious leader is power-hungry. This man is doing God’s work. He asks nothing of us that he would not ask of himself.” When you ask if a servant of God should be driving a new Mercedes, you are told that material matters are beside the point. You want to believe in this leader, but you have your doubts. Why is it that so many religious leaders do turn out to be anything but models of correct religious behavior?
 
The ancient rabbis were aware that even religious leaders in their midst can fall short of the sermons they preach. No less a figure than Rabban Gamaliel in the Talmud seems to have excelled in considering himself above the rules of others:
 
MISHNA: The mishna relates another episode portraying unusual conduct by Rabban Gamliel. He bathed on the first night after his wife died. His students said to him: Have you not taught us, our teacher, that a mourner is prohibited to bathe? He answered them: I am not like other people, I am delicate. For me, not bathing causes actual physical distress, and even a mourner need not suffer physical distress as part of his mourning.
 
The Talmud goes on to give other examples of Gamliel’s special status. It is hard not to see him as a hypocrite. It is not that he does not have a reason for each exception. But after a while, the list of exceptions seems suspicious. After all, as another rabbi once declared: “More important than the teaching is the deed.”
 
When it comes to our leaders of any stripe, I do believe—at the end of the day—we should look more at what they do than what they say. Integrity, at its core, is about a match between our values and our actions.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784