The former president of the state of Israel is convicted of rape. Just to read that sentence causes me to take a deep breath and exhale. Sadly we are already inoculated from the moral shock of such events given what we in America have witnessed with politicians and their sexual exploits. I do not think I need to go into specifics on that issue. Needless to say we like to hold Israel up to a higher standard. We are so proud of Israelis when they achieve in science, business or the humanities. Then we see the President go down because of a violent crime like rape. The thought of it, nevertheless, strikes us as deeply disappointing. Why can’t the political leadership rise to the heights of excellence as moral and political leaders just like their contemporaries in other fields of endeavor? Of course we have to be fair and ask that question of America’s national leaders as well. Isn’t Israel different?
One hopes that when a person takes on a position of leadership that they will rise to the level of the position. What do I mean? The reality is that when someone is promoted to an important high profile position there is an expectation of behavior that goes along with the job even if it is not specifically written down in a job description. Moral integrity is an example of that standard that one would hope religious, business, or political leaders would aspire to beyond what they have already achieved in their lives. Maybe I am just naïve.
King David, beloved of Israel, conspired to send the husband of Bathsheba, a married woman who he had taken a fancy to, Uriah the Hittite, to the front lines of the battle with the Philistines. Knowing full well he would probably meet his fate in battle, David sent him so as to have Bathsheba to himself. Nathan the Prophet knew about this and put it to him. Yes, David did ultimately confess his transgressions. And the first child they had together after the death of Uriah the Hittite ultimately died. They both paid a deep price of sorrow for their lust towards each other. And yet David went on to be the symbol of the ideal in Israelite culture and the exemplar for the Messiah. Go figure.
The Israelites wanted a king so that they could be like all the other nations. Samuel the great judge and prophet first resisted the crowd and advocated for religio-political leader like Moses or Joshua. But he succumbed to the people and first anointed Saul. Israel has always wanted to be different and unique from the rest of the world. We want so badly to fit into the cultures of the world. Is President Katzav an example of what it feels like fitting into the world?
I hope not. ‘Democracy has triumphed,’ say Israeli prosecutors. Maybe they are correct. But the stain on the office of President of Israel, following in the footsteps of Haim Weitzman, Chaim Hertzog, Yitzhak Navon , will not go away easily and risks eroding public confidence in the nation’s political culture. Now we can have a prayer for the government which would be for God to guide Israel and America’s leaders to conduct their lives with the same faith and loyalty to the values of Torah that the people are asked to abide by in their daily lives.