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The Rabbi as Saintly Stand-In?

How telling are the wise words of Rabbi Waxman. Though Judaism always privileged the tzaddik, the ultra-pious human being, its texts from the Bible on through the Talmud highlight just how flawed and full of failure leadership can be. Just think of King David: Here is one of God’s greatest kings sleeping with a married woman and then ensuring that her husband die in war.

However, many will not admit that David sinned. The thing is that most people don’t want to see clergy as human. In some sense, it’s much easier for people to put their priests and rabbis up on an ethical and moral pedestal. By seeing them as angels, people absolve themselves of ever having to listen to them or trying to live up to their words.


In some ways they see their synagogue membership fee as a way of outsourcing their religious obligations. They say to themselves, “The rabbi keeps up Judaism, and I keep to myself.” People want to believe that their clergy are saints because they think they are covered so long as someone is embodying piety on their behalf.

The bottom line is that while clergy are expected to live up to a higher moral standard than their flock, they are no different than any one else: They have passions, needs, desires, and lusts. They sin, repent, love, and hate in the same way that every human being does.

So if you are banking on them to get you to heaven by outsourcing your religious life, you better think again.

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Yosef H.

posted November 23, 2006 at 5:54 am

B”H Rabbi Stern: While Judiasm requires each individual to serve G-d on his or own efforts (no Rebbe can accomplish Divine service for another), the Alter Rebbe teaches in Tanya that there IS the concept of perfection in certain select Tzaddikim who are called “Tzaddik She’Tov Lo,” a Tzaddik who prospers. Looking more deeply at the “shortcomings” of certain of our great Biblical leaders, we find that their “sins” were not really sins. For example, the Torah describes Moses’ lack of faith when he struck the rock in the desert to bring forth water. His “punishment” was G-d’s decree that he would not enter Eretz Yisroel. We picture an angry Moshe, disheartened by the lack of faith of the Jewish people in G-d, angrily striking the rock instead of speaking to it as G-d commanded. G-d immediately slaps him with a death sentence before his people enter the Land. Looking at Rashi’s commentary, however, we find that Moshe did indeed speak to the rock. We find according to Midrash that G-d re-arranged the rocks so Moshe spoke to a different rock, which did not respond to his verbal command. Rashi’s wording, “Perhaps it is necessary to strike the rock” does NOT indicate anger on Moshe’s part, rather an attempt to asses what needed to be done (calmly) in order to produce water for a thristy nation. The question becomes then, why did G-d do this? Indeed, Chassidut teaches that G-d stacked the deck against Moshe, deliberately causing him to stumble. Moshe, being the holy man that he was, a leader endowed with Ruach HaKodesh, knew of G-d’s wish that he not enter the Holy Land. Though he was saddened, he knew that everything done by G-d was for the good, and Moshe knew that we weren’t ready for his (Moshe’s) entry into Israel, which would have resulted in Moshe being Moshiach. However, it appears that we were not ready for the final geula at that point, and Moshe was fully aware that his people would suffer millenia of exile before the true and complete Redemption. We know this by Rashi’s commentary on the last parsha of Chumash, the very last verses, when G-d shows Moshe the land “in prosperity and in desolation.” Therefore, when we learn of a Tzaddik’s “failure,” it is not the sin of the Tzaddik, but rather G-d’s plan for the course of the world’s (in general) and Israel’s (in particular) destiny. In the case of Dovid, it should be noted that Uriel was Chyav Misa (due to a lack of respect for his king) and Dovid did not marry Bat Sheva until Uriel divorced her (as was customary in those days, before a man went to battle). This entire episode, shrouded in mystery, is another which leads us toward Moshiach. Keep in mind that Shlomo, the next king of Israel, was the son of Dovid and Bat Sheva. How could the Wisest Man in Israel be the result of an unholy union, G-d forbid? No, the Talmud states. “He who says David sins, errs.” We therefore conclude that certain Tzaddikim DID reach a level of perfection, with G-d’s help, since no human can attain this level without Divine assistance. Best Regards…Yosef H.

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Robby Cicco

posted November 28, 2006 at 10:16 am

I have a real problem with the first comment to this posting regarding the concept of “perfection” in Judaism. I think this is completely ouside the realm of Judaism. The Torah is replete with Avos who are human with human failings. ….to suggest that certain Tzadekim have attained “perfection”, a level higher than Moshe or the Avos themselves, seems contrary to everything Judaism represents. I would imagine if these Tzadekim themselves were questioned about this very thing, they would be abhored at the concept. B’shalom, Robby

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posted December 5, 2006 at 8:04 pm

B”H Robby: if you do not believe that a human can be perfect in the eyes of G-d and mankind, then you should read Jewish holy texts such as Tanya. Such a person has NOT attained this level of perfection on his or her own; rather they have achieved a level of G-d that is so close that G-d himself chooses to endow this individual with Ruach HaKodesh and such a person becomes a Tzaddik Gamur, a perfect Tzaddik. To deny this concept is to deny Judiasm, just as to deny the Resurrection of the Dead in Moshiach’s time is denial of the entire Torah (Rambam). Keep in mind that the Tzaddik Gamur, or perfectly righeous person, is an extreme rarity and only a few were planted in each generation. It is on their merit that the world endures (Talmud Yoma, 38b, Tanya Ch. 1)…Yossel

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