Role Models

A teacher of the Torah must be a role model as a human being, as well as a scholar.  The Talmud admonishes that one should accept a teacher whom he respects as if he were an angel of God.  This aspect of the learning process was never as starkly clear as in modern times, when the personal foibles and perversions of anyone who ever achieved five minutes of fame are grist for lurid gossip, exposes, and biographies.  How many “great” political leaders, magnates, athletes, or entertainers of modern times have had private lives that would lead any person of middling morality to say, “That is what I want my children to be!”?  And yet, general society still calls them “great,” because the purveyors of culture have taught us to separate the heroics of the public arena from the antics of the private barnyard.

  The teachers of Jewish eternity were always different.  The Talmud teaches that one can learn as much or more from the private lives of the Sages as from their teachings in the study hall (Berachos 7a), and that the ordinary conversations of Torah scholars are worthy of study (Avodah Zarah 19b).  Halachic rulings have been based - definitely so - on the private deeds of great Torah figures, even when observers have not understood the legal basis of what they did.  Could the private conversations or conduct of the general run of this century’s public figures be recorded as an authoritative book of law?

  Clearly, the Torah’s standards are different.  It speaks to the total personality.  It has been axiomatic since the Patriarch Abraham that sage and saint must be synonymous, that intellect, piety, ethics, and morality are party of an inseparable whole.  Judaism is not a compartmentalized creed, not a religion that respects disembodied minds whose preaching’s are contradicted by their conduct.  The Torah nation has never accepted the leadership of people who fall significantly short of that standard of aspiration.  True, human beings, by definition, can almost never achieve absolute perfection, and Jews have never underestimated the difficulty of climbing that pedestal; realism and self-criticism are among Israel’s most painful virtues.  But the aspiration must be present.  In Judaism, to speak of legal authority without moral authority is as ludicrous as accepting the Ten Commandments with the exception of the first one.

  Thus, the Talmud would have been incomplete had it contained only discussions about ritual and law.  The Torah molds total people, not just minds; it defines values, not just norms of performance.

Taken from the “Overview” of Pirkei Avos 3:5 / Ethics Of The Fathers – Treasury

Posted in: Jewish Beliefs & Philosophy