view from central park: tehilla r. goldberg

The ‘get away with it’ factor


With the recent article in the New York Times and the consequent rise in public awareness about the abuses of Marc (Mordechai) Gafni, and about the effort to marginalize or eliminate him from public life, I am wondering about leadership, why some leaders’ egregious errors are overlooked while other leaders, despite their disturbing ways, remain untarnished.

Not to glibly put Gafni and his abuses in the category of “well, we’re all flawed human beings,” why are the flaws of certain people perceived one way, while the legacy of others, regardless of their behavior, is bequeathed with dignity and regard?

This week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A gifted minister, a man who inspired millions, who changed a nation, who at times spoke with the eerie voice of a prophet — he was a serial adulterer. What makes the public look away from the wrongs of one to the point of embracing his legacy, while shunning another?

Bill Clinton, president of the free world and still a force to be reckoned with, was sleazy! Yet somehow the public forgave. The same with Meir Kahane, an alleged adulterer, yet in certain circles — whether you agree or disagree with him politically — his teachings resonate in a community that would normally, unanimously, shun adultery. Why is he is embraced?

Although allegations swirled about Rabbi Freundel’s sketchy behavior, until he was literally caught red-handed in his mikveh scandal, it was overlooked. Why?

Of course, there are so many more examples, from JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. on.

What is it about certain leaders whose behavior does not warrant their legacies being honored, yet they are? What is the “get away with it” factor that a public is responsive to?

Lehavdil, lehavdil, I am not comparing! But on some level this discussion recalls the Biblical David and Bathsheba scene. David takes a woman he sees bathing on a rooftop, yet the leadership remains his. When confronted by Natan the prophet, King David has the courage and integrity to admit his wrongdoing immediately.

King David overcomes this incident, including his orchestrated death of Bathsheba’s spouse, Uriah. I don’t mean to reduce the great King David to this one story, which upon deeper study reveals a wholly different narrative and understanding. I certainly don’t mean to link him to the above deviants. At the same time, the observation of human frailty and human vulnerability in leaders is an interesting one to contemplate, leading to the question of why some people’s legacies endure, while others’ do not.

Copyright 2015 Intermountain Jewish News