Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Baskets of Reptiles and Public office

Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: Why did the kingdom of Saul not endure? Because no reproach rested on him, for R. Johanan had said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: One should not appoint any one administrator of a community, unless he carries a basket of reptiles on his back, so that if he became arrogant, one could tell him: Turn around!
(Yoma 22B)

A basket of reptiles is a Hebrew expression that is similar to "A skeleton in his closet". I thought of this saying Talmudic saying as I was listening to Ehud Barak interviewing on channel 2 today. Had he known this Talmudic axiom, I'm sure he would have quoted it. He was trying to defend General Galant, after he yesterday had to revoke his elevation to the role of IDF head of staff. The crux of Barak's argument was that regardless of whether Galant was a man without blemish, as a soldier he was the best man for the job.

It may be time for us to admit, that in our haste to burn out corruption we have set the bar too high. Two different arguments come to mind. The first is that demanding a spotless record might lead to worse leadership, rather then better. Having a skeleton in the closet, might lead people to be more cautious, or more wise then those who are sinless.

The second argument is that the skill set we should be looking for in soldiers is different then those we are looking for in say Judges. I want a general who will win wars, more then I want an honest looser. A quick reading through the bible, finds that most generals were not exactly great moral figures (Yoav comes to mind first).

There is clearly some balance that must be reached. I'm not saying we should ignore moral character in our generals, but rather that we should not treat them differently then other people.

My overall impression is that we are setting such a high standard – that we may find that those who pass it, are not those we would really want.   

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