Hillel said : In a place where no one is human, strive to be human yourself.
-Mishnah, Avot 2:6
Water-cooler conversations and op-ed page verbiage for the past eight months or so have reflected a crescendo of "gevalt!" cries about the crisis of leadership in the state of Israel, and of analyses of what that crisis says about us, our state, and our future. For reasons that are not clear (to me, at least), we have been subject to a rising flood of real or suspected failures of leadership:
· Our president, who presents himself as a religious man, only days after declaring that he would refuse to address a Reform rabbi as "rabbi" was accused of various abuses of power involving coerced sexual favors from workers in his office; the scandal is simmering, a formal indictment is expected soon.
· Our justice minister resigned, pending his trial, also for abuse of his power in the realm of sexual behavior.
· In the aftermath of the war last summer, an ongoing public controversy continues over just where the buck should stop in the assigning of responsibility for failures of the army and the political decision-making apparatus, in the preparation for and execution of the war. Six months later, arguments still swirl through all the media, for and against the resignation of the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief of staff, and various generals.
· A feeling of helplessness and lack of direction in our relationship with the Palestinians the rockets keep coming; chaos reigns in Gaza.
· A criminal investigation is underway against the prime minister for fraud and influence peddling.
· The coalition was expanded to include parties from the left and from the extreme right (by creating a new "Ministry for Dealing with the Strategic Threat of Iran" with a minister and the attendant bureaucracy and patronage opportunities), leaving many people questioning whether any party really stands for anything except a chance to get a piece of the pie.
· And now a new scandal has surfaced, involving large-scale collusion between high government officials and businessmen in orchestrating corrupt tax breaks.
So we wring our hands and click our tongues and complain to each other and to anyone who will listen about the lack of leadership, what have we come to, what will become of us, etc. etc. And I sometimes catch myself playing this game myself. It is so very tempting: after all, one sure way to get agreement among a group of Israelis is to toss out a statement disparaging our leaders, or bemoaning our lack thereof. It feels so good to wallow in the lack of responsibility, in our not having to do anything, or to feel guilty about anything what can you expect of us, with leaders like these?
We live here with huge, in-your-face moral dilemmas that divide us and perplex us day in and day out. What to do about the Israeli Arabs, the settlers, the Palestinians, the ultra-Orthodox, the foreign workers, the Iranian bomb, the welfare state, the question of religion and state If only we had a king, a benevolent despot, a leader who was wise and charismatic, honest and sympathetic, brave and gentle, pure of heart and lofty of soul, an intellectual with the common touch, clear of principles yet open-minded. If only we had someone to tell us what to do, with the kind of fatherly authority that would put all those demons to rest.
After one too many such kvetch-fests I had a realization: Get over it. There's nobody here but us, no Great Leader who will repair the world for us, no one to take responsibility except us, home alone. There's a midrash that has Moses praying at the shore of the Red Sea, Egyptians behind him, the sea ahead of him, the Jews complaining all around him. Finally God says in exasperation: Stop praying. Start walking.