Parashat Ahare Mot

All Of Our Sins

The commandment to the priests to purify themselves of sin before God reminds us to hold our leaders accountable to act ethically.

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As the sages lament, power can stain those who possess it, and "would that on leaving the world" leaders be "as free of sin as upon entering it." From financial to sexual improprieties, we are endlessly bombarded with new revelations of our leaders' failings. This is also true of our own Jewish communal leadership, and not simply that of society as a whole.

Ethics Matter

This Torah portion is in part a warning that no matter how charismatic, no matter how skilled, and no matter how successful in serving a cause--a leader's ethics matter. No matter how much money is raised or how many people are served by a leader, his or her ethics have an impact upon the entire community and upon our community's moral agenda. And efforts on behalf of tikkun olam (repairing the world) cannot somehow cancel out an individual's ethical--or unethical--conduct.

This lesson, unfortunately, needs to be reiterated over and over again--not only in public life at large, but also in our own community. If the priests of antiquity needed to cleanse themselves of their sins, so too do our contemporary leaders--even, or especially, those identified with social action, and with Jewish causes at large--need to be ethically whole. Let us not morally compartmentalize our personal and common moral agenda. May all of us, leaders and "regular Joes" alike, strive to be clean before God.

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Rabbi Charles P. Sherman

Rabbi Charles P. Sherman, D.D., has been the spiritual leader, teacher, and counselor of the Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma since 1976. Ordained in 1969 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, he is a Past-President of the Southwest Association of Reform Rabbis.