Thursday April 24, 2014
Israel Hayom
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Dan Margalit

Fall from grace

Why was King David forgiven for sinning twice but King Saul not pardoned for one transgression? Rabbi Mordechai (Motti) Elon is surely acquainted with the verse, "King Saul sinned once and it cost him his kingship while King David sinned twice and held on to his reign" (Talmud Yoma 22b).

One interpretation is that David acknowledged his wrongdoing and repented while Saul maintained his innocence. When the prophet informed David that he had sinned, first by killing Uriah and then by directly counting the children of Israel despite God's commandment, David immediately owned up to his actions. But when the prophet Samuel reproached Saul for saving the sheep of Amalek, despite having been commanded by God to wipe out every trace of that nation, he deflected responsibility, blaming the nation for pressuring him to save the sheep.

This midrash certainly did not resonate with Elon when Judge Hagit Mack-Kalmanovitch sentenced him on Wednesday to a mere six months of community service.

In his response to the verdict, Elon failed to display the strength of character that his students and students' students might have hoped for. He neither said, "I have done wrong" -- nor repented or asked for forgiveness. He continued to deny his guilt and even criticized the court. Those who still believed in him were no doubt deeply disappointed. Particularly those who bore the brunt of the proven accusations against him, or those persuaded over time that the charges were not, in fact, unfounded.

Nevertheless, a suspect does not have to do what society expects of him. Elon is only human, and most suspects deny the charges made against them, going so far as to persuade themselves they did nothing wrong. At such moments one can only say: Don't judge a man until you walk in his shoes. Elon has lost a great deal of status, honor, respect and the spiritual authority to teach others how to live. His response only confirms what his accusers said about him -- that he is neither a leader nor a role model.

What has the national religious community learned from the fall of their rabbi? Not to accept things at face value -- that rabbinic authority is not valid if unchallenged and that doubt is a critical part of a religious life based on submission to authority.

And what have our community leaders learned? That communal self-governance only goes so far. That the Takana forum of esteemed rabbis and community leaders was unable to impose its nonbinding authority on one of their flock. It seems reasonable that Elon would have accepted the restrictions placed on him by members of the forum, allowing his life to continue unruffled, scandal-free. But desire overcame good sense, and Elon relapsed into his old ways, bringing overwhelming shame upon himself.

Under normal circumstances, the judge's light sentence would have clashed with the description of Elon's deeds in the verdict. If his actions were so wrong, why was he sentenced to only six months of community service? And why did the state attorney rush to announce that he would not appeal the lightness of the sentence? Is this the spirit of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein hovering over the State Attorney Office?

There is a school of thought that posits that leaders must be punished as harshly as their people -- and even more harshly. Another school of thought argues that a man's fall from grace is punishment in and of itself. The same judge who acquitted Avigdor Lieberman went easy on Motti Elon as well. Both verdicts send problematic messages.

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