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Rabbi Rosenblatt on Parashat Bo

A still from Pinocchio (YouTube screencap)

With the dawn of social media, we have developed a new distrust of both politicians and the media. The cries of our generation are “fake news,” and we measure the lies of a particular politician on a “Pinocchio” scale.

Long before the dawn of social media, the politically powerful invested heavily in projecting infallibility. The very core of the divine claims of kings were such that their decisions were beyond reproach. Pharaoh’s claim to power was coupled with a claim of divinity. Rashi teaches that Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh by the side of the river, where he would empty his bladder – an activity unnecessary for a god – to expose his charade.

The fallacy of Pharaoh’s divinity is further exposed by the plague of hail. Moses specifically warns Pharaoh’s servants to bring their livestock into their houses for protection. Pharaoh is caught. Either he admits to the validity of Moses’ God or he admits to his own fallibility, as the impending plague will reveal his inability to protect his people.

Pharaoh chooses the latter, saying “I have sinned this time” (Ex. 9:27). Pharaoh’s use of the qualifier “this time” is evidence that he refuses to admit to his foolhardy position in the previous six plagues. Furthermore, it is obvious that this admission is disingenuous at best, for Pharaoh makes absolutely no course correction in response to Moses’ warnings.

Conversely, when confronted with an obvious error by Nathan the Prophet, King David says, without qualification, “I have sinned to God.” The Torah herein teaches us the hallmark of good leadership is the ability to admit mistakes and errors. Those who cover them up or deny them are charlatans.

Greatness in almost every field of human endeavour comes from experience, which always teaches more from mistakes than successes. Leadership devoid of mistakes is leadership that does not learn. Pharaoh did not learn. We should seek leaders who demonstrate their ability to grow from both experience and error.