Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Resignation as Repentance

This week Rabbi Norman Lamm resigned as the chancellor of Yeshiva University. The evil deed that caused his resignation was his failure to see that justice was done for evil acts committed by one of his subordinates thirty or more years ago. This is a very sad case. What intrigues me most about it is the reasoning cited in the article for his resignation:
At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived. I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up. You think you are helping, but you are not. You submit to momentary compassion in according individuals the benefit of the doubt by not fully recognizing what is before you, and in the process you lose the Promised Land. . . . And when that happens -- one must do teshuvah. So, I too must do teshuvah. True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong.
Teshuvah is the Hebrew word for repentance. It comes from a Hebrew root meaning to turn or to return. It means, thus, a turning away from one's wicked ways and a turning towards or return to God.

Over thirty years ago, Rabbi Lamm tried to cover up some terrible accusations, which ended up being true, of evil at the school that he had oversight for. They would have had, and eventually did have, terrible repercussions for the reputation of the school. Rabbi Lamm decided to bury the accusations of wrong-doing and stonewall for the sake of his school's reputation. He thought that was the correct thing to do at the time but now recognizes it as a mistake.

I salute Rabbi Lamm, not for what he did then, but having the courage to invoke repentance as he resigns. The relevant scriptures are as follows:
When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty; Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, . . . and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 4:22–26)
And if a soul sin, . . . and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord for his sin which he hath sinned, . . . and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin which he hath sinned, and it shall be forgiven him. (Leviticus 5:1–11)
Administrators often do not have to live with the consequences of their bad choices, even if others must. So it is nice to see a university administrator who takes some responsibility for the evil he has wrought.