Perfection is boring. That’s what we imperfect people say, isn’t it? God, however, prefers it, and God gets to do that because God is, well….God. Imperfect people on the other hand, take great comfort in the concept of “b’tzelem elohim” (in the image of God); that is, we are all made in the image of God and so each of us, as Lady Gaga says, “is born that way” and is just fine.
So how come ancient Israelite Priests are supposed to be perfect? “No man among the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a defect shall be qualified to offer Adonai’s gift; having a defect, he shall not be qualified to offer the food of his God. (Lev 21:21) The text goes on and on about how perfect a Priest needs to be. It’s not just physical perfection (and the text gets fairly personal about all the perfect body parts…go look it up), but he has to marry the right woman, wear his hair a certain way, stay away from some unsavory people (especially dead ones), and make sure his daughters don’t embarrass him. There’s not a lot of wiggle room here.
It sounds like he’s running for office. Now I come from a political family, so I’m not being facetious here. I think we’re talking about the standards we hold for those who assume leadership positions in the community.
But are the standards for God’s sake or for the peoples’ sake? After all, one would think that God wouldn’t care if the priests were perfect human specimens or not, that God can see past physical defects. Yet, think about what we do to the people we elect or elevate to leadership positions in our society. Physical attractiveness is key, embarrassing family members are a problem, and we put these people under magnifying glasses, uncovering every tidbit of information about their current and past connections. We do this with public figures of all sorts, not just elected officials, and more celebrated, the bigger the microscope. Are we really expecting them to be more perfect than we ourselves are? What logic is there in holding them to different standards than our own imperfect selves? And you know we do…..
In ancient Israel, the Priests were literally ordained by accident of birth, and God had expectations of perfection. Today, we establish the standards; that is, we are the ones who assess the quality of moral and ethical intent of those who choose to ask for our trust in their leadership roles. In the secular political realm, do we really take the responsibility of deeper, more serious evaluation, or are we merely headline readers? And in the Jewish community, we have a responsibility to evaluate leadership, too. God’s not choosing our community leaders, we are, and just because there’s a “rabbi” or “executive director” title in front of someone’s name doesn’t mean they’re maintaining our standards in what they offer. There are many good and virtuous Jewish leaders, but they’re good and virtuous because of what they do in their leadership positions, not because of the titles. God had high expectations of Aaron and the Priesthood. We should have the same high expectations of our leaders, not because of their physical perfection, but because we mirror the high expectations we have of them in our own high standards of responsibility in choosing them.