Off the Pulpit: Not Good Enough?


Torah heroes generally shrink from leadership. Moses pleads with God to send someone else. Isaiah fears that he has ‘unclean lips.’ Jeremiah must be forced by God to be a prophet. In an almost satiric version, Samuel three times thinks God’s voice is really the voice of Eli, the High Priest, calling him in the night.

None of these great figures is falsely modest. Rather they are honest and deeply insightful. Each knows what it means to take on the burden of leadership and recognizes that they cannot do it lightly or thoughtlessly. They feel unequal to the responsibility of carrying God’s word in an often hostile world and to a constantly backsliding people.

Abraham Lincoln declared in 1859 that he did not “think himself fit for the Presidency” and in a letter that same year wrote he was not “a man of great learning, or a very extraordinary one in any respect.” In a world that promotes self-esteem and discourages self-doubt, such attitudes may seem foreign to us. Yet surrounded by people convinced they are good, do we not yearn for one of outstanding merit who believes that he is not good enough?

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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