Gen. David Petraeus is not the first famous David in history to be ensnared in the web of infidelity.
King David was an adulterer and a fellow military hero as well. However, the similarities end there. While the biblical David was able to retain his kingship because he repented and was forgiven, the contemporary David knew he would likely not be forgiven and, consequently, felt he had to resign.
Our apparent inability to forgive, combined with modern media’s insatiable lust for sex scandal stories, is a troubling dilemma that will continue to plague our polity if it is not ameliorated. In a culture where privacy is nearly nonexistent, an inability to forgive creates a toxic brew that results in qualified leaders resigning from office for private indiscretions; it may also discourage such individuals from entering public service altogether.
In Petraeus, we lost one of our most accomplished, capable, and qualified military leaders because of a sexual indiscretion. While the general’s private actions were immoral, they had no bearing on his public duties. If his adultery had no bearing on his public duties, and if he sincerely repents, we should have no qualms about re-embracing him as our CIA director.
King David’s adultery was much more morally egregious than David Petraeus’s infidelity.
The High Holidays don’t work for me. I know that Yom Kippur is supposed to be the holiest day of the year, and I’ve read and listened to many great ideas about how Yom Kippur is supposed to work on supreme spiritual issues and in sanctifying relationships and community. And I’ve been trying it out for a few decades now. But it just doesn’t work, and I think I finally figured out why.
The Jewish people would like to have a special day for forgiveness, but the fact is, we really don’t do forgiveness well at all.
Our entire calendar is dedicated to not forgiving. Every holiday is filled with rituals and practices and texts that urge us to remember the sins that others have committed against us since time immemorial. We remember what the Egyptians did to us over three millennia ago, what the Persians did to us over two millennia ago, what the Romans did to us beforeJesus created a new religion. One of the top six commandments of memory is aimed at the Amalakites a nation that doesn’t even exist anymore and attacked us before we even knew what “Israelite” meant. We remember what the Christians, the Spanish, and of course the Germans did to our ancestors (heck, 70 years isn’t even that long ago). This is what Jews do best: we remember, and we do not forgive. We create elaborate mechanisms with special foods and blessings and hundreds of pages of text in order to remember. We are the masters of remembering what others have done to us.