By Rabbi Josh Knobel
This Sunday, HBO will televise the first half of Leaving Neverland, a documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged pedophilia. The film features Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who narrate their multi-year ordeal of sexual abuse at the hands of the King of Pop.
While the objections emanating from the Jackson estate are eminently logical, less explicable are the protests coming from Jackson’s fans. Neither the passage of time, nor the ever-mounting evidence of Jackson’s transgressions, it seems, can mitigate the Jacksonians’ faith in his innocence.
As is often the case with celebrities and politicians. Americans appear too invested in the infallibility of their heroes to admit their mistakes, even when they are in plain sight.
In this regard, Judaism has a lesson to offer our nation. Boasting a scared canon replete with flawed protagonists, Judaism quietly suggests that heroism is temporal. With the exception of Moses, the Bible rarely touts its heroes as paragons. Rather, in a moment of need, Biblical protagonists provide a spark needed to move our people forward.
Before and after that spark, however, these heroes often cross the boundaries into villainy, but they are held accountable by the Biblical authors. Noah saved humanity, but he was a drunk. Jacob founded a nation, but he lied, cheated, and played favorites as a parent. David solidified and defended a kingdom, but he was a womanizer and a murderer who abused power for his own selfish ends. Each hero, in turn, is memorialized not just for her triumph, but also their failures.
The time has come for us to be as candid with modern heroes. The celebrities and politicians we acclaim are simultaneously capable of great feats and unfathomable misdeeds. The former should never excuse the latter, but the latter also need not invalidate the former.